The Miata name creates an evocative response from the automotive community. For better or worse, the Miata has something of a cult status about it. Its owners speak nothing but praise while others condemn it for it’s “girly” aura. The first Miata I ever drove was the second generation or “NB”, as enthusiasts call it. I was excited to see what all the hype was all about and to be honest, I found myself disappointed. Yes it felt light and nimble but the steering was a bit boring and the rest of the car felt uninspiring. It just felt like an old car that happened to weigh very little and have rear wheel drive.
Last year I drove the soft top version of the current fourth generation and finally, I understood. The fourth generation Miata weighs the same as the second generation I originally drove, but with the added refinements of a modern vehicle. The car felt light, playful, without feeling rough and unrefined. The engine had great torque and was paired to a slick gear shifter. It completely changed how I felt about the Miata; it had earned my respect. This is all rather disturbing since I am a die hard Subaru BRZ fan, which is the Miata’s modern nemesis. But with the RF (which stands for Retractable Fastback), things must be different, right? Surely the added weight of the retracting hardtop would ruin the fun, right?
My lasting impression of the Miata I drove last year was the throttle response. I loved the engine. It was smooth and torquey down low but the throttle response left something to be desired. It made rev matching more challenging. I’m happy to report, however, that the throttle has been sharpened for 2017. It responds with the immediacy that you’d expect from a sports car. The clutch is light with positive engagement. The shifter has a good, solid weight to it, with short throws between gears and distinct engagement. It has a nice mechanical and metallic feel to it. The brakes aren’t too exciting although the Brembos in the Brembo/BBS package fix that. The steering, although electrically assisted, has great feedback and really gives you a sense of what the front wheels are doing.
The suspension is tailored for fun rather than outright track times. It has a tiny bit of body roll to let you feel what’s going on, all while providing a decent ride. You can feel the car pitch and lean while cornering and savor the moment. With just 155hp, the Miata was never going to be fast anyways. You might as well enjoy the sensations of driving: the engine note, the steering response, the gear changing. The retracting hardtop of the RF adds about 100 lbs over the soft top version. I thought that this would ruin the playfulness of the Miata’s handling but thankfully, it hasn’t. I actually prefer the extra weight. The car feels more solid than the one I drove last year. You get the added security of a hard top but with the additional benefit of being able to drive top down with the wind in your hair, which is of course, the point of a Miata.
The Miata RF comes standard with the 9 speaker Bose stereo system, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert even on the base Club version. The Grand Touring adds leather and Lane Departure Warning. My preferred trim would be the base Club version so that I can option up the Brembo/BBS package to get the lighter, sexier wheels and better brakes. This package is not available on the higher Grand Touring trim, which is interesting.
I’ve always loved the exterior styling of the current generation Miata. I think it looks muscular while maintaining its classic roadster proportions. The RF’s roofline flows nicely, although the way the rear window sits is a little strange. It looks sunken in but overall, it’s a great looking car. Call me crazy but I prefer the way it looks over its twin, the Fiat 124 Spider.
The interior is cozy. If you’re tall or you have an outrageous driving position (like me), you’ll find the Miata’s lack of cabin space challenging for adjusting the seat. There’s no glovebox but rather a storage area next to your shoulder in the center of the car. It’s a tight little cabin and makes everything around you feel huge. I personally don’t recommend it for long trips although the trunk space is not bad. I was able to fit most of our filming equipment in it, which was a real surprise. The hardtop, by the way, does not take up any additional room so trunk space stays the same. Very clever engineering by Mazda.
The RF is a welcomed addition to the Miata family. It takes the fun sports car DNA of the standard soft top and adds the practicality of a retracting hardtop. It’s one of the few cars left on the market that favor balance in handling over outright power. The idea that quick, responsive handling and the sensation of shifting gears yourself is its own reward. It’s proof that Mazda genuinely believes that Driving Matters.
My full video review can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUZkphiL7zs
Still a Proper Miata
Pricing May Be High to Some
Engine (zoom zoom)– 2.0L DOHC 16-Valve I4
Drivetrain – RWD
Horsepower – 155hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque – 148 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm
Transmission – 6-Speed Manual
Weight – 2,445 (MT)
Starting Price – $31,555; Tested at $33,050