Driven - November 2017

Mazda MX5- RF: Best weekend car, worst weekday car.

Mazda MX5- RF Driven Review

Weekend vehicle:

Definition: “That car that makes you forget about all your problems and dependants for a period of time, preferably early mornings when the kids or the wife is asleep.” TheMotorist Dictionary

Let us begin…

“Ah, two seats, low center of gravity, a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine and a targa top roof. What more could you want” was just one of my thoughts, as I eagerly awaited the arrival of Mazda’s MX5-RF. I’d heard great things about this car and after driving it, I’m here to tell you why it may be the perfect weekend car for someone on a reasonable budget.   

From the outside, the MX5 is a looker. It’s low, features a long front end with sharp striking details such as shark-like headlights and grille. Add the meteor grey paintwork to it and it really does look sublime and sporty. It’s near perfect for a  South African Sunday summer drive. Affordable sports cars are a rarity today, so there’s not much to compare the MX5 RF with, hence why it’s difficult to call it affordable. R532 800 may not be a cheap, but it’s cheaper than what you would pay for one of its few rivals. In fact, it’s over R100K cheaper than a Fiat 124 Spider.

So it looks the part, but what makes it extra special? It’s funny, what makes me love it on the weekends is what makes me dislike it during the week. Let’s start with the obvious – it’s small. I’m not what you would describe as a tall person, I am actually on the shorter side of life (as much as I hate to admit it). I am also pretty youthful at 25, and my BMI is probably in the normal range, depending on how much time I’ve spent with my colleagues. Still, getting in and out the MX-5 is a mission, partly due to how low it sits from the ground coupled with the tight interior cabin. I found myself panting as if I haven’t kicked a soccer ball in years each time I had to get in. So then, getting in and out of the car, is a maneuver you probably don’t want to be doing at least twice a day. Doing this everyday of the week, in bad weather, when your back is sore, or when you are late for work is not going to leave you feeling thrilled. On a very bad day, this entire procedure will just make everything worse, a “straw that broke the camel’s” back scenario could easily ensue. You may not strike the nearest person to you, or quit your job out of anger, but you will make use of many expletives and remember why your wife said this vehicle won’t work.  

Once you have finally acrobatically seated yourself, the cabin is rather snug too. It’s not particularly comfortable either. What it is though, is very engaging. You feel “at one with the car” At least that’s what the brochure of the vehicle says. This feeling maybe not be what you want to experience everyday of your life. Traffic is traffic, so it’s rather pointless feeling like you’re in a go-kart if you can’t do anything about it. The interior storage space is also fairly limited, there is a cubby hole in the centre and behind the seats. In order to use the rear one, you need the neck skills of an owl. I also didn’t know where to put the key, my wallet and even my phone, thus wedging them in between my legs, thus increasing my risk of testicular cancer. Once again, not ideal.

Then comes the issues of driving on the road, I found that because the mX5 is so small and low, taxis, trucks and buses struggled to see me. Careful attention and the odd maneuver, helped me avoid getting sideswiped or frankly squashed – not a worry you need on the daily run to the office. So then when is the perfect time to use this car?

Imagine now you only needed to deal with these issues once a week, on quiet roads with the wind in your hair and the sun beating down on your forehead. Suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad. These problems all disappear as your chase the next best road, something the MX5 loves doing.

The Mazda MX-5 RF excels as a weekend car, or even a vehicle you drive to work on the odd occasion. It’s fun and sporty demeanor means that these everyday issues are just blips on the radar, when the car is used for what it was built to do –  be driven hard.

As much as the MX-5 may have many little annoyances, driving is one area it excels. It’s not about its engine, it’s the package as a whole. What makes it exasperating everyday is what makes it great when the right time comes. The low ride height gives it sense of fun and a “go-karty” feel. The 2.0 litre naturally aspirated engine is also punchy and free revving. All of these attributes combined, make for a very fun driving experience.

What’s funny is that the MX-5 isn’t mind blowingly fast. Even though it’s rear wheel driven, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to throw heaps of oversteer at you when you least expect it. Instead it makes you work for it. Working for it is the best part, as we live in a world where power in most cars is so accessible, it can take the fun away.  That is what stood out about the Mazda MX-5 RF for me. It can also be driven enthusiastically and enjoyed by drivers who may not have that much experience handling powerful rear wheel drive cars. It’s fun, but accessible. I’d love to say it’s perfect, but it’s not. Where Mazda missed the off ramp with this car is the gearbox. Had they left the 6 speed manual found in the MX5 roadster, the RF would be damn near perfect. Unfortunately, gear changes are made via an automatic gearbox, which can get in the way of your experience.

Put that aside and the Mazda MX-5 RF provides great summer fun. As a daily, I’d have something else, but if I had some monies lying around, it would park in my garage as a toy. Being in the city, convenience and ease of drive is a big thing for many of us. One can’t just “get up and go” with the MX-5. You would need to “get up, try get in, eventually get in, get comfortable, drop your phone, get annoyed and then go”. On a weekend however, for those moments alone on a blissfully quiet road and less worries, you’ll love it.

Also published on Medium.