2023 Mazda MX-5 RF GT

The MX-5 RF isn't the newest or shiniest toy, but it's still one of the most engaging new cars you can buy
The MX-5 RF isn't the newest or shiniest toy, but it's still one of the most engaging new cars you can buy

by Jon Pangindian and Nathan Leipsig | September 6, 2023


As the march towards more SUVs and crossovers continues, it is hard to believe we are also at a point where we have a wide variety of fun-to-drive cars to choose from that do not break the bank. Leading that charge is Mazda’s MX-5. Reasonably priced and incredibly fun to drive, it has long been a favourite among enthusiasts and fans of droptop driving. But with news that the next-generation model possibly going electrified, we quickly snagged the keys to a 2023 Mazda MX-5 RF GT for what could possibly be the end of an era.

Mazda offers the MX-5 in two flavours — the classic soft top convertible, and the RF with its power-operated metal roof — although I would consider the RF more of a targa. For a true open-air experience, you’re best off with the soft top and its incredibly easy-to-operate, weight-saving fabric roof. That being said, the RF is a better option if you plan on driving during inclement weather, if not year-round.

This particular RF tester is finished in Zircon Sand Metallic, a new-for-2023 colour available for an extra $250. It’s a refreshing change from Soul Red; not that red is a bad colour, but something different is nice. I had my reservations about Zircon Sand initially, but it quickly grew on me and by the end of the week, I absolutely loved it. This feeling was shared by many onlookers, given the number of complements I received stuck in traffic. Aside from the colour, there are no other visual changes for 2023. To be honest, I am not complaining. The RF is one good-looking car.

Our tester was the GT trim, which receives upgraded Bilstein shock absorbers, a strut tower bar, and most importantly, a limited-slip differential. To get these goodies, you will also need to select the fantastic six-speed manual transmission. These upgrades made all the difference compared to the last soft-top I drove, which had none of these bits.

Driving the MX-5 RF aggressively felt controlled and manageable, especially with these upgrades. Sure, the 2.0-litre normally aspirated four-cylinder engine doesn’t overwhelm with power — you have 181 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque to play with — but it works well here. It’s responsive and smooth, but the heavily revised Toyota GR86 and Subaru BRZ twins feel more eager. It will be interesting to see what electrification does to the next-gen MX-5.

Although the engine lags behind the new 86/BRZ twins in terms of output, the MX-5’s lighter weight more than makes up for this discrepancy. There is more than enough thrust to keep up with the flow of traffic, and passing 18-wheelers can be done with a single downshift. Ride quality feels surprisingly composed; only the worst of roads will have your fillings shaken loose.

Inside, the MX-5’s design has held up mostly well. The eight-inch display feels a touch small, the graphics are a little fuzzy, and it is running Mazda’s previous-gen infotainment software, but the overall design still looks modern and materials feel a little more upscale than the BRZ and GR86. Sadly, there isn’t a lot of space, and that is my biggest issue. At six-foot-three, I felt rather snug and never 100 per cent comfortable, sitting more upright than preferred. My old car, a third-generation MX-5 Miata, was roomer inside. Thankfully, wireless Apple CarPlay is present, allowing you to keep your phone in your pocket, or tucked into the cubby between the two seats. Sadly, Android users are stuck with a wired Android Auto connection, and all the clutter that comes with it.

Whether you choose the soft top or RF, the MX-5 is one of the cheapest ways to get into a convertible. A base MX-5 GS soft-top starts at a reasonable $33,900, but things can get pricey as you move up through the lineup. A base RF starts at $40,900, while our GT tester topped out at $44,250 as-tested.

Fuel economy is a strong point with the MX-5 RF. Vehicles that are this fun and enjoyable usually go hand-in-hand with a hefty fuel bill, but that’s not the case here. Mazda officially rates the MX-5 RF at 9.0 L/100 km city and 7.0 highway. Impressive numbers and perfectly in line with the 8.1 L/100 km I averaged. Premium fuel is required.

Japanese carmakers seem to be going through something of a sporty car renaissance. Cars like the Honda Civic Type R, Toyota GR Corolla, and the new Nissan Z may be stealing all the hype on the high end, but on the lower end, the 2023 Mazda MX-5 RF GT stands the test of time. It’s not the newest or shiniest toy, but it’s proven to be reliable, incredibly fun-to-drive, and remains one of the cheapest ways to get into a legitimately engaging convertible. If only it was just a little roomier inside.

See Also

Enthusiast’s Corner: 1990 Mazda MX-5

2022 Subaru BRZ

Track Test: 2022 Toyota GR86

Vehicle Specs
Rear-wheel-drive sports car
Engine Size
2.0L normally aspirated four-cylinder
Horsepower (at RPM)
Torque (lb-ft.)
Fuel Efficiency (L/100km, City/Highway/Combined)
Observed Fuel Efficiency (L/100km)
Cargo Capacity (in L)
Base Price (CAD)
As-Tested Price (CAD)
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About Jon Pangindian

Staff Writer

An experienced detailer and diehard car guy, Jon brings a creative eye to his new vehicle road tests. Aside from writing, Jon spends most of his time tinkering with new detailing products and experimenting with ceramic coatings.

Current Toy: ’13 650i Gran Coupé