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What’s the difference between the Mazda MX-5 and MX-5 RF?

16 Jun 2023

If you're on the hunt for a used Mazda MX-5, then you may well know that the Miata has long been celebrated as the best-selling two-seat convertible sports car in history. But that achievement wasn’t enough for Mazda. In 2021 the Japanese manufacturer introduced a retractable fastback model to their MX-5 range, the MX5-RF, which differs in several key ways from its older sibling.

As well as different trim levels, a new and improved suspension, and a higher asking price, the MX5-RF’s most significant difference is its hard metal roof which creates a completely different shape and feel to the car. But the comparisons don’t stop there; we set out to learn more about the key differences between the appearance, driving experience and practicality of the Mazda MX-5 and MX-5 RF.

The Exterior Appearance

The MX-5 and MX-5 RF share the same underlying design language, characterized by Mazda's signature Kodo "Soul of Motion" design philosophy. But as already mentioned, the MX-5 RF features a power-operated hardtop that adds a distinct fastback silhouette when the top is closed. On the other hand, the MX-5 retains the classic soft-top convertible design. The choice between the two comes down to personal preference, with the MX-5 RF offering a slightly more refined appearance.

What gives the MX-5 such a classic roadster look is its long hood, short overhangs, and solid open cabin design. This compact and agile appearance reminds you just how lightweight and sporty this car is, and hints at how easy it is to drive. The MX-5 RF on the other hand showcases a more coupe-like silhouette with its retractable hardtop in place, the fixed roof and its pillars result in a sleeker and more streamlined profile.

Further emphasising the MX-5’s sporty looks are its rear features; including a short deck lid, integrated taillights, and often a dual-exhaust setup. It’s clean, it’s simple, and it’s sporty, it’s why the MX-5 is so popular. This is much the same for MX-5 RF which also features integrated taillights and a short deck lid. However, the pillars that remain in place when the roof is open are really what differentiate this model from the MX-5, adding a more distinctive element to the car.

Soft Top vs Hard Top

The key difference between the MX-5 and the MX-5 RF lies in their convertible mechanisms. The MX-5 offers a manually or electrically operated soft-top roof that’s easily lowered in just seconds. In contrast, the MX-5 RF features a unique retractable hardtop that can be electrically raised or lowered with the push of a button.

Going into more detail, the MX5’s soft-top is made of fabric material and can be manually or electrically operated to lower or raise the roof. In manual versions, the driver releases a latch and folds the roof back or raises it into position. In electric versions, there is typically a button or switch that controls the roof operation. When the roof is lowered, it stows behind the seats, leaving the cabin open to the elements.

The Mazda MX-5 RF’s retractable hardtop roof is more complex. When the driver activates the roof operation, the rear roof section and rear window automatically lift and slide back, while the fixed middle section of the roof and pillars behind the seats remain in place.

The Drive

One significant similarity between the MX-5 and MX-5 RF is a top-class driving experience, and that’s down to their lightweight design and perfectly balanced chassis. Powered by Skyactiv-G Sport packages that produce impressive performance delivered straight to the cars’ rear wheels through a responsive six-speed gearbox, the driving experiences are unquestionably impressive, but still do offer some differences…

Due to the RF's slightly higher weight as a result of its retractable hardtop, there is a minor performance difference between the two models. The MX-5 accelerates slightly quicker and offers a more agile feel on the road. However, the MX-5 RF compensates with a stiffer suspension which enhances stability and comfort during high-speed driving.

Interior and Practicality

Inside both the Mazda MX-5 and MX-5 RF you'll find driver-focused cabins that prioritize simplicity and functionality. The layout and design are almost identical, with well-bolstered sport seats and a clean dashboard design. However, the RF offers a quieter cabin experience when the hardtop is closed, providing better insulation from road noise.

When it comes to the infotainment setup, both MX-5 and MX-5 RF models are often equipped with a touchscreen infotainment system placed in the centre of the dashboard. Controlled by touch-screen and responsive buttons, the infotainment systems provide easy access to features like audio controls, navigation (if available), connectivity options, car settings and more.

Although marginal, there is a difference between both models when it comes to storage space. The MX-5’s convertible design means storage is limited. Whilst the soft top is folded down, the MX-5’s boot offers just 130 litres of space, whilst the RF offers a slightly bigger space of 139 litres thanks to the hardtop design.

Our Mazda Range

When it comes to pricing, the MX-5 is generally the more affordable option compared to the MX-5 RF, and that’s down to the MX-5's simpler soft-top design. The MX-5 RF's power-folding hardtop adds to its cost, making it the pricier alternative.

Are you on the look out for a used Mazda? Take a look at Tangelo's current used Mazda MX-5 and MX-5 RF stock and get in touch with our friendly and knowledgeable sales team to book an appointment or a test drive at our Exeter Customer Hub.

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