Production for the Mazda MX-5 RF has begun and pre-orders for the model are being taken in the UK.
The hard-top version of Mazda's latest roadster was revealed more than six months ago in New York and is expected to be priced from £21,000 when UK sales commence at the start of next year.
The MX-5 RF will be built at Mazda's Ujina plant near its Hiroshima headquarters. It's expected to account for the majority of MX-5 sales in Britain, beating its soft-top sibling.
First deliveries are due to arrive here before the end of the first quarter of 2017.
Named for its retractable fastback roof (RF) design, Mazda has reinvented its popular hard-top MX-5 for its fourth-generation model, taking on a Porsche 911 Targa-style aesthetic characterised by hinged rear pillars and a powered, stowable middle section and rear window.
As well as a change in design over its predecessor, the MX-5 RF roof is fully automatic for the first time, with the control system enabling the roof to open and close at speeds of up to 6mph. When open, the front and middle roof sections are stowed together with the back window glass in the space behind the seats. As a result, luggage space, at 130 litres, matches that of the soft-top MX-5.
A spokesperson said that any similarities with the 911 Targa were "purely coincidental. We were designing this solution before the 911 was revealed. The car is smaller than its predecessor, and this system meant we didn't intrude on boot space," he added.
New auto ’box
Unique to the RF is the addition of a six-speed automatic gearbox option, alongside the existing six-speed manual offered on the soft-top. Engines, however, remain the same, with the choice of Skyactiv-G 1.5 and 2.0-litre petrol units.
Performance figures are unknown for the MX-5 RF, but given that the car will be 40kg heavier than the 1050kg soft-top, it is expected to be slightly slower; the 2.0-litre soft-top achieves 0-62mph in 7.3sec, with a top speed of 133mph.
Mazda has also tuned the suspension and power steering specifically for the MX-5 RF, aiming to deliver a comfortable and refined ride. Mazda has made a concerted effort to reduce cabin noise in the RF, with extra sound deadening in the rear wheel wells and headliner of the front and middle roof panels.
Another distinction from the soft-top is the introduction of a new ‘premium’ Machine Grey paint colour (pictured). Using three coats – one colour, one reflective and one clear – Mazda says this RF-unique paintjob creates “a sheen when illuminated and a genuine metallic look”.
Most popular model in UK
Despite the expected price premium of around £2500 over the £18,495 starting price of the regular car, the MX-5 RF is expected to be the best-selling UK model when it goes on sale in 2017.
The hard-top version of the previous-generation MX-5 accounted for 80% of sales in the UK, presumably due to Brits’ preference for the extra insulation and comfort in a hard-top, alongside the increased ease of an electric folding roof over a manual one. However, a Mazda spokesperson told Autocar that the global sales split for the MX-5 RF was expected to be 50/50.