The pandemic has been hard on us all. Some have had the unspeakable difficulty of dealing with terrible loss. Others are weathering cataclysmic changes to their small business. And some are simply getting cabin fever at home.
Your author is basically in the latter group, making him one of the lucky ones – a fact of which he is grateful every waking moment. But there’s no discounting the mental health effects of removing large swaths of socialization and daily life from one’s daily existence, especially for annoyingly extroverted personalities such as the hominid that’s hammering away at this keyboard. Everyone copes differently, and we hope the readers of this article come through the other side of this pandemic (and there will be an other side to it) relatively unscathed.
For gearheads, driving is an elixir far stronger than any pharmaceutical preparation. If there was such a thing as an Automotive M.D., they’d tell us to take three pedals, a lightweight car, a sweet-sounding engine, and call them in the morning.
You won’t find that recommendation on WebMD.
Where you absolutely will find that prescription is in the showroom of a Mazda store, long the purveyors of vehicles that deliver way more driving fun than equivalent competitors. Even my bevy of non-gearhead neighbours exclaimed ‘zoom-zoom’ from their socially distant perch upon seeing the Deep Crystal Blue Mica retractable-roof roadster in my driveway, proving that wildly successful ad campaign from the early 2000s remains imprinted on the brains of ordinary folks even twenty years later.
People associate the MX-5 with fun, and for good reason. This thing is as balanced as an Olympian’s breakfast, with pitch-perfect weight distribution, and an outstanding power-to-weight ratio. The latter can be credited to its lightweight physique, a feature your author does not possess, with this stick shift RF weighing just 1,116 kg (2,460 lbs). Lest you think the RF’s power retractable hardtop – which folds itself away in just 13 seconds – adds the type of largesse generally found at the typical pre-COVID all-you-can-eat buffet, know that it tacks just 50 kg (110 lbs) of weight compared to an equivalent cloth roof variant.
In an age of 840 horsepower coupes and 700 horsepower pickup trucks, certain flat-brim types will holler this car desperately needs to be fitted with a turbocharger but, in reality, it doesn’t. At all. The standard Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre fits snugly in the engine compartment, producing 181 horsepower at 7,000 r.p.m. and 151 lb-ft of torque a bit earlier on the tachometer. It’s a mill capable of smile-inducing fun at any speed, especially when fitted with this sweet-shifting six-speed manual transmission. Paeans have been written and songs have been sung (maybe) about this gearbox, one which snicks into its gates with the precision of an engineer’s vernier caliper.
You’d expect this combination to provide entertaining acceleration, and you’d be correct. There’s a long-standing agreement amongst gearheads that fun doesn’t always equal outright speed, and that’s the case here. Hunkered down with a laden ground clearance of just 5.3 inches, the MX-5 RF points and squirts its way around corners with alacrity, blowing out the cobwebs left by a year-long pandemic in which movement has been restricted.
The RF’s 2.0-litre mill makes an entertaining sound when given the beans on a twisty road and, as a rarity in today’s market, it isn’t created by electronic wizardry but a trick of amplified induction noise. Budget for Mazda’s insistence on feeding this thing premium fuel but, at an observed economy of just 6.7L/100km over 300km driving, it won’t be breaking the bank to any great degree. And, yes – we triple-checked that economy number.
For 2021, the Mazda MX-5 RF earns wireless Apple CarPlay in its GT trim, a feature that brings the company’s infotainment system into the modern era. The tremendous colour combination shown in these images of Deep Crystal Blue Mica and Pure White Nappa leather seats is also new and should be fitted to every single MX-5 that pops out of the factory in Japan.
All’s not perfect, of course, with criticisms regularly hurled at the MX-5 RF’s distinct lack of cabin storage. Chasing passenger legroom for anyone over 6 feet tall, Mazda binned a conventionally placed glovebox and placed a lockable cube next to the driver’s right shoulder. Ditto for the some-assembly-required cupholders, which live near your elbow and most assuredly will not accept a Double Super Ultra bucket-o’-soda from the convenience store. These inconveniences are expected and tolerated in a car of this type.
Similarly, the controls for Mazda’s infotainment system – which the company still stubbornly refuses to permit touchscreen controls at speed – are awkwardly placed on the centre console, leaving them suitable only to a short-armed T. Rex or Allosaurus. Your author stands 6’6″ in his stocking feet so it should also go without saying he found headroom at a premium in a car measuring just 1245 mm (49 inches) tall. To put that number in perspective, the MX-5 RF is only about 4 inches taller than the outrageously low-slung Lamborghini Aventador.
Fortunately, when its roof’s back, the sky’s the limit. And that’s what makes the MX-5 RF such a restorative treatment for gearheads in these socially distant times. Driving a convertible opens a world of stimuli that’s both good for the head and heart. Sweet aromas from that freshly mowed lawn, the rumble from buddy down the street who just fired up his Viper, and … are the neighbours grilling Wagyu? Even a motorcycle can’t provide this tonic, since your head is firmly encased in a brain bucket. The openness of a roadster adds unquantifiable joy to the driving experience – whether you’re giving it the beans or not –
And we could all use a bit of extra joy these days. With a bit of normalcy on the horizon after 12+ months of uncertainty, the MX-5 RF acted as a fillip to fog and anxiety that has accumulated in your author’s brain, marking the better days which lie ahead. Wizard of Aah’s, indeed.