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Driven: Mazda MX-5 RF sales to top Roadster

Open for business: Mazda's hardtop MX-5 RF has arrived and is expected to account for the majority of its sportcar's sales.

Hard-top will steal sales from Roadster as overall MX-5 sales hold steady


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25 Jan 2017

MAZDA Australia has forecast its new MX-5 Retractable Fastback (RF) bodystyle will become more popular than the existing MX-5 Roadster soft-top, despite a starting price $5210 higher than the entry-level model.

Although the local outfit of the Japanese brand has already released prices of the ND-generation hard-top MX-5, it used the launch of the new bodystyle to announce a price rise and additional standard equipment for its soft-top models.

The $31,990 MX-5 Roadster 1.5-litre now rises to $33,340 before on-road costs – the $1350 surcharge owing to the addition of a 7.0-inch colour screen featuring the company’s MZD-Connect software, replacing the single-DIN radio unit.

Previously unavailable blind-spot monitoring (BSM) now becomes standard on all models, adding $350 to the MX-5 Roadster GT 1.5-litre (now $38,340), the MX-5 Roadster 2.0-litre ($34,840) and MX-5 Roadster GT 2.0-litre ($39,900).

As previously reported, the MX-5 RF is available exclusively in 2.0-litre specification from $38,550 – $5210 above the MX-5 Roadster 1.5-litre and a $3710 surcharge above the equivalent MX-5 Roadster 2.0-litre model.

The MX-5 RF GT costs $3990 more than the MX-5 Roadster GT 2.0-litre at $43,890 and is exclusively available with a $1000 option package comprising a black roof and Nappa leather trim.

Like the soft-top version, the RF is supplied as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox but can be optioned with a six-speed automatic transmission for an additional $2000.

Despite the cost implications of adding a three-piece hard-top roof that can electrically stow itself behind the front seats in 13 seconds, and when travelling at up to 10km/h, the RF is expected to snare 60 per cent of total MX-5 sales.

“Based on our experience with the NC (generation) the hard-top became the only model in the end but the pricing was significantly higher,” Mazda Australia managing director Martin Benders told GoAuto at the national media launch of the MX-5 RF in central New South Wales.

“So coming down we still think that we’ll have 40 per cent soft-top but the RF just offers that different design, different coolness factor and also a nicer daily drive than a soft-top in some respects.” Mazda Australia boasted that the ND generation MX-5, launched in August 2015, not only accrued a record sales performance last year with 1577 vehicles sold, but 10 per cent of sales were from buyers under 30 years old – compared with nil for the previous NC generation that launched in 2005.

Despite this, however, Mr Benders expected younger buyers to continue to be most attracted to the lower pricetag of the MX-5 Roadster while older buyers will favour the MX-5 RF. He said the impractical nature of a two-seat sportscar meant often buyers will either be substantially younger or older than middle age.

“We still think that the RF will skew older and the soft-top will skew younger, but that’s about the only difference,” he continued.

“Because this car is still going to be in the $40,000 range, that’s going to take out a few younger people.

“It (an MX-5) is a personal indulgence, so some young people before they have family and things can do it and empty nesters can do it, but in the middle there is a limited number of people who can buy that sort of car because they usually have other obligations.” The arrival of the MX-5 RF has taken a toll on MX-5 Roadster popularity across all model grades.

Mazda Australia has forecast just 10 per cent of MX-5 buyers will now choose the Roadster 1.5-litre (compared with 15 per cent pre-RF) while 15 per cent will prefer the pricier Roadster GT 1.5-litre (versus 33 per cent previously).

Preference for the Roadster 2.0-litre has dropped to 4.0 per cent (formerly 17 per cent) while the Roadster GT 2.0-litre has fallen to 11 per cent (hitherto 35 per cent).

Meanwhile the RF 2.0-litre was now expected to snare 18 per cent of sales and the range topping RF GT 2.0-litre a dominant 42 per cent, with a 70 per cent skew towards the six-speed manual over the optional six-speed automatic (versus 60 per cent in 1.5-litre models).

Despite the change in model preferences, Mr Benders admitted that the MX-5 RF would steal sales from the MX-5 Roadster rather than add to volume overall. He further confessed that the arrival of a highly stylised hard-top bodystyle was designed to reverse the sharp decline in popularity that sportscar models usually face following an initial sales spike.

“What it (MX-5 RF) will do is hold up that sales line a bit longer because sports cars tend to be, well, the early adopters want them and then the number of people that come into the market drops off quite quickly,” he explained.

Asked whether the MX-5 was expected to increase sales for the brand in 2017, Mr Benders said that its volume was expected to be “roughly about the same.” Mazda Australia forecasts sales of 140 units per month, translating to 1680 annual volume – 103 sales higher than last year.

“Part of the reason for doing the RF styling the way it is was to differentiate it and make it a clearer decision,” he added.

“I want a soft-top, I want that silhouette or I want a hard-top style, I want the RF. It’s to broaden the appeal of the car, some people want that [coupe] look at feel and it broadens it.

“With the NC the hard-top was basically just replacing the soft-top with a hard-top, everything else looked the same, so it was a matter of functionality more than anything. Now you’re making a design choice.” Mazda has compensated for the RF’s stiffer structure and heavier roof mechanism by tweaking the suspension and hollowing out underfloor bracing to keep the weight impost to just 47kg over the Roadster – 1080kg versus 1033kg.

It also said the smaller dimensions of the ND generation meant the company would have needed to reduce boot space substantially or lengthen the wheelbase if all three pieces of the roof were to be stowed, citing 70mm less length in the roof stowage area compared with the previous NC generation.

The company reiterated that neither were desirable options, so the decision was made to create a ‘flying buttress’ design connected by a rail that lifts above the bootlid, allows the rear window and roof pieces to stow, and returns overhead. Luggage space drops by just three litres to 127L.

The MX-5 Roadster and MX-5 RF share standard specification with the exception of 16-inch alloy wheels for the former’s 1.5-litre compared with 17-inch alloy wheels for all other model grades.

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine continues with 118kW/200Nm, but the RF claims a manual-auto 7.0-7.4 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle consumption test compared with the Roadster’s 6.9-7.1L/100km.

Cloth trim, manual air-conditioning, satellite navigation, cruise control, remote central locking, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor, a limited-slip differential and tyre pressure monitoring system are standard on all models.

The MX-5 GT RF adds automatic on/off headlights and wipers, auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated door mirrors, leather-trimmed and heated front seats, climate control air-conditioning, nine-speaker/203-watt Bose audio system, adaptive front headlights and keyless auto-entry system.

Selecting the $1000-optional RF-exclusive black roof option also brings Chroma brown Nappa leather, adding to the black and tan colours available on the GT.

The only option is a new Machine Grey Metallic hue adding to the previously available Soul Red Metallic at a cost of $300 extra on all MX-5 models.

2017 Mazda MX-5 pricing*
Roadster 1.5-litre $33,340 +$1350
Roadster 1.5-litre (a) $35,340 +$1350
Roadster 2.0-litre $34,840 +$350
Roadster 2.0-litre (a) $36,840 +$350
Roadster GT 1.5-litre $38,340 +$350
Roadster GT 1.5-litre (a) $40,340 +$350
Roadster GT 2.0-litre $39,900 +$350
Roadster GT 2.0-litre (a) $41,900 +$350
RF 2.0-litre $38,550 N/A
RF 2.0-litre (a) $40,550 N/A
RF GT 2.0-litre $43,890 N/A
RF GT 2.0-litre (a) $45,890 N/A
*Excludes on-road costs

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