RF stands for Retractable Fastback, indicating that the car will come with a hardtop roof that folds away to provide a convertible driving experience without the flimsiness of a soft top getting in the way of the overall practicality.
Mazda is only planning to make 500 MX-5 RF models available to buy in the UK, meaning it will be a fairly exclusive example of this critically acclaimed roadster.
The base model comes with a 1.5 litre petrol engine, while the more powerful 2.0 litre version will cost just under £1000 more than its sibling upon its release.
Sitting at the top of the range is the RF Launch Edition, which will cost almost £29,000 and will come with bigger alloy rims, a spoiler at the rear and various other unique visual touches to make it feel even more special.
The folding hardtop iteration of the MX-5 has always been a popular part of the range. In fact, one in five of all third-generation models sold were endowed with this design, showing that there was more demand for it than any of its stable mates.
Mazda spokesperson Nobuhiro Yamamoto said that the firm had spend eight years developing the new MX-5, with the intention of making sure that the hard- and soft-top models were distinct from one another in a number of areas.
He describes the MX-5 RF as being a more serious and grown-up affair than its soft-top equivalent. This is not just a statement of intent but is echoed in the premium materials and highly polished finish given to the interior. Even the infotainment system has been improved thanks to a new screen being added.
Raising the roof
Any convertible needs to be able to offer owners the opportunity to quickly raise or lower the roof, especially in the UK, where the weather can be changeable. With the MX-5 RF, the middle of the roof is the main retractable segment, and it can automatically retract itself into the boot in roughly 12 seconds.
The car can be moving while this change takes place, although the maximum speed at which it can be performed safely is only 6mph, which slightly limits the practicality of hitting the button unless the car is at a complete standstill.
More impressive is the fact that the car is the same size as its existing siblings, meaning that no concessions have been made to accommodate the roof mechanisms, which are undoubtedly advanced in their own right. Even the boot itself still has the same 130-litre volume, with the overall weight of the MX-5 RF rising slightly above that of its third-generation predecessor.
The MX-5 RF will be a welcome arrival in the spring of 2017 and should deliver the same thrills as its counterparts in a cost-effective package that will continue to reinforce Mazda’s reputation as an exceptional manufacturer of affordable sports cars.
Buyers will need to spend around £2000 more for the basic RF model on top of the asking price of the standard MX-5. But many will see this as a small sum considering the benefits on offer.
Fiat 124 Spider
Of course, the thing which has really thrown a spanner in the works for Mazda this year is the launch of the Fiat 124 Spider, which is built in Japan and based on the same platform as the new MX-5 but sold in the UK with the Italian manufacturer’s badge on the bonnet.
Slightly wider and longer than its counterpart, and with looks that hark back to earlier decades rather than looking forward to the future, the 124 Spider is arguably more in keeping with what European buyers look for a small sports car and could threaten to overtake it in sales in 2017.