More than anything else the world’s bestselling two-seater sports car has been revered for the way it handles. This recognition of the MX-5’s agility and driver engagement was at the forefront of attention for the team developing the fourth-generation of this sports car icon. Conceived under the concept of “innovate in order to preserve” this engineering philosophy has allowed Mazda to maintain the agility, fun and engagement that has always defined the MX-5 while at the same time meeting ever-increasing safety and efficiency requirements, alongside improved refinement.
During the development Mazda MX-5 RF, Mazda’s engineers aimed for a broader audience by specifically tuning the RF’s suspension and steering to deliver handling and ride tailored to fit the Retractable Fastback, yet at the same time they stayed true to the principles of the MX-5 Roadster to ensure that the RF’s unique driving experience doesn’t come at the expense of agility.
Building on the 2016 World Car of the Year winning MX-5 Roadster’s universally acknowledged benchmark for handling and agility, the RF merges Mazda’s Skyactiv technology of lightweight engineering and efficient engines with chassis fine-tuning explicitly developed to match the marginally increased weight and height of the hard roof.
Retaining the same front double wishbone and rear multi-link suspension arrangement, the RF features revised settings for the front anti-roll bar, which has a larger diameter. In addition, to take into account the small increase in overall vehicle weight compared to the MX-5 Roadster, front damper gas pressure settings were adjusted to ensure the damping force characteristic is refined for a more comfortable ride. The front suspension spring rate is comparable to the Roadster but stroke takes place more easily thanks to the slight increase in weight. At the rear axle - unique slightly softer RF bump stops and revised upper link geometry combine with a higher rear spring rate and modified rear coil spring properties - to improve suspension stroke and overall grip.
Matched to these suspension revisions, the RF’s dynamic set-up is further honed by retuning the dual-pinion electric power assist steering to deliver more linearity and even better feedback. Mazda’s engineers increased the amount of assistance at the point of turn in for added responsiveness but reduced it as the wheel is turned further, to transmit more counterforce from the tyres and with it enhance the direct feeling of oneness with the car you feel from behind the wheel.
In addition, an optimised brake booster delivers a linier brake pedal response and smooth transfers of g-forces under braking, while an air dam added to the RF’s radiator undercover suppresses turbulence caused by airflow from the front wheel wells to the sides of the car. By adapting this aerodynamic lift balance to match the fastback shape, the air dam improves straight-line and lane change stability at speed.
Other hidden modifications designed to ensure a perfect handling and ride balance include a unique underbody cross-member. As you’d expect, roof aside, the Mazda MX-5 RF utilises the same lightweight and exceptionally stiff body, plus engineered high-mount backbone frame as the Roadster, however, to ensure optimal front to rear stiffness with the hard roof, the RF has a bespoke underbody cross-member designed to deliver exactly the right amount of body compliance. This enhances the driving experience by countering the effect of the retractable hardtop, which differs from the soft top in that it connects with the arches on each side of the car. Optimised engine mounts and reinforced rear suspension towers further hone the chassis set-up.
With additional weight over the Roadster being just 40kg on the 1.5 RF and 45kg on the 2.0 RF, all of the above changes fine-tune the MX-5’s award-winning chassis to take into account the retractable hardtop, while at the same time retaining focus on lightness that Mazda’s Skyactiv technology is famed for, to create a retractable hardtop sports car that stays true to the defining roadster principles that have marked out the MX-5 for more than 30 years.
Confidence inspiring stability, smile inducing handling and perfect 50:50 weight-distribution, the Mazda MX-5 RF is lighter, shorter, stiffer and safer than the last-generation RHT MX-5. Compared to the previous model, the Mazda MX-5 RF’s suspension system is lighter with the front knuckle, plus the front upper and lower arms made from aluminium. The engine frame and rear hub supports also benefit from lightweight aluminium construction, while high-tensile steel is employed for the front cross-member. This commitment to saving every possible gram continues with the Skyactiv-Body which features a considerably higher percentage of high-tensile steels and aluminium, which now make up 71 per cent of the body-in-white, up from 58 per cent with the outgoing car. With front wings, bumper reinforcements and seatback bars also made of aluminium it’s clear to see the effort Mazda has made to buck the industry trend of creating bigger and heavier cars.
As with the Roadster, manual cars with the 2.0-litre 184ps Skyactiv-G engine have a limited slip differential, front strut brace and Bilstein dampers. And across the range, the performance of the bespoke tuned Skyactiv-G engines and the super slick shift action of the six-speed manual gearbox, work in harmony with perfectly weighted controls to deliver an unrivalled driving experience.
Updates for the 2023 model year Mazda MX-5 include the addition the new Zircon Sand paint colour for the first time, while, as before, all models are fitted with Kinematic Posture Control (KPC). Mazda’s KPC system is designed to increase stability during cornering without impacting the purity of the MX-5’s handling and driver engagement. The KPC system applies a very small amount of brake force to the inner/unloaded rear wheel during cornering, the resulting brake force pulls the body down, suppressing body roll to provide more reassuring cornering so subtly that the MX-5’s engaging handling remains unpolluted.
Lighter, faster and more engaging to drive than ever, the Mazda MX-5 RF provides the undiluted driving pleasure you’d expect from the latest version of the world’s best-selling two-seater sports car, yet at the same time it delivers never seen before levels of comfort, refinement and sophistication.
In the words of Nobuhiro Yamamoto, Mazda MX-5 ambassador “Having an MX-5 makes life richer and more fun. With the Mazda MX-5 RF we want to offer even more people a fun-filled life through driving pleasure.”