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Mazda MX-5 2018 review: RF Limited Edition

EXPERT RATING
7.6
Mazda's MX-5 continues to stand as a pure two-seat sports car, designed to reward its driver with a finely tuned and connected drive.

Mazda's MX-5 is like a sports car salmon, swimming against a stream of well credentialed, but more often than not, decidedly un-sporty, me-too cars. A shining beacon of simplicity and lightness in a world seemingly overrun with seven-seat SUVs and dual-cab utes.

But over time Mazda has made some pragmatic concessions to increase the car's appeal. For example, in the last two of four generations, an automated hardtop version.

And this is the MX-5 RF, those extra letters standing for 'Retractable Fastback', and it was launched here this time last year. But the car you're looking at here isn't just any RF.

Spicy special editions have regularly featured in the MX-5's close to 30-year run, and this is the latest. A limited release of 110 examples, boasting a range of performance-focused upgrades.

Mazda's MX-5 is a shining beacon of simplicity and lightness in a world seemingly overrun with seven-seat SUVs and dual-cab utes. Mazda's MX-5 is a shining beacon of simplicity and lightness in a world seemingly overrun with seven-seat SUVs and dual-cab utes.

Mazda MX-5 2018: RF
Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.1L/100km
Seating2 seats
Price from$32,990

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

This limited edition is based on the RF GT, which means a 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated petrol engine, in this case paired with a six-speed manual gearbox (only).

Car spotters should look for an aero-influenced body kit, with pieces selected from Mazda's existing optional sports pack; specifically, a larger front spoiler, side skirts, and a rear 'under spoiler' trim piece.

Car spotters should look for an aero-influenced body kit, with pieces selected from Mazda's existing optional sports pack. Car spotters should look for an aero-influenced body kit, with pieces selected from Mazda's existing optional sports pack.

Slip the car into a wind tunnel and prove me wrong, but I'd be amazed if that alleged spoiler under the car's backside makes a scrap of difference to aerodynamic efficiency. Looks decorative, but a diffuser it ain't.

The standard 17-inch alloys are swapped out for black BBS rims of the same diameter, and Recaro Alcantara and leather-trimmed sports seats dial up the focus on the inside.

There are five colours to choose from – 'Machine Grey' metallic (as per our test example), 'Soul Red' crystal metallic, 'Snowflake White' pearl mica, 'Ceramic' metallic and 'Eternal Blue' mica. You can have the folding roof panel in any colour you like as long as it's black.

Slip the car into a wind tunnel and prove me wrong, but I'd be amazed if that alleged spoiler under the car's backside makes a scrap of difference to aerodynamic efficiency. Slip the car into a wind tunnel and prove me wrong, but I'd be amazed if that alleged spoiler under the car's backside makes a scrap of difference to aerodynamic efficiency.

How practical is the space inside?   6/10

Practicality and the Mazda MX-5 are like oil and water... and that's par for the course in this kind of pure sports car. Forget prams and loads of luggage, it's a cheeky weekend getaway machine at best.

Boot capacity is 127 litres (three less than the roadster), but that's adequate for a couple of decent soft bags. No spare wheel by the way; repair kit only.

The glovebox sitting in the bulkhead behind and between the seats is as easy to reach as that bag of peas at the back of the freezer. And a pair cupholders sitting below require yoga-like contortion to even reach.

Practicality and the Mazda MX-5 are like oil and water... and that's par for the course in this kind of pure sports car. Practicality and the Mazda MX-5 are like oil and water... and that's par for the course in this kind of pure sports car.

There's a small lidded oddments box lower down, a tiny cavity at the leading edge of the centre console, and that's about it for cabin storage.

There aren't any door pockets or bottle bins, but you will find a pair of USB inputs, and an aux-in audio socket in the centre console, plus a 12-volt outlet hidden in the top of the passenger footwell.

With the hardtop in place there's enough room for my 183cm frame, including acceptable headroom (which increases dramatically with the roof folded away).

