2016 Mazda MX-5 Long term review p4

At first glance, the differences between these two might seem only skin deep.

The MX-5 Retractable Fastback (a fancy term for its metal top) and our resident soft-top measure identical in everything besides height, which is up 5mm on the RF, while underneath, the RF’s stolen the 2.0-litre soft-top’s wheels, brakes, and tyres. They’re twins on paper.

So you’ll need to peer at them from other angles to spot the differences. Like from the side. Tucked behind the RF’s seats are flying buttresses which extend the roofline halfway down the MX-5’s boot.

This shortens the RF’s butt, making its cabin appear more rearward, and visually stretches the bonnet, like some sort of baby Z4 M coupe. Squint at it from behind and you can even see a bit of F-Type Coupe.

2016 Mazda MX-5 long term review p1

But there’s a niggling question about the RF: why’d Mazda build it? Sure, it’s pretty. But the soft-top’s no duffer. Nor have they slipped it more power to hunt down 86s or BRZs.

This aside, Mazda claims the RF is here to attract a ‘new kind of buyer’ with a ‘more premium experience’.

There’s no doubt the RF feels higher-grade than our own MX-5 from the moment you settle in it. Thumb the start button and a new colour LCD lights up in the dash, while the 2.0-litre inline four buzzes away under thicker layers of insulation.

2016 Mazda MX-5 long term review p2

Dropping the roof, too, is no longer a chore – just a delay. Okay, 14 seconds isn’t long (except for millennials), but the RF will refuse to do it over 10km/h. So you can end up praying for stop-start traffic before the smoggy freeway tunnel you’re about to drive through for 10 minutes.

It’s a delight to watch, though, as it goes about folding away the three-piece roof like origami. The buttresses catch a lot of wind with the roof down, but cabin noise is markedly improved when up. And luggage space is only three litres poorer at 127L in the boot.

The real question is, however, whether the hardtop steers like our long termer. Mazda worked hard to slash 91kg from the last MX-5 generation, but the RF’s electric roof system stuffs 47kg back in.

2016 Mazda MX-5 long term review p3

To combat the extra podge, Mazda drilled some holes in the RF’s tunnel member and regassed the suspension dampers to suit. The steering and bushes were also tweaked.

Hurrying both cars up and down some bends, then swapping for back-to-back impressions, an immediate difference between the soft- and hard-top emerges.

Cruising along at lower speeds, there’s a touch more float over bumps in the RF and the steering feels slower, and a touch heavier, at turnaround points.

Body roll’s more progressive, which gives you more confidence to throw it into bends, but a more pedantic ESC cuts the fun sooner, preventing you from getting stuck into its chassis.

Back in the showroom, Mazda reckons the RF will make up 60 per cent of overall MX-5 sales. Ambitious when you consider its four variants are outnumbered by eight soft-tops, and the cheapest, a 2.0-litre RF manual, starts at $38,550 – or $6560 more than the cheapest 1.5-litre MX-5.

We’re not sure it’ll be quite that popular – Mazda’s already moved 2500 soft tops since launch – but we know that whoever buys one won’t be disappointed. Its extra class, practicality, and looks make it a perfect retirement present, especially if Sunday club runs will be its main use. However, if it were us, and the calendar had a few track days on it, we’d pick the softie.

MONTH FOUR

LIKED: Crusing in the RF’s added class
DISLIKED: The RF’s touchy ESP; its wind noise
FAVOURITE MOMENT: Taking in the RF’s sexy shape

Fuel this month: 8.57L/100km | Average: 8.59L/100km | Distance this month: 876km | Total: 5702km

Read more about our Mazda MX-5 long-term review

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