The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata takes a classic approach to sports-car design with its light weight and diminutive size. It feels more like an extension of the driver than a box you sit in. Even with just 155 horsepower, it's one of the most engaging cars on the road at any price, and having your head in the open air has always been an integral part of that experience.
The MX-5 Miata RF, or Retractable Fastback, swaps out the cloth roof of the convertible and replaces it with a fold-away roof panel and rear window, leaving something like a wide roll bar supported on long buttresses just behind the passenger compartment. The metal roof makes for a slightly quieter car with the top up and gives the Miata a distinct coupelike look. The trunk size remains the same between the hard- and the soft top, so you don't lose what little practicality the Miata offers.
The trade-off is that you don't get the full open-air experience, and the metal roof along with its complex folding mechanism adds about 100 pounds and a higher price to the lightweight roadster. But the RF version is still a blast to drive. If you're shopping for an affordable sports car, the Miata RF gives you a unique mix of coupe and convertible attributes.
The most notable change for 2018 is the addition of heated, leather-trimmed Recaro seats to the Brembo brakes and BBS wheels package. Advanced keyless entry is now standard equipment.
Our top must-have for the MX-5 is the slick six-speed manual, and we think the extra equipment the manual comes with on the Club trim — such as a limited-slip differential and sportier Bilstein dampers — make for the best driving experience. The Club also comes with the same infotainment system as the Grand Touring (minus the navigation), some basic active safety features, and a handful of nice conveniences, so it's by no means spartan.
The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF is available in two trim levels: Club and Grand Touring. We prefer the Club for its available sport-oriented hardware, although buyers seeking more comfort and amenities will gravitate toward the Grand Touring's longer list of convenience features. Both trim levels are equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (155 horsepower, 148 pound-feet of torque) and are available with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission.
Standard equipment on the Club includes LED headlights, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, keyless entry and push-button start, a 7-inch infotainment screen with a console-mounted rotary control knob, a nine-speaker Bose stereo with headrest speakers, and cloth upholstery.
Manual-equipped Clubmodels are the sportiest, gaining a retuned suspension, Bilstein dampers, limited-slip differential and shock tower brace, making it our version of choice. Manual Club models can be optioned with upgraded Brembo front brakes, BBS wheels and heated Recaro sport seats.
Grand Touring models — equipped with heated leather seats, navigation, a cloth-lined top, automatic climate control, adaptive headlights and lane departure warning — skew toward the luxury end. These features are nice to have, but strike us as contradictory to the Miata's elemental nature. Then again, a power-folding top isn't exactly simple either. Still, at least there's a choice between sport-oriented and comfort-tuned versions rather than some middling compromise.
Each vehicle typically comes in multiple versions that are fundamentally similar. The ratings in this review are based on our full test of the 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RFGrand Touring (2.0L inline-4 | 6-speed manual | RWD).
The MX-5's power numbers won't light up enthusiasts, but the car's uncanny ability to carry speed through corners and its lean muscle mass — the RF weighs just 2,468 pounds — makes the power feel just right.
Others are quicker, but the MX-5 impresses with near instant engine response and linear power. The RF is a bit heavier than a soft-top Miata, so we're not surprised it proved to be about a half-second slower to 60 mph in our testing. We measured a 0-60 mph time of 7 seconds.
The brakes feel sure and predictable in daily use, even in rambunctious driving on your favorite mountain road. Our car stopped from 60 mph in 110 feet in our panic-stop test, and under repeated tests the distance remained consistent.
The steering effort is a tad lighter than we'd want, and feedback is a little muted too. Even so, steering feel is immediate and the car reacts accurately to driver input. And the steering wheel has just the right grip feel. It's one of the best available today.
Precise and predictable are the operative words. The RF reacts best to smooth and deliberate commands, but it's still supremely fun to toss into a corner with abandon. There's more a bit body roll than you might expect, but it doesn't hurt the MX-5's ability to devour corners one bit.
Even though the RF is capable of entertaining performance, it is easy to drive and enjoy in everyday commuting situations — even with a manual transmission. It's hard to convey just how much we like the light but direct-acting clutch and the near perfect shifter. No one does it better.
Two-seat roadsters aren't known for comfort, but the RF proves otherwise with a compliant suspension and innovative seats. Today's MX-5 is quieter than before, but it still leaks wind and road noise. The RF's retractable hardtop doesn't help much either. The racket is part of the allure for some.
The mesh-suspension seat construction cradles occupants with just the right amount of support and no hard pressure points. The side bolsters provide ample lateral support without being intrusive. After hours of driving, they're very comfortable and never stifling.
