2020 Mazda MX-5 RF GT Review: Fun Yet Practical?
Price & Specs7
Interior & Practicality7
Performance & Economy9
Ride & Handling9
Running Costs & Warranty8
What we like:
  • Clever roof design
  • Punchy 2.0L engine
  • Sublime handling
What we don't like:
  • Limited interior storage
  • No adaptive cruise control
  • Boot could be bigger
8DiscoverAuto Rating

The legendary Mazda MX-5 has been on sale globally since the early 1990s and it’s been a sales phenomenon ever since having sold over one million units so far. Known for it’s ‘smiles per miles’ the MX-5 has always been a cheaper way of giving driving thrill without going silly speeds on public roads, as well as the most communicative chassis’ in modern cars. While sports car sales have shrunken significantly globally, the 2020 MX-5 still sells in reasonable numbers and provides an answer to an age old question: coupe or convertible? Enter the 2020 Mazda MX-5 GT RF.

The ‘RF’ part of the name is the MX-5’s ‘retractable fastback’, which features a Porsche-esque electric-folding targa roof that erects or subtracts in under 15 seconds. But with a 49kg and $4,800 increase over the MX-5 roadster GT, is the RF ideal for those looking for the same open-top thrills as a roadster but the security of a coupe? Top down summer and roof up winter? Let’s find out.

Price & Specs: 7/10

The 2020 Mazda MX-5 range kicks off with the 1.5-litre roadster, which is priced at $36,090 plus on-road costs – but we tested the opposite end of the MX-5 spectrum: the top-spec RF GT Black Roof, which is priced at $49,120 (or around $54,000 drive away, depending on your location), which is not cheap. Being a top-spec model, the 2020 Mazda MX-5 GT RF Black Roof thankfully does come very well equipped.

Standard kit on the 2020 Mazda MX-5 GT RF Black Roof includes 17-inch alloy wheels, auto lights and wipers, LED lighting (including front and rear daytime running lights – we wish all Mazdas had this), a stainless steel exhaust system, single-zone climate control, cruise control, a leather steering wheel, gearknob and handbrake, keyless entry and start, a limited slip differential, a 7.0-inch colour screen with inbuilt satellite navigation, a 203W nine-speaker Bose sound system, wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto and heated Nappa leather seats.

As far as safety features are concerned, the 2020 Mazda MX-5 GT RF Black Roof comes with automatic emergency braking (AEB) in both forward and reverse, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, Matrix LED headlights that can shield their beam from oncoming traffic, a pedestrian-friendly pop-up bonnet, driver attention alert, lane departure warning, a reversing camera, traffic sign recognition and tyre pressure monitoring. Really, only adaptive cruise control is missing from the MX-5’s spec sheet.

Setting it apart from the regular 2020 Mazda MX-5 GT RF, the Black Roof gains the choice of burgundy or white Nappa leather seating and as the name would suggest, a black painted roof for an extra $1,075. All colours are no cost options aside from ‘Soul Red Crystal’, ‘Machine Grey’ and the ‘Polymetal Grey’ of our test car, which are an extra $495.

Performance & Fuel Economy: 9/10

Here is where the 2020 Mazda MX-5 really comes into its own. The standard engine for the model tested here is a 2.0-litre four cylinder which produces 135kW of power and 205Nm of torque. This might not sound like a lot but keep in mind the MX-5 GT RF only weighs just 1,107kg. The engine feels lively and like it is always egging you on and wanting more from you. It also gives off a really great throaty note too with the standard stainless steel exhaust system.

The just-superseded Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ twins came with 152kW of power and 212Nm of torque, which is more than the MX-5, but they also weighed more than 200kg more and it really shows – the MX-5 feels positively effervescent in comparison. The 86/BRZ twins didn’t have the same sense of urgency that the Mazda has and they feel a little sluggish too, especially low in the rev range. The MX-5 hits 100km/h from rest in just over 6.0 seconds, and hits 220km/h at the top.

Due to the MX-5’s weight (or lack there of) the fuel economy is quite good for a sports car. Mazda claims an average figure of 6.9L/100km for the manual and 7.2L/100km for the automatic – in our time, we managed to get 7.4L/100km in a combination of urban and highway driving, which is pretty good for the level of fun on offer.

Ride & Handling: 9/10

The 2020 Mazda MX-5 GT RF Black Roof does have a sporty ride but unlike most of other ‘sporty’ cars, it’s still more than comfortable for everyday use. The MX-5’s ride is on the firmer side, but it isn’t crashy at all – it’s certainly more comfortably than an 86 was. The humble 17-inch wheels (the largest you can get on an MX-5) allow bumps to not intrude into the cabin, and even larger potholes aren’t jarring.

