Mazda MX-5 Miata RF (2017)

Mazda MX-5 Miata RF (2017)

Test Drive Notes Library
  • Pros

  • Fun. Let’s face it. Little about driving is “fun” anymore. Traffic sucks. And cars nearly drive themselves anyway. Cars are — especially with all the new entertainment options — more and more like private sitting rooms that just happen to get us from one place to another. The Miata is an exception. On a twisty road with the top down, the Miata is a throwback to when cars were machines that needed to be operated with some degree of skill. It’s almost like an amusement park ride now, because that’s so rare. And it’s fun.
  • Handling. Ninety-nine percent of cars these days are designed to isolate you from the road, to insulate you from any and every sensation. Carmakers go to great lengths to make sure you don’t feel what’s happening underneath you. And, to be fair, most people want it that way. I mean, how many of us want to do a daily, neighborhood survey of “pothole texture?” The Miata is for the other one percent, who are interested in the physics of driving, and are willing to give up comfort for road feel. When you drive the Miata on a curvy road, you can feel the car’s inputs, and feel the car’s weight shift.
  • The engine is still perfect. Just enough power to feel and hear, but not enough to do anything stupid, the Miata brings you back to a time when people actually had to drive cars. It’s involving.
  • Power roof. The Miata RF has an electrically controlled power hard top that folds up and disappears into a storage area behind the seats in about 10-15 seconds. That makes it a slightly more solid feeling car when the top is closed, and we found no real downside when the top is open. From the outside, you can see that the large, Targa-style rear-roof pillars remain in place when the top is down. But when driving, it still feels wide open. You drive looking forward and to the sides, and all you see is open air.
  • Quieter. Compared to the soft top, the hard top makes the Miata quieter when the car is closed up. That’s a bit like saying you’d rather invite a vegetarian to your rib barbecue than a vegan. The Miata is hardly quiet. But if you need to drive the Miata a lot with the top up, the hard top, along with its glass rear window, helps. And we found no downside to the enjoyment when the roof is open.
  • Cons

  • Top up. With the car closed up, the Miata’s flaws become very apparent. When trying to impersonate a "normal car,” the Miata feels small, low to the ground, somewhat uncomfortable, noisy, hard-to-see-out-of, and rather like an economy car. Like we said, with the top down, these flaws instantly disappear.
  • Highway driving. The noise level, ride height, and twitchiness make the Miata a fatiguing car to drive for any length of time on the highway.
  • Comfort. Like we said, the Miata is for the one percent of people who really want to drive for fun, want to feel the road, and want to know what the car is doing. It’s fair to say that that’s not what most people want these days. And, in fact, even Miata owners might not want that all the time.
  • Which is why the Miata should really be a second car for most people. If you live outside of San Diego, there are going to be days when it’s not sunny and 80 degrees. Or days when you need to carry a passenger and a kid. Or days when you need to commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the rain. Or days when you need to drive two hours on a highway. On those days, you’ll be glad that you can take your Honda Accord. When it’s sunny out, and you can take the side roads, you’ll be thrilled. But it’s a tough “only car" to own.
  • Lack of safety features. Our Grand Touring edition, which sells for a dinner-out under $35,000, has blindspot monitoring, lane departure warning, and rear cross traffic alert. All good. But no backup camera. And more importantly, no pre-collision warning or automatic emergency braking.
  • Ridiculous Cup Holders. The Miata wins the award for worst cupholder placement in the modern era. They sit a few inches behind your elbow, where they’re almost impossible to use while driving. Bring your sippy cup, and neck holster.
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