Despite its small dimensions and sporty intentions, the Miata isn't punishing. There's plenty of compliance to smooth over bumps, but bigger potholes can send a shiver through the chassis. Long road trips won't be a problem.
Noise & vibration7.0
Road and wind noise is prevalent at highway speeds with the top up, but not to the point that it's intrusive. With the top up, the RF is only marginally quieter than with the cloth top when cruising and it's even louder at full stomp. The exhaust sound is a pleasant tenor.
The classic three-dial array with knurled outer dials to control temperature, fan speed and vents is appropriate to the RF's retro foundation. It's also easy and effective. The air conditioning cools the cabin quickly, even on a hot day with the top down. The seat heaters work with similar urgency.
The RF's interior features quality materials and an elegant design that prioritizes the fun of driving. Excellent overall visibility and intuitive tech reinforce that standard, but you won't find much cargo or small-item storage. Some drivers will struggle to get comfortable behind the wheel.
Ease of use8.5
The primary controls are well-placed around the driver. The infotainment screen can be read with a quick glance and can be controlled by touch or with a knob controller. It's one of the best even if the knob's placement isn't ideal. The compact cabin ensures that everything is within easy reach.
Getting in/getting out7.0
An average-size adult will have no problem slipping in and out, though this low-slung car might be difficult for those who can't bend as well as they used to. Taller drivers will have to curl themselves through the opening when the top is up. The short doors aid access in tight parking spots.
The steering wheel tilts but doesn't telescope; the seat also isn't height-adjustable. Most drivers will be OK with the pedals, shifter and steering wheel placement. But shorter drivers may need to slide the seat forward to reach the pedals, then slide the seat back to exit. Annoying but tolerable.
Typical adults may deem the cockpit snug enough to feel as if they're wearing the car, but in a good way that bolsters the driver-to-machine connection. But drivers over 6 feet tall may push the boundaries of head- and legroom.
Forward visibility is as good as it gets, with panoramic windshield positioning and narrow roof pillars. But the rear side pillars, which give the car its coupe look (with the top up) and targa look (with the top down), do block some rearward sightlines when reversing or changing lanes.
The interior quality meets the expectations for the price. It's also much nicer than the interiors of Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ coupe alternatives.
The power hardtop retracts in about 14 seconds via a rocker switch in the lower center console. The fastback section rises while the roof section retracts, and when it's all over, the trunk space is identical to the soft-top version's. The hardtop RF is about 100 pounds heavier than a soft-top MX-5.
No one expects a two-seat convertible to be a utility machine, so this is hardly a serious drawback. A tiny trunk, no back seat, no glovebox and limited cabin space mean the RF isn't the best car for hauling large items. Small items are more easily accommodated; just don't bring a lot of them.
A tidy bin placed vertically between the seats serves as a less convenient glovebox because there isn't one. It's your primary place for small items (wallets, phones) and it holds an average amount of stuff. The removable cupholders are only good for holding cups, and they can obstruct shifting.
Space is a significant drawback, and the Miata's 4.6-cubic-foot trunk is a bit smaller than the previous generation's. But it's not the hardtop's fault because the soft-top Miata's trunk is the same size. The trunk opening is big and it packs easily. Use soft-sided duffels to get the most out of it.
Child safety seat accommodation6.0
There's sufficient room for one child or toddler in a forward-facing seat or booster only. No LATCH anchors or top tether, so the seat must allow seat-belt anchoring. The car's occupant sensor will disable the passenger airbag and illuminate an indicator when a child seat is fitted.
The Miata must balance driving purity with a driver's desire for modern connectivity and safety tech, which add weight and slow the car. But even with features such as blind-spot and lane departure warning and a nine-speaker stereo, the RF isn't much slower than a cloth top without those items.
Audio & navigation8.0
The nine-speaker Bose system (with speakers in the headrests) makes for good sound while motoring, but it struggles to compete with ambient noise. Audiophiles will need aftermarket help for more volume. The sophisticated nav system operates by 7-inch touchscreen or center console dial controller.
The USB connection makes for easy smartphone/media device integration. Bluetooth is similarly breezy to connect, stream audio and use as phone interface. Mazda has promised to add Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality via software update at some point.
Lane departure warning seems anathema to a car like the RF, but it's there along with other modern aids, such as blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic warning. Automatic high beams and LED headlights that bend light into turns in sync with the front wheels are a nice touch.
Voice commands are accessed through a steering wheel button and include standard commands for placing phone calls, navigating to destinations, and moving through music selections.
Edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.