2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club RF: As fun with a hardtop?

Price: $34,565 as tested. No options on test vehicle. (The Club is the midlevel MX-5, between Sports and Grand Touring.)

Conventional wisdom: Motor Trend likes the “pure driving joy, distilled, super-simple soft top operation, good fuel economy,” but not that it’s “nervous at the limit, teeny tiny trunk capacity.”

Marketer’s pitch: “Give in to the temptation.”

Reality: All the other marketing departments can go home; Mazda just won marketer’s pitches.

Summer fun: After a few weeks in the crazy-expensive corner of the auto industry, we come back down to earth — literally riding near the road and enjoying the open air.

What’s new: The little two-seater gets some new features available at lower trim levels and standard sport-tuned suspension on Grand Touring.

Summer fun: I always forget that the RF comes with a retractable roof (RF = retractable fastback, smart guy). It’s not quite the same as a convertible, with the rear window and pillars still in place, but it’s pretty close.

On the road: There’s nothing quite like riding around at eye level with the tiger lilies as summer officially kicks off. Especially when the MX-5 makes all the right moves. Zipping around the countryside remains a blast.

Shifty: An automatic in a two-seater should be against the law. Even a shiftable one. Especially a shiftable one like this one, which won’t let me shift exactly when I want to. It forever decided I was headed to second too soon, and then I’d not realize it and hear the engine whining pitifully at high revs, thinking, “Gosh if this were my car, I’d need a new transmission at 50,000 miles.”

Paddle shifters are available for the six-speed, as well as the floor shifter.

On the bright side — a stick is available at all three trim levels.

Up to speed: The MX-5 seems tough to get moving, but once you’re on your way, the car heads toward 60 mph as a natural setting, regardless of the posted speed limits. A sport mode does sport things up, but regular mode is plenty fun as well.

Automobile Magazine estimates the car gets to 60 in 5.8 seconds, thanks to the 2.0-liter four cylinder’s 181 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. That feels optimistic. (For comparison, Fiat’s 124 Spider has the power numbers almost reversed, with 160 horses and 184 pound-feet, and with that kind of engine power, it feels like a blast.)

Still, getting enough oomph for passing and zooming up small ridges remains a great MX-5 feature, and that makes up for any dawdling at the stoplight.

The interior of the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF is basic and easy to live with, while still being attractive. Even tall Sturgis Kid 4.0 deems the passenger space acceptable.
Mazda
The interior of the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF is basic and easy to live with, while still being attractive. Even tall Sturgis Kid 4.0 deems the passenger space acceptable.

Friend and a couple of things: Because “stuff” may be a bit of an exaggeration, although I did manage to squeeze into the trunk a chainsaw I’d rented to cut a fallen tree. It was a 20-inch saw, the big one, so there’s that. (Didn’t carry any logs, though.)

Later I needed gas for the mowers and offered to get a neighbor his as well. A 6-gallon can plus two 2-gallon cans fit in snugly.

Room behind the seats? Not really. There’s a door with a little space between the seats that actually replaces the glovebox. A backpack goes in the trunk, if you need space for a companion. So it’s a good thing I didn’t bring the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat along for the gas run, or she’d have to hold a gas can or my backpack. It would have recalled our McLaren adventure in England.

I did manage to get Sturgis Kid 4.0 to ride along on an adventure to King of Prussia with me one evening. He of the Long Legs declared the passenger comfortable and “roomy enough,” as the MX-5 has grown a bit over the years.

Play some tunes: The MX-5 gets Mazda’s usual stereo setup, with the stand-up iPaddy screen and the knob to scroll around it. Choosing source and stations can be a bit of a pain. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but a touchscreen would work more simply. Sigh. At least it’s not a touchpad.

The sound is pretty good, probably an A-. It also fights nobly against the wind noise with the top down.

Sturgis Kid 4.0 also dubbed the exhaust note a pleasant rumble, so that’s a good backup sound plan.

Keeping warm and cool: Carmakers have junked up these controls in a zillion ways, but I don’t think they’ll make it work any better than the MX-5. A dial for fan speed, a dial for air source, and a dial for temperature (no need for zones in a car where any COVID-19 is shared as a standard feature). You can tell the setting quickly by sight and by feel.

Fuel economy: I averaged around 28.5 mpg in a sporty 170 miles, including a highway trip. Feed the MX-5 whatever.

Where it’s built: Hiroshima, Japan.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the MX-5 reliability to be 5 out of 5.

In the end: Give in to the temptation, indeed. But check out the Fiat as well, if you don’t require the retractable hardtop.