A special car that measures much better when the metrics are counted by experience.
The Mazda MX-5 has long been one of our favourites at the DoubleClutch.ca Magazine office. Despite the various high-performance and luxury vehicles we are blessed to sample, we always look forward to getting a taste breaker with the MX-5 – a car that defines unadulterated driving joy and gives us an ear-to-ear grin that we quite frankly don’t see as much during the modern-day commute. This year feels a bit more special with the 2021 Mazda MX-5 RF GT. We know what to expect, but we are curious to know if the magic is still there.
Despite having been around since 2016, the fourth generation MX-5 still looks fresh. The unique retractable fastback (RF) styling is still intriguing to many onlookers and continues to be a conversation starter. Our sample is painted in a new-for-2021 Deep Crystal Blue Mica that looks beautiful under the sun with metallic sparkles. The GT’s 17-inch gunmetal wheels are a great match for the sophisticated colour scheme. Those seeking extra styling points should consider the Grand Sport Package that adds a contrasting piano black hardtop roof, mirrors, and a set of 17-inch BBS forged wheels.
The 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G engine is carried over from last year, outputting 181 horsepower at 7,000 RPM and 151 lb-ft. of torque at 4,000 RPM. The power figure is not particularly impressive these days but give it the beans and the MX-5 will reward you with a sprint that engulfs you in a sensory experience that makes you forget about the absolute speed it is going.
The MX-5 is not a slow car either; we fully expect it to keep up with most hot hatches but the true magic is really in feeling like you are driving like an outlaw without actually becoming one. The 2.0-litre engine begs to be pushed, especially when paired with the slick six-speed manual transmission and you simply can’t help but to hustle every time you get behind the wheel.
Steering is direct and highly communicative; the MX-5 RF goes exactly where you point it to and its balanced chassis has no problem keeping up. Throttle-induced oversteer is possible, as the driver is always in full control of how the car reacts. The hardtop mechanism adds weight to the formula but it also offers a sense of enhanced stability when compared to the soft-top we tested earlier this summer.
We also found ourselves thoroughly enjoying the RF’s versatility in allowing us to go from a coupé experience to an open-air one in just 13 seconds at speeds up to 10 km/h. The MX-5 RF is one of the last affordable hardtop convertibles in the market today and the extra refinement offered by a folding metal roof is definitely something to be relished.
Fuel economy is rated at 9.0L/100km in the city and 7.0L/100km on the highway – identical to the soft-top models. We observed an average of 9.0L/100km throughout our test, a figure that is quite impressive when considering we had made zero attempt in conserving fuel all week. Premium fuel is recommended for all 2021 Mazda MX-5s.
Moving on inside, the MX-5 RF features a simple no-nonsense layout. Given its small cabin size, interior space is always going to be a compromise but fortunately the reclining seats have enough rail length to find a good driving position to accommodate those that are six-foot-plus.
There is not a lot of storage space so you will want to plan accordingly when adventuring with the MX-5 RF. There’s a little cubby below the centre console for a phone, a small storage bin below the centre armrest area to put your keys, a main glovebox towards the back between its occupants, and two cupholders that can either both sit in front of the glovebox or move one up next to the shifter. Cargo volume? 127-litres. Remember, the Mazda MX-5 is driving first and practicality limited.
A factor that helps to make up for the lack of practicality is the premium material quality inside the cabin. The body-coloured interior trim piece is a nice touch, and its interior fit and finishes is excellent as well. The white Nappa leather adds even more elegance to the overall package, the seats are comfortable, and we love the built-in speakers in the headrests. Infotainment is delivered using the seven-inch touchscreen display with commands accepted using touch or rotary dial. Android Auto and Apply CarPlay comes standard on all 2021 MX-5 RFs and users in the GT trim can connect with their Apple devices wirelessly.
To allow its users to enjoy proper driving fun, Mazda has also made sure their MX-5 RFs are equipped with their latest driving assistance technologies such as Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning, High Beam Control, wide-angle rearview camera, Smart City Brake Support Front, and Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring systems. The blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert systems proved themselves to be very handy in the MX-5 RF with its huge blind spots created by the thick side pillars.
The 2021 Mazda MX-5 RF starts at $40,200 for the base GS-P model and moves up to $43,300 for the as-tested GT. Add $400 for the white Nappa leather interior and we arrived at an as-tested total of $43,700. Its performance is closely matched with the all-new Toyota GR-86 and Subaru BRZ, with the additional open-air experience offered by its retractable hardtop design not found in any sports cars below $100K nowadays.
The 2021 Mazda MX-5 RF GT is a special car that measures much better when the metrics are counted by experience rather than by stopwatches. It manages to deliver pure driving joy using its simple mechanics – something that is unfortunately lost in evolution in modern sports cars – and the end result is a proper driving companion that makes every trip that much more enjoyable.
*Photos by Desmond Chan*