Hatchbacks and SUVs are perennially popular and most people will always need something sensible and practical - but sports cars are very different, driven by trends, fashion, and the need to be first.
When a new model arrives buyers looking for thrills and style waste little time rushing out and buying the latest new model. But typically within a year or two, once the novelty has worn off, peddling a coupe or roadster becomes a much more difficult task.
That’s why cars like this one exist. It’s the Mazda MX-5 RF Limited Edition which, as the name implies, is a small batch of specially equipped models that the Japanese brand hopes will inspire would-be customers to take the plunge on the iconic sports car.
Vehicle Style: Hardtop convertible
Price: $55,790 driveaway
Engine/trans: 118kW/200Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol | 6spd manual
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.0 l/100km
A quick glance at the MX-5 RF Limited Edition shows that Mazda has turned up the enthusiast appeal by adding a list of features that focus on improving its dynamics.
There’s nothing new here - American buyers have been able to tick the following items as part of an option pack since the MX-5 was released, but for Aussie buyers the addition of Brembo front brake calipers, Bilstein dampers, and forged BBS wheels are a novelty.
Mazda will offer 110 examples of the car (15 of which have already been snapped up by eager customers) based on the folding hardtop MX-5 RF GT.
There’s also sportier style thanks to the addition of Mazda’s ‘Kuroi Sports Pack’ accessory bodykit which incorporates a larger front airdam, deeper side skirts and a new rear bumper. Away from sight there’s also a new purpose-built strut brace for added torsional rigidity.
The cabin picks up a set of Recaro sports seats and Australian customers will get a custom-made Seiko Mazda sports wrist watch.
While the extra Limited Edition goodies all sound like worthwhile additions, they push the price for Mazda’s cheap and cheerful MX-5 up to an eye-watering $55,790 as a driveaway deal - a substantial $11,900 step up from standard RF GT, although that model doesn’t include on-road costs.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 2.0 litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder, 118kW @6000rpm, 200Nm @4600rpm
- Transmission: six-speed manual, rear wheel drive with limited slip differential
- Suspension: Double wishbone front, multilink independent rear
- Brakes: Vented front discs with Brembo calipers, solid rear discs
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering, 9.4m turning circle
Mazda hasn’t made any changes to the regular RF’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. Outputs remain at 118kW and 200Nm, and to ensure the Limited Edition strikes the right note with enthusiasts only a six-speed manual will be offered.
In theory adding all these big brand name parts is a foolproof method of improving the MX-5. However, a big part of the charm of the current generation MX-5 is the way the suspension is set-up deliberately softer than most of its rivals.
Instead of trying to make the little convertible sit as flat as possible in the corners, the regular MX-5 exaggerates its roll-angle into corners. While it’s unusual by modern standards, it makes for a fun sports car drive.
The RF was already slightly stiffer in its suspension than the soft-top Roadster and the addition of the new Bilstein shocks and strut brace make it even more so. Based on our initial test drive this week, there’s still a degree of roll and lean which has become the trademark of the MX-5.
The trade-off is the ride feels busier, especially on country roads with repeated smaller bumps. On the plus side the changes have made the steering slightly sharper and more responsive, something that will make it more appealing to the enthusiasts Mazda is chasing.
The rest of the package is what we’ve come to expect from the MX-5. The 2.0-litre engine isn’t overwhelming, but there’s enough grunt to get the MX-5 moving along at speed if you get it wound up; remembering the RF only tips the scales at just over 1000kg.
You do have to work the transmission pretty hard to keep it on the boil though, as the peak torque doesn’t arrive until the second half of the rev range.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
If the MX-5 Limited Edition is for enthusiasts, it’s hard to understand why Mazda chose to apply the handling extras to its folding hardtop model and not the lighter roadster so beloved by the weekend circuit set.
Nonetheless, the incremental improvements wrought by the firmer suspension and more capable brakes show that the MX-5 RF has a serious side - and a set of mean-looking BBS alloys and grippy Recaro seats add a little visual heat.
Perhaps most importantly though, the changes made for the MX-5 RF Limited Edition haven’t simply been made for the sake of offering. These are ultimately subtle changes that add up to a slightly sharper car for those looking for a fresh reason to buy that sports car they’ve always wanted.