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2018 mazda MX-5 Miata RF

The Mazda MX-5 Miata is in its fourth ("ND") generation, but it was only with the NC model that Mazda first explored the idea of a power-folding hardtop. Now, it's decided to do something even less conventional: a folding Targa-style top.

Dubbed the RF for "Retractable Fastback," this addition to the MX-5 lineup combines the top-down look of a Targa with the convenience of a power-folding convertible roof.

Overview
The MX-5 RF is all-new for this model year. It features a sleeker body style with a Targa-style roof that hides a folding mechanism for top-down driving. Since Mazda has been hesitant to produce a coupe variant of the MX-5, the RF model is as close as it gets.

Mechanically, the RF is no different from the ragtop model. It's a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive, two-seater folding hardtop convertible. The only engine available is a two-liter, 155-horsepower four-cylinder that was essentially lifted straight out of a Mazda3 and re-tuned for premium fuel. It makes 148 lb-ft of torque at 4,600 RPM, which doesn't seem like much, but the MX-5 is also very lightweight.

Equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission, the MX-5 tips the scale at just 2,332lbs, which is not much more than the 1.8L-equipped first-generation Miata (and 100lbs below the outgoing model). If you prefer your top-down cruising a bit more relaxed, a six-speed automatic is also available for a mere 60lb penalty.

One penalty that no longer comes with MX-5 ownership is poor fuel economy. While the Miata traditionally struggled to achieve decent numbers, Mazda's SkyActiv tech paid dividends in this regard.

Inside and out
The new MX-5 represents a pretty significant visual departure from the previous car. It's more aggressive and more sculpted just about everywhere. The "smile" features found on the front end of the previous-generation MX-5 are nowhere to be found. The exterior is more angular, with an angrier face and a higher, sharper rear deck. LED headlights are standard on all trims to shorten the front overhang.

Some interior sacrifices have been made in the name of size and space. The new MX-5 has no glove box or fixed cup holders. Instead, two individual holders held in place by magnetic stalks can occupy any of three slots inside the cabin: two between the seats and one by the passenger's left knee.

Features and options
While the MX-5 ragtop comes in three flavors, Mazda only offers the MX-5 RF in two: Club and Grand Touring.

The Club comes with 17-inch gunmetal wheels, LED DRLs, some fancy body trim (special front air dam, rear air dam and lip spoiler) and a Bose audio system. Key performance features include a limited-slip differential, a shock tower brace and a sport-tuned suspension when optioned with the six-speed manual. Automatic models do not receive these upgrades. LED headlamps are also standard on all MX-5 models.

The Club is also the only trim on which the BBS wheel and Brembo brake package is available. The BBS wheels keep the Club's standard wheel diameter, but feature a different offset to clear the larger brake calipers and are forged for better strength and lighter weight. Adding this package also means an upgrade to advanced key-less entry (hands-free) and some additional visual upgrades.

At the top of the heap is the Grand Touring. The GT gets an insulated headliner, auto-dimming mirrors, leather seating surfaces, an upgraded Bose system (more speakers) and rain-sensing wipers along with additional cosmetic upgrades. But unlike previous years, the GT model is no longer a real enthusiast option. There's no LSD and no sport suspension here, and the BBS/Brembo package is not available on this trim.

Occupant safety
Standard safety features include dual front and dual side airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and electronic brake force distribution.

Key competitors
Looking for a lightweight, rear-wheel-drive convertible? The Miata is your only option at this price, unless you're willing to consider much heavier and slightly clumsier (albeit quicker) machines like the Ford Mustang Convertible and the Chevrolet Camaro Convertible. If having an open air experience isn't important, the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ are quite close in character to the Miata.

Front-wheel-drive alternatives include the MINI Cooper Convertible and Fiat 500C.