There's a small lidded oddments box lower down, a tiny cavity at the leading edge of the centre console, and that’s about it for cabin storage. There's a small lidded oddments box lower down, a tiny cavity at the leading edge of the centre console, and that’s about it for cabin storage.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

All MX-5 RFs boast a healthy standard equipment list including, 17-inch alloy rims, LED headlights and DRLs, air-conditioning, cruise control, six-speaker audio with internet radio integration (but no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto), the 7.0-inch 'MZD Connect' touchscreen display, and satellite navigation.

The GT version adds auto headlights and wipers, heated leather seats, climate control air, a 203 watt nine-speaker 'Premium Bose' audio system, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, adaptive front-lighting (optimises light distribution for specific driving conditions), and keyless entry.

As mentioned, this limited edition features the larger 2.0-litre engine, a body kit with front spoiler, side skirts, and the rear 'under spoiler', 17-inch black BBS alloy rims, Brembo four piston front brake calipers sitting on rotors with extra cooling fins, and fitted with low-steel brake pads (for extra, fade resistant, track day compatibility).

The 7.0-inch 'MZD Connect' touchscreen display, and satellite navigation comes as standard. The 7.0-inch 'MZD Connect' touchscreen display, and satellite navigation comes as standard.

Under the bonnet there's a strut cross-brace bar, Bilstein gas shock absorbers are slotted into the double wishbone front, and multi-link rear suspension set-up, and Recaro Alcantara and leather-trimmed sports seats dial up the focus on the inside. You'll even score a custom Seiko watch.

Which all adds up to a drive-away price just under $55,790 (from an MLP of $52,210). One helluva number when you consider a little over 33 grand (before on-road costs) will get you behind the wheel of a 1.5-litre MX-5 roadster - the car many, myself included, consider to be the sweetest MX-5 of all.

It's roughly $7400 more than the RF GT it's based on, and that may add up for you, but we reckon it's a stretch.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   8/10

Largely because the RF tips the scales roughly 50kg heavier than the corresponding soft-top it side-steps the latter's sweet 1.5-litre four cylinder base engine, and sticks with the big-banger 2.0-litre only.

The all-alloy 'Skyactiv-G' powerplant is a double-overhead cam design featuring direct-injection and variable valve timing and produces 118kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4600rpm. Power is fed to the rear wheels via six-speed manual gearbox.

The all-alloy 'Skyactiv-G' powerplant is a double-overhead cam design featuring direct-injection and variable valve timing and produces 118kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4600rpm. The all-alloy 'Skyactiv-G' powerplant is a double-overhead cam design featuring direct-injection and variable valve timing and produces 118kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4600rpm.

How much fuel does it consume?   8/10

Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 7.0L/100km (emitting 162g/km of CO2 in the process), minimum fuel requirement is 95RON, and the tank holds 45 litres.

On a previous test of the RF GT we recorded 8.6L/100 (courtesy of the on-board trip computer) over roughly 300km, spread evenly across suburban, freeway, and city running.

What's it like to drive?   9/10

The MX-5 formula remains unchanged; a free-spinning, four-cylinder engine mounted in the front, driving the rear wheels. It's a reminder that driving fun doesn't have to mean ultra-high-tech and big power, because despite close to 50 extra kilos for the hardtop, the RF GT is still a relative lightweight at less than 1100kg.

The car feels light-footed, agile, and simply swapping through the manual's six ratios is half the fun. In fact, the gearbox retains the same 40mm shift stroke that's been carried through all MX-5's since the first-generation, and it's brilliant.

Peak torque arrives high in the rev range, but acceleration, while not neck-snapping, is still handy lower down, and really gets into its stride by the time peak power comes on board at 6000rpm (close to the 6900rpm rev ceiling).

The roof can be raised or lowered at speeds up to 10km/h, and it's 13 seconds from go to whoa, which is agreeably quick. The roof can be raised or lowered at speeds up to 10km/h, and it's 13 seconds from go to whoa, which is agreeably quick.

