by Frank A. Aukofer

Many enthusiasts regard the 2021 Mazda MX-5, also called the Miata, as the direct descendant of the classic British sports cars of the 1950s and 1960s — enjoyable two-seaters with names like MG, Lotus, Triumph, Jaguar, Morgan, Sunbeam, and Austin-Healey.  

The question is whether any of them would have evolved into the  MX-5 Club RF tested here. RF stands for “retractable fastback,” which describes the folding hard top that morphs the MX-5 from an open roadster to a closed grand touring car.

Sure, it’s been 60 years or so but some of us still remember the agony that went with the ecstasy of owning a mid-20th century British roadster, especially when the weather got nasty.

A fun favorite here was the mid-1960s Lotus Elan, a stellar performer with great handling, which set British sports cars apart from brutish American cars with honking big V8 engines that were great only in a straight line.

British convertibles and roadsters had fabric tops that were masterpieces of Rubik’s Cube complexity. The Elan’s, in particular, was so complicated that it featured a decal on the inside of the panel that covered the top when it was folded. 

The decal had step-by-step instructions on how to remove the cloth top and its frame and fold them properly. However, hewing to the British quirkiness of the era, when you folded the top according to the first step, it covered the decal — and, of course, the instructions. 

The owner’s manual also had about a dozen pages of instructions describing how to manipulate various switches to turn interior lights on and off in different combinations. But that’s another story.

So now we have the 2020 Mazda MX-5 Club RF, which converts from a closed coupe to an open convertible in a matter of seconds with the touch of a switch, and it’s not even British. Japan’s Mazda introduced the MX-5 Miata back in 1990 as a modern clone of some of the English classics. Among other things, it had an easy-folding convertible top.

You can still get one of those and even buy a removable hard top. But it must be stored in the garage while you buzz about with the fabric top dropped. The RF, however, is self contained with a cleverly designed top that disappears into the bodywork behind the driver in about about a dozen seconds. It ends up looking like a roadster with a roll bar. There’s even a built-in transparent rear wind blocker.

The top’s bin doesn’t even intrude into the tiny trunk, which has less than five cubic feet of space, enough for some soft overnight luggage and a few small items. However, the top must be up or the trunk won’t open. 

Tested for this review was the midlevel Club model. The 2021 RF Club comes with a price tag of $34,635, including the destination charge. There’s also a lower-priced Sport and a top-line Grand Touring version. 

That’s for a fully equipped car. There were no extra-cost options on the tested Club. Equipment included automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning and tire-pressure monitoring. Also: Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, and SXM satellite and HD radio.

Under the hood and driving the rear wheels is a 181-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 151 lb-ft of torque. With a relatively light weight of 2,452 pounds, the zero-to-60-mph acceleration time is less than six seconds. Two transmissions are available: a six-speed manual and, on the tested RF, a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode operated by paddles on the steering wheel.

As might be expected of a balanced rear-drive sports car, the RF had exceptional handling on curving roads with good feedback through the electric power steering. The tradeoff, as usual, is a ride that can get unsettled on pockmarked surfaces, though the MX-5 has a supple, forgiving suspension system with front and rear stabilizer bars that subdues some of the choppiness.

Inside, the comfortable cloth sport seats have plenty of adjustments for different body types and seatbacks with substantial bolstering. The combination keeps the torso in place during spirited driving. The RF also cruises fairly quietly with the top up except for occasional blatting from the exhaust system.  

Top up or stowed, this affordable Miata is a first-class contender in sports motoring.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Mazda MX-5 Club RF two-door, two-seat retractable hard top roadster.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 181 hp, 151 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 12 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 48/5 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,452 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/35/30 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $34,635.
  • Price as tested: $34,635.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Mazda