“Where should I put this?” my boyfriend asked, holding up his wallet. I looked around the 2017 Mazda Miata RF’s cramped interior. There was no glove compartment. No door pockets. The center console cubby was too small. The compartment between the seats was already filled with paperwork and other items from the press fleet garage.
“Um, maybe in that slot in front of the shifter?”
“But our phones are already there.”
(Full disclosure: Mazda wanted us to drive the new Miata RF so badly that it dropped one off at my front door with a full tank of gas.)
It’s easy to enjoy the RF on short, hour-long jaunts when the novelty is still sparkling and new. That narrative has been beaten to death. I took it on a 650-mile weekend trip to Vermont and back to see how it fared as a long distance road-tripper.
Unveiled at the 2016 New York Auto Show, the 2017 Mazda Miata RF (RF for retractable fastback) is the same car as the soft-top Miata, but with an electric retractable roof. Arguably, it looks better with the roof up, but as it is a roadster, the roof has to come down at least some of the time.
You might think that extra hardtop makes it somehow more livable than a soft top Miata; you would, however, be wrong.
Oh, there’s no doubt that the Miata RF is a striking looker: it’s stocky and low, with classically sports car styling and proportions. Its overhangs are short, its wheels are sized perfectly to its body and it has some of the most elegant rear haunches on any car for sale today.
It attracts attention; we got a thumbs-up from a Subaru WRX STI driver on FDR Drive. Our test car, as you can see, was a deep and rich Soul Red Metallic coat, a $300 optional extra.
But the Miata is a tiny, tiny car. And so it has a tiny, tiny trunk and a tiny, tiny interior—think a normal car that shrank in the dryer. The seats don’t recline, so your passenger will be forced to take a rather uncomfortable and upright nap. There wasn’t much storage space in the cabin. We always felt like we were swimming in our possessions, even though the items we had only amounted to a wallet, two cell phones and a Nalgene water bottle. Oh, and we realized that we couldn’t also fit my purse in the cabin with us, so that had to go in the trunk, which I didn’t like.
There are two cupholders between the seats, one of which can be detached and relocated to a new position by the passenger’s left knee, effectively decreasing legroom. But even when one of the center cupholders is occupied, it’s also impossible to open the center compartment.
As I’ve mentioned before, the Miata/Fiat 124 Spider is a great city car. Getting out of Manhattan was not a problem. And once we cleared out of the surrounding areas, we settled into a cruise up Interstate 87.
The RF’s top takes about 12 seconds to fold up or down, initiated by keeping your finger on a button located on the center console. If it was slightly quieter in the cabin because this was a hardtop and not a soft top, it wasn’t terribly noticeable.
For the first 30 minutes of the drive, we amused ourselves by talking at volumes more suited for addressing a room filled with people, certainly not two occupants in a roadster. But as time wore on and the tire and wind noise moaned continuously through the cabin, I had to admit the funniness was wearing off. I would have loved to hear what was on the radio.
And it sounded like something wasn’t closed properly or laying flat on the right side of the roof because a sharp whistling sliced through the entire trip.
It might have just been something misaligned on that particular car, but no matter how many times we opened and closed the roof and windows, the whistling never went away. It drove us nuts.
In the trunk, we managed to squeeze two duffle bags and a bag of groceries and not much else. If you were to head anywhere for longer than a weekend in the RF, then you’d have to get pretty creative with your packing.
And so we drove, mowing down highway miles with the car thrown into sixth gear and the cruise control on. On a highway, it doesn’t really matter whether or not a car is a manual, so you stopped focusing on the shifting and instead felt it out as a long-distance road trip car.
The gas mileage was phenomenal. The 300 miles up to Vermont only whittled the fuel down by three-quarters of a tank. The steering remained tight and responsive, even on the mostly straight highway. The suspension kept you aware of the road beneath you, but I wouldn’t recommend driving over any big potholes because you’ll definitely feel them.
Visibility was poor. I don’t claim to be a tall person, but I would think the seats would have some kind of height adjustment for us shorties. No dice. I had to scoot the seat almost as far forwards as it would go so I could push in the clutch all the way and sit extremely upright. And still, I found that I was peering over the steering wheel.
Forget about rearward visibility. The rear buttresses, though exquisite, stopped me from seeing anything that was behind me when it came time to merge or change lanes. The RF had the most egregious examples of blind spots that I’d ever experienced. I’d see cars coming up in my mirror and then they’d vanish from sight, sucked up into a black hole.
The blind spot warnings would then freak out after the car reappeared and wouldn’t stop freaking out until the car was a good car length ahead of the RF. I drove with even more heightened situational awareness, to say the least. That probably wasn’t a bad thing, but then again, being able to properly see would have been nice.
We arrived in Vermont after about six hours on the road and unfolded ourselves painfully from the car, limbs cracking and blood rushing back into extremities that had long since gone to sleep. We hobbled inside for beers.
I so very much wanted the RF to be a better long distance car than it was since it’s an absolute joy in just about every other aspect. The 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine revved freely and cheerfully.
Sure, the quoted 155 horsepower felt on the lower side, but that wasn’t the point. The point lay in the silky clutch and short, tight gearbox that delighted in downshifts and rev-matching.
I subjected the Miata RF to a test it wasn’t really designed to do. I’m not surprised by how much of a long distance car it isn’t. But, if you do happen to take one on a road trip, you’ll be tempted to seek out the back roads instead of the faster and more economical highway. Which is exactly what we did on the way home.
Instead of jumping right on Interstate 87, we found a winding backroad somewhere in upstate New York that lopped off a good 30 miles of our trip. That was where the car woke up and suddenly I didn’t care that I was sitting on my cell phone because there was nowhere else to put it. It was only 10 percent of the ride home but those 30 miles made it all worth it.
Once you find that perfect road, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been driving the car for 20 hours or 20 minutes: it’ll come to life beneath your touch, utterly charm and bewitch you and you’ll quickly forgive and forget all its little inconveniences. Funny how that works.