Like many an amateur runner, I can usually be found taking part in races at weekends.
There are plenty of lovely places to run near my Richmond-upon-Thames home: for example, it’s only a short jog from my house to the start of Kingston Parkrun, which follows a beautiful, flat route alongside the River Thames.
Recently, though, I’ve found myself heading further afield for my running fix, into the undulating Hampshire countryside and beyond. That’s meant running up a lot more steep hills, including some fiendishly tough runs on woodland trails. Ouch.
The extra leg ache is worth it, though, because driving to rural runs is a perfect excuse to enjoy the MX-5 RF in its natural habitat: flowing country roads. It always performs, too. The steering is beautifully weighted and the gearchange satisfyingly positive. When pressed, the 1.5-litre engine is responsive and it sounds lovely – roof up or down. It’s simply a pleasure to drive.
It shows that Mazda’s effort to maintain the traditionally fine MX-5 handling, despite the addition of that heavy folding metal roof, was well worth it.
Of course, there’s a reason I’m finding running-based excuses to drive into the countryside: my commute to Autocar Towers in Twickenham is a short, traffic-filled urban trawl on roads blighted with speed bumps and traffic lights. Not exactly the terrain in which an MX-5 is most comfortable, then.
But the intention of the RF’s folding hard-top is to make the car more refined and practical, so that you won’t only want to wheel it out on sunny weekends. And the RF is proving surprisingly adept at city life – once you’ve adjusted to looking up at the masses of SUVs on south-west London’s streets. The soft suspension handles speed bumps with ease, and visibility is rarely a problem, even with the roof up and the rear windscreen in place. Also, tight urban manoeuvring is a breeze.
A practical city car, then? Not quite. You can’t really call a car with only two seats and a small boot practical. But if you don’t need that space, it holds its own on weekdays – with a glorious pay-off come the weekend.
Price £24,895 Price as tested £25,965 Economy 42.0mpg Faults None Expenses None
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Our new Mazda MX-5 RF has a hard act to follow.
The last time Autocar ran an MX-5 as a long-term test car, editor-in-chief Steve Cropley was so impressed that he bought it. He still owns it, too. No pressure, then.
So how can the MX-5 RF top that? The answer is with several carefully sculpted pieces of steel, aluminium and plastic, and a clever electrical motor that folds them all up and tucks them neatly away.
That would be the Retractable Fastback – or folding hard-top, if you prefer. Hold down a switch on the dashboard and in around 15sec the three parts of the roof will be raised, folded and tucked into a special compartment. It’s all very theatrical.