2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF First Test: A More Civilized Miata


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If you like a dreary days, don’t move to Los Angeles. On average, we get well under two feet of rain per year, and it’s normal to go months without so much as a drop. I, on the other hand, was perfectly happy to move here. After putting up with Boston weather for the last several years, L.A.’s convertible-ready weather would be A-OK with me.

Unfortunately, when it does rain here, the timing can be incredibly inconvenient. Take, for instance, the week we were supposed to test the 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF. It rained almost every day, making it difficult to fully enjoy the “retractable” part of the Miata’s “Retractable Fastback.” Thankfully, one dry day allowed us to run the RF through our battery of performance tests. And even though Mazda technically updated the Miata for 2018, the results weren’t much different than they were the first time we tested an RF with a manual transmission.

In the acceleration test, for example, our car hit 60 mph in 6.4 seconds and ran the quarter-mile in 14.9 seconds at 92.2 mph. The 2017 Miata RF may have posted a 0.2 mph faster trap speed, but its times were identical. We also recorded a negligible difference in braking distances. The 2018 model needed 110 feet to stop from 60 mph, while the 2017 convertible needed 109 feet.

As road test editor Chris Walton wrote in his notes, “Nothing new to report.” Like before, he appreciated the rev-happy engine and firm brake pedal, but he did note a slight lag on the tachometer and a power drop-off just before 7,000 rpm.

On the skidpad, the Miata averaged 0.91 g of lateral acceleration, matching our previous test. It also posted a figure-eight time of 26.0 seconds at 0.70 g, ever so slightly off the 2017 Miata RF’s time of 25.9 seconds at 0.71 g.

After driving the car on the track, testing director Kim Reynolds called out “the usual Miata cues [including a] superb shifter, weak lower rpm torque, great seats, and terrific steering,” but also mentioned that he was surprised at the extent of the body roll on this hardtop model.

Despite that issue, the Miata impressed him yet again. “If you can’t drive this car well, you really can’t drive at all. It’s both a superb car to drive well and incredibly forgiving to those who don’t/can’t.”

Even though the rain didn’t completely throw off our testing schedule, it did minimize the amount of top-down fun I could have throughout the week. By the time I actually got up to the canyons, the amount of mud and debris on the road forced me to enjoyable myself in a more restrained fashion than I would have preferred.

Although our last Miata RF tester was a mid-level Club trim, this one was the top-of-the-line Grand Touring version. Among other features, the Grand Touring trim comes standard with leather seats, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, keyless entry, automatic climate control, navigation, and lane departure warning. Our tester added Soul Red Crystal paint and the purely aesthetic Interior package, bringing the total to $34,660. That’s pretty pricey for a car with only 155 hp, but if you’re planning to use your Miata RF as a daily driver, you’ll probably come to appreciate the extra features.

Considering how much the B-pillars impact visibility, however, I would have gladly traded lane departure warning for a rearview camera. Mazda also needs to add Apple CarPlay and Android Auto ASAP, and despite the fact that the roof raises and lowers in a respectable 13 seconds at up to 6 mph, I missed the speed and simplicity of operating the soft-top. Beyond those things, my complaints were minimal.

Yes, the Miata is tiny by modern standards, but after the first couple days, I stopped noticing. And although less body roll would make it a better track car, the softer suspension paid off around town. And even when you’re not driving it hard, the manual transmission is a total delight. This hardtop variant is also noticeably quieter than the soft-top.

Add in the convenience of Grand Touring features such as rain-sensing wipers and automatic adaptive headlights, and the Miata RF becomes a car you don’t have to justify owning. It’s just an excellent all-around car.

Surprisingly, it even won over my sports-car-hating wife. “I can’t believe I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would,” she told me. “It’s actually nice.” Coming from her, that’s a serious compliment.

Sure, you could buy a soft-top Miata Club, save about $3,600, and have just as much, if not more fun on winding back roads. But if you’re going to spend most of your time driving around town, the 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF in Grand Touring trim could be worth the extra money.

2018 Mazda MX-5 (RF Grand Touring 6MT)
BASE PRICE $33,640
PRICE AS TESTED $34,660
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door convertible
ENGINE 2.0L/155-hp/148-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 2,422 lb (50/50%)
WHEELBASE 90.9 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 154.1 x 68.3 x 49.0 in
0-60 MPH 6.4 sec
QUARTER MILE 14.9 sec @ 92.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 110 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.91 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 26.0 sec @ 0.70 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 26/33/29 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 130/102 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.67 lb/mile