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The Mazda Miata RF Club Is the Best Mountain Road Answer

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author photo by William Byrd May 2019

I just had an opportunity to spend a week in a $38,000+ Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Club. That's a long name -- and a lot of money -- for such a small car. With a new, more powerful engine, and a much more refined overall experience thanks to the retractable hardtop, is this actually "the answer?" After a day spent driving a new Mazda Miata RF Club through the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, I think I'm closer to finding out!

As enthusiasts, we have been subjected to the Mazda MX-5 Miata being "the answer" to all automotive questions for as long as it has existed here on Earth. Personally, I have never agreed, and if that means I have to hand over my heel & toe card, so be it. I have personally owned an NB and an NC Miata, and the latter only lasted in our driveway for two weeks before getting swapped for something larger. So while it has always been the perfect daily driver for many, I've always found the Miata too small, too noisy and too small.

This isn't my first time in the ND Miata. I first drove it at a local launch event here in D.C. when the car came out, and Mazda has loaned me an ND once before. It was over the winter, and I was quite miserable. Despite my whining, Mazda sent me another ND Miata -- but this time it was different: a new RF, which stands for Retractable Fastback. We were there in New York when the car came out back in 2016, and I'll admit I was pretty taken with the new targa like Miata. I love the hardtop look when the top is up, and when it's down you get that targa feel that I find really cool. Plus Doug already said it's the best Miata yet, so I had to check it out.

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF Club

The regular soft top 2019 Miata comes in Sport, Club and Grand Touring trims with an MSRP that goes from $25,730 to $30,780 before options. Mazda lists the RF separately on their website, as if it's a completely different car, since in some ways it is. Only available in Club, as our tester came equipped, and Grand Touring, pricing starts at $32,345 and $33,335 respectively. For reference, Ford will sell you a 310-horsepower EcoBoost Mustang convertible for $31,895.

But enough background, we came here to drive. And drive I did! The Blue Ridge Mountains extend 550 miles southern Pennsylvania through Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. I found a gorgeous path through the Virginia bit and set about finding automotive bliss. Aim for your mark and the MX-5 will hit it every time. This being a public road I kept to my lane and the car didn't care. Apex, who needs it? The ND will just stick through the corner, and if it lets go it's incredibly gentle and predictable.

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF Club

The 2019 feels much more powerful pulling itself of the curves, because it is. All 2019 Miatas have the 2.0L Skyactiv 4-cylinder with 181 hp, which is a massive improvement over the old 155-hp engine. A trip through the mountains in an ND with the old engine would have been entertaining, but not necessarily thrilling. Drop the 6-speed manual in this car into second, brake, turn, accelerate. It's intoxicating. 

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF Club

The Mazda Miata has never been accused of being a poor back road bomber. That's basically it's key purpose in life. My issue with the car was that it always felt compromised in other ways. Several other ways, in fact -- but particularly in size and comfort. Size is relative, as I have three kids so a Miata would only ever be a third car for us. For many, they toss their bag into the passenger seat and head off on their day.

Comfort can be subjective as well, but an inexpensive cloth top convertible is rarely listed on anyone's list of "most comfortable" cars. And that was the issue that I had during my last drive in the regular ND, it was noisy and cold pretty much all the time. I recall checking to see if a window was down. It wasn't.

But this RF thing, this takes care of those issues. During my chilly April blast through the mountains, I was always comfortable. The party piece is the retractable hard top, which opens in such a theatrical way that I actually had a kid on the side of the road jumping up and down and pointing during a stoplight top drop. You can see all of the gears and gizmos whirring as it happens, it's a lot of fun. I did it way too many times.

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF Club

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF Club

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF Club

The heated Recaro seats also helped as well. Not only do they look great, they feel just about perfect in every way. It was a bonus that they kept my backside warm. At 6-foot 0-in even, I fit without any issues, but I had the seat as far back as it would go. Unfortunately, they come as part of the Brembo / BBS Recaro Package, which costs $4,670. But in addition to the seats, you get:

  • Brembo front brakes with red calipers, Mazda rear brakes with red calipers
  • BBS forged 17-in aluminum alloy wheels in dark gunmetal finish
  • Aero kit: Side sill extensions, rear bumper skirt in Brilliant Black
  • Black roof

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF Club

Add in the machine gray paint for $300 and the interior upgrades for $425 and you reach the eye watering $38,635 MSRP sitting at the bottom of the window sticker of this car. In case you were wondering, this is about the most expensive manual transmission Miata you can buy. Tick all the boxes and you can only manage to get to $39,270 including destination. If you add an automatic transmission (don't) it will push past $40K.

However, after a full week with this car, I was left with an astounding sentiment: the RF is worth it! I never thought I would say that about a near-$40,000 Miata, but it's true. What other new convertible can you buy that handles and accelerates like this under $40,000? The aforementioned Mustang, and likely the latest Chevrolet Camaro convertible, may be a match in the hands of the right driver, but just about anyone can feel like a hero in the latest ND Miata. Sure, it's still too small, but the retractable hardtop fixes just about every other problem facing the modern Miata.

Yes, enthusiasts, I know, that can buy you eight NA Miatas for $40,000. I don't care, as this car is as close to automotive perfection as anything I've ever driven at this price. The Mazda Miata RF Club truly is the answer. Find a Mazda MX-5 Miata for sale

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF Club

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
The Mazda Miata RF Club Is the Best Mountain Road Answer - Autotrader