The Bilstein dampers and extra bracing at the front have really tied the car down. The grippy Bridgestone Potenza rubber is a perfect match for the taut chassis, while the standard limited-slip differential ensures drive is going to the rear wheel that can use it most.

Signing on for a sports car like this means you should expect a certain amount of feedback coming up into the cabin, but despite the Bilsteins, ride comfort is surprisingly good. Far from limo-like, but easily good enough for relaxed B-road touring.

The steering delivers great road feel and turn-in response is beautifully linear and direct. At the same time, body control through quick twisting sections is really buttoned down. It's great to drive.

The car feels light-footed, agile, and simply swapping through the manual's six ratios is half the fun. The car feels light-footed, agile, and simply swapping through the manual's six ratios is half the fun.

The Recaros are a step ahead of the standard seats, which look classy, but feel slim in the backrest as lateral forces start to build. And even though brakes don't need to be massive for a car in this weight division, the new rotors and Brembo calipers at the front are professional grade. The trick calipers also shave two kilos off the car's un-sprung weight.

An acrylic 'Aero Board' wind blocker helps reduce cabin turbulence, and the 'Induction Sound Enhancer' amplifies intake growl via a tube running from the throttle body to the windscreen cowl. The result is satisfyingly raucous.

Sports car purists are more likely to opt for the soft-top, for the full, wind-in-the-hair roadster experience. But with the roof down, the RF is still a blast.

With the roof down, the RF is still a blast. With the roof down, the RF is still a blast.

The roof can be raised or lowered at speeds up to 10km/h, and it's 13 seconds from go to whoa, which is agreeably quick. A three-layer headliner helps keep things quiet and secure when you need them to be.

Several niggles. Surprisingly, the steering wheel still only adjusts for height, but not reach. A digital speedo, as per other Mazda models, would be welcome. And the previously mentioned shortage of storage space around the cabin is annoying.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   8/10

In terms of active safety all MX-5's feature ABS brakes, EBD, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, dynamic stability control, traction control, and a tyre pressure monitoring system.

The Mazda MX-5 RF GT (and hence this LE) incorporates 'i-ACTIVSENSE' which adds adaptive LED headlights and lane departure warning, but no auto emergency braking (AEB).

And if contact is unavoidable front and side airbags for driver and passenger are on-board to help minimise injury.

Although ANCAP doesn't rate the RF version specifically it awarded a maximum five stars to the MX-5 when it was tested in mid-2016.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

The MX-5 is covered by Mazda's three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

Scheduled maintenance is due every 12 months or 10,000km (whichever comes first), and the first five years of the 'Mazda Service Select' capped price serving program breaks out as - $299 for the first service, $341 for the second, then back to $299 for the third, another $341 for the fourth, and, you guessed it, $299 for the fifth. You'll also need to replace the brake fluid every 40,000km or two years at $91 a throw.

Mazda's Australian website also allows owners to enter their vehicle's VIN and calculate current service pricing.

Verdict

The Mazda MX-5 RF Limited Edition dials up the performance character of a car that's already a pure pleasure to drive. The extra tech and spec is great, but we're not convinced the additional dollars add up.

That said, there are only 110 of these, and little doubt they'll go to enthusiastic owners, rapidly.

Are you going to be one of 110 MX-5 RF LE owners? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Pricing Guides

$36,950
Based on 49 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$29,990
Highest Price
$48,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
RF 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $32,990 – 43,920 2018 MAZDA MX-5 2018 RF Pricing and Specs
RF (5YR) 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $32,780 – 39,050 2018 MAZDA MX-5 2018 RF (5YR) Pricing and Specs
RF GT 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $32,890 – 39,160 2018 MAZDA MX-5 2018 RF GT Pricing and Specs
RF GT (5YR) 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $36,950 – 46,500 2018 MAZDA MX-5 2018 RF GT (5YR) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.6
Design8
Practicality6
Price and features7
Engine & trans8
Fuel consumption8
Driving9
Safety8
Ownership7
James Cleary
Deputy Editor

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Pricing Guide

$30,800

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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