Now on to the 2020 Mazda MX-5’s party piece: it’s one of the best handling cars on the market, regardless of price. Mainly due to the lightness and the low centre of gravity the MX-5, will corner flat and quickly too, all while making you smile uncontrollably. It is such a fun car to drive – it pushes you to drive to the limit and corner harder. Compared to the 86 and BRZ the MX-5 feels more nimble and razor sharp.

The steering is perfectly weighted as it’s not too light and gives off a fantastic amount of feel for such a small maneuverable car. One great addition a few years ago was tilt and telescopic steering adjustment, which makes the driving position much better and gives the driver a stronger connection to the car and the road, which is what the MX-5 is about.

Road noise levels and visibility – particularly in the RF thanks to its buttresses – are not great, however. It can be loud at any speed thanks to the little amount of sound insulation (part of why the car’s weight is so low) and with the roof retracted and the windows down, the wind noise can be pretty viscous as the buttresses catch pretty much any air and projects it in to the cabin. In that regard, the MX-5 roadster is far superior with its roof retracted.

Interior & Practicality: 7/10

The 2020 Mazda MX-5 GT RF Black Roof has an interior that most would describe as cozy. There isn’t a huge amount of space in the cabin but those who can fit will be more than comfortable. The steering wheel felt oddly big compared to a regular car, although this could just be relative to the small size of the MX-5. The MX-5 interior has largely been unchanged since the ND generation was introduced but dated centre screen aside, it still doesn’t need a change in our opinion.

The materials used in the MX-5’s cabin are good. The dash is not soft touch unfortunately, but the seats are very comfortable and the Nappa leather is a good quality – we love the red colour of our test car as well. It’s an ergonomically pleasing cabin with all the controls in close reach. We do wish the Recaro sports seats offered overseas came to Australia as the standard seats are fine, though can lack vertical support, especially in corners.

One drawback to the MX-5 is it’s infotainment system which is still the same MZD Connect system the brand has been using since 2014. It is still a good system that’s very intuitive to use, but we would like to see the newer Mazda Connect system that features in the new Mazda3 and CX-30 used in the MX-5. But if you just use Apple CarPlay – wirelessly now for 2021 – or Android Auto then this shouldn’t bother you as both work flawlessly in the MX-5. There’s also finally a reversing camera as standard kit.

Interior storage is another one of the MX-5’s drawbacks, though. There is a distinct lack of storage cubbies – you get two tiny pockets in each of the door panels and a storage box in between the two front seats, as well as a small phone tray in front of the gearknob and another hidey hole behind the seats. That’s it – there is no glovebox (much like the McLaren P1 if you want to compare the two) so larger items need to either go in the storage box behind the front seats or in the boot. A proper glovebox and taller cupholders would go a long way to helping interior practicality – and we don’t think they’d add any weight at all, Mazda.

The boot offers just 127-litres – tiny compared with a regular hatchback, but decent for a sports car. The boot is deep and can fit two overnight bags easily. There is no spare wheel in the ND series MX-5, nor even a repair kit.

The roof in the MX-5 RF is a thing of beauty. It quickly and quietly erects and subtracts in under 15 seconds from coupe to roadster (or vice versa), and when it’s folded, it sits in between the boot and the seats – which is why the storage cavity behind the seats is smaller on the RF than the roadster. The RF’s roof is well engineered and clever, though we can’t help but imagine what a proper MX-5 coupe would be like without the complicated roof mechanism. One for the next-generation car, Mazda?

Service & Warranty: 8/10

Like all other Mazda products, the 2020 Mazda MX-5 GT RF Black Roof comes with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is on par with what other brands are offering. The MX-5 also has five years of roadside assistance, which is five years more than what Toyota offers with the 86.

Servicing the 2020 Mazda MX-5 comes around every 12-months or 10,000km, which is better than Toyota’s nine-month/15,000km service intervals for the 86, though still relatively short in today’s age. It will set you back $1,044 to service the Mazda over three years/30,000km while it would only cost $800 to service the Toyota over the same time period, although you would need an extra service in the 86 due to the shorter time intervals.

2020 Mazda MX-5 GT RF Black Roof DiscoverAuto Rating: 8.0/10

Fun to drive, a clever roof, not too expensive to run and fantastic styling, what’s not to like about the 2020 Mazda MX-5 GT RF Black Roof? It will make you smile every time you get behind the wheel. It is nimble, engaging and just an excellent driver’s car, especially as a six-speed manual. With the full suite of active safety kit, the MX-5 is the smart choice in the small sports car category. So would we buy one? In a word, yes without a doubt.

Pricing has definitely crept up over the years – we remember when the 2.0L GT was $43,500 drive away – and it is starting to get quite expensive at the top end of the range, but aside from the Ford Fiesta ST, there is nothing this side of $60,000 that puts such a large smile on your face behind the wheel. With all of that in mind, does one go for the roadster or RF coupe? We still think the roadster is the better choice thanks to its superior value for money, but either way, the MX-5 is a superb sports car – it’s definitely better than the Toyota 86, for now.

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