The interior on the GT Grand Sport is a little bit more upscale than the standard GS car.
It’s been a wicked year for Mazda, with the ongoing success of the wonderful MX-5 roadster, and the introduction of the all-new CX-5. Spicing up the MX-5 lineup is something new, a body style never really attempted by the Japanese brand. Essentially a segment exclusive, we’re spending an extended period with this new model, but we found it relevant to sample the top-tier version for a week. This is the 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF GT, complete with a Soul Red Metallic paint job and the Grand Sport Package.
The RF, which stands for “Retractable Fastback”, is special in that it’s a true targa-style coupé. Rather than a standard convertible soft top or a power-folding hardtop, MX-5 RF models get a nifty top that retracts into the trunklid along with the rear window, making for a partial open-air experience in favour of a little bit of practicality. Plus, the hardtop here is solid and means the car can be used year-round without fear. The RF has the same basic design as the regular MX-5, though the Porsche 911 Carrera-esque (reviewed here) top mechanism is quite stunning to look at and garnered plenty of attention over the course of our test week. The GT model gets satellite radio, for which there is a shark fin antenna mounted on the trunk lid.
Power for all MX-5 models, including the RF, comes from a SKYACTIV 2.0L inline four-cylinder engine. It’s direct injected, naturally aspirated, and boasts a compression ratio of 13.0:1. The exhaust makes a throaty little burble that almost makes you forget the lineage connecting it to the base 2.0L Mazda3 (reviewed here), and the car pushes 155 horsepower at 6,000RPM and 148 lb-ft. of torque at 4,600RPM. While it isn’t the quickest car in a straight line, the MX-5’s motor redeems itself in real-world driving. Power is immediate and adequate when driving around urban and rural settings, and the overall lightness of the car contributes to crispness on acceleration.
This test vehicle was equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, one of the best examples currently available for purchase at any price point. The shifter itself has short throws and is a joy to row through, and its relationship with the clutch is second to none. Rev-matched downshifts come naturally to this car, and the powertrain in this car is a testament to automotive purity mixed with modern technology. It’s one of a kind and anyone who says otherwise has obviously not driven one.
Steering is an area in which the current MX-5 falls short of its predecessors. It’s electrically assisted power steering and, while allowing the car to corner with impeccable ease and confidence, just isn’t as rewarding as the setup in the previous car. Handling itself is what completes the MX-5’s peppy and energetic personality, so it’s almost a sad awakening as to where the automotive industry overall is heading. But that’s a longer discussion for another day – the RF handles decently well and will induce oversteer on command.
Track day junkies and those intending to sign up for the weekend autocross will want to opt for an MX-5 RF with the Sport Package, or in this case, the Grand Sport Package. The performance goodies equipped here are unique black BBS wheels, fixed four-piston Brembo brakes with red calipers, and on GS Sport Package models, aggressive Recaro sport seats. All models of the MX-5 RF get 17” wheels, sport suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers, and manual transmission cars get a limited-slip differential and a strut tower bar.
The RF is an extremely efficient car, wholly capable of attaining fuel economy numbers that best the official ratings. The SKYACTIV technology as it relates to lightweight materials and a focus on efficiency does deliver in this regard. Rated at 8.9L/100km city and 7.1L/100km highway, the MX-5 RF has a combined rating of 8.0L/100km. Over this test of roughly 750km of both commuting and spirited driving, the car eagerly held an average below 7.5L/100km, coming in right at the 7.3L/100km mark. It must be mentioned that the compression ratio of this engine means premium fuel is recommended, and that’s what these numbers were achieved on.
The interior on the GT Grand Sport is a little bit more upscale than the standard GS car, so if a premium cabin is on your short list, this is the one to opt for. Materials overall are quite nice, with a contrasting black/Chroma Brown dashboard to match the leather seats. We did find those over six feet tall to struggle for space on models with sport seats, as the Recaros have more bolstering and can’t go back quite as far as the Nappa leather seats on this GT Grand Sport. Taller folks who insist on an MX-5 should steer away from Recaro seats. The passenger side foot well also has less space than the driver’s side, because of the transmission tunnel digging into legroom a tad.
Operating the retractable top is simple, but not as simple as the soft top, which is literally one latch and a flick of the wrist. Pressing a button located directly below the climate control will open or close the power top in a sexy and stylish manner, garnering the attention of virtually everyone around the car. The whole operation takes roughly 12 seconds, which means it can be done quickly at a traffic light if required. This top can be operated in motion, though only below speeds of 10km/h. A real-time graphic in the instrument cluster shows exactly what stage of operation the top is in at any given time.
Nice as it is, the RF is not cheap by any means. The base GX trim on the MX-5 cannot be had in this body style, as the RF starts at the mid-level GS for $40,725. Adding the must-have Sport Package will stack $4,400 onto the price. The GT tested here starts at $44,125 adds features including heated Nappa leather seats and a Bose audio system with nine speakers (including speakers in the headrests). The only way to get the Sport Package goodies on the GT is to go for the equipped-here Grand Sport Package, at $3,600. This also adds the Nappa leather and piano black contrasting roof and mirrors. Including the $300 charge for the Soul Red Metallic paint, the sticker on this top-trim test vehicle is $48,025.
When considering affordability, the high sticker price on the RF immediately puts a damper on things for many potential purchasers. The thing is, performance rivals for the car are the soft-top MX-5, the Toyota 86 (reviewed here) and the Subaru BRZ. The Toyota is priced at $29,580 and goes up to about $33,000, and the BRZ is $27,995 and tops out in the same range as the 86. Neither of these cars offer an open-top option (or even a sunroof), and they have very different personalities. The 2017 Mazda MX-5 GT is in a segment of its own, offering a high smiles-to-dollar ratio, incredible efficiency, and stunning looks that evoke positive reactions from almost everyone.