What kind of convertible top do you prefer? The Mazda MX-5 – or Miata as it is also known – is one of the last remaining 2-seat convertible sports cars on the market. But while the current 4th generation 2020 Mazda MX-5 is available with a range of options, the most important one to choose is what type of top to have. Hardtop or soft-top?
Engine – Regardless of which variant you get, both cars are powered by a naturally aspirated 2.0L engine. It produces 181 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. Peak power is in the top rpm range while peak torque is more in the mid rpm range. However, when driving around town, you don’t really need to push too hard on the throttle pedal to get the car going. The soft-top MX-5 tips the scales at 1,065 kg while the RF is only 51 kg heavier. The light weight means that the engine doesn’t need to be some monstrous V8. This 2.0L engine can accelerate the car to 100 km/h in around 5.8 seconds which is very respectable. Furthermore, the engine is very responsive to driver inputs thanks to its naturally aspirated nature.
Fuel economy is something that you don’t have to worry about in either MX-5. Because of the car’s relatively light weight, both return excellent fuel efficiency. With the manual transmission, they are both rated for 9.0 L/100km (26.1 mpg) in a city and 7.0 L /100km (33.6 mpg) on a highway. With the automatic, the city fuel economy remains the same but highway drops down to 6.6 L/100km (35.6 mpg) . During my time with both cars, I averaged around 7.3 L/100km (32.2 mpg) with both of them. The only caveat is that Mazda recommends Premium fuel with these cars.
Transmission – A 6-speed automatic transmission is available with both variants of the Mazda MX-5 but the 6-speed manual is the way to go. Throws between shifts are short and it is a satisfying motion when swapping cogs manually. To use an overused metaphor, it’s like a well oiled machine. It’s hard to miss a gear and it is a genuinely enjoyable task to change gears in an MX-5. The clutch pedal is light with the clutch bite point just a few millimeters above the bottom end of the pedal.
Braking – This particular 2020 Mazda MX-5 RF came equipped with the GSP package which added Brembo front calipers. The standard soft-top MX-5 had regular brake calipers but Brembo brakes are optional. The Brembo brakes provide a slightly stiffer feeling brake pedal and, of course, a tremendous amount of stopping force. The standard brakes didn’t have quite the same brake pedal stiffness but it felt solid even after repeated hard stops. Automatic emergency braking is a standard feature even on manual equipped MX-5 models.
Handling – If you want to know how a sports car should feel and go around corners, then these are the cars to drive. Steering is very precise and very quick to respond to driver inputs. It provides excellent feedback as to what the front tires are doing. There is a tiny bit more body roll in the soft-top than the hardtop due to the RF receiving Bilstein shocks on all four corners. It is easily controllable at slower to moderate speeds but it can feel a bit unnerving at higher speeds if you’re aggressive with the steering. The MX-5 responds very well to smooth steering inputs but can quickly become twitchy at higher speeds if you toss it into a corner. Thankfully, the back end is very easy to catch if the 205 wide tires do let go, and they will let go even with 181 hp. The RF receives a limited slip differential whereas the soft-top MX-5 does not in this base GS trim. Go up in the trims and the soft-top also receives an LSD.
Ride Comfort – While these are sports cars, they are very livable on a day-to-day basis. Yes, the RF’s ride is a tiny bit stiffer due to the Bilstein shocks but it’s only over big potholes or really rough roads that it becomes unbearable. Over 95% of other roads or highways, both cars provide a comfortable ride.
Interior Space – This is where the 2020 Mazda MX-5 and MX-5 RF can be a bit of an issue if you’re a taller person like myself. I am 6’4” and fitting in the MX-5 is a challenge. To my surprise, head room is pretty good with both the hardtop and the soft-top. It’s leg room where I have an issue. With the seats all the way back, my knees still brush up against the dashboard. Under braking situations, I’m basically bracing myself with my knees against the dashboard. These are not comfortable cars for taller adults.
Because of the limited space, Mazda’s engineers had to get creative with small item storage. There is no traditional glove box but there is a cubby between the seats that is lockable. There is also a tiny amount of storage underneath the center armrest for coins and the cup holders are interchangeable with 2 positions between the seats and one next to the passenger’s knee. Trunk space is not too bad for a convertible with the soft-top offering 130 L (4.59 cu-ft) of cargo while the RF hardtop is only 3 L smaller at 127 L (4.48 cu-ft) of cargo.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – Noise is the biggest difference between the two cars. The soft-top is basically there to shield you from the wind and rain. Noise easily passes through it. You can pretty much hear a person’s conversation every time you come up to an intersection in a busy city.
The RF hardtop provides much better insulation from outside noises but it’s not perfect. There is still a bit of wind noise intruding into the cabin from the side windows where they meet the roof. If you plan to use an MX-5 year round, the RF is a better daily commuter.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – The biggest gadget on the Mazda MX-5 RF is the metal folding roof. The top can go up or down in 13 seconds and up to a speed of 10 km/h. Firstly, it’s just one toggle of a button to raise it or lower it so anyone can do it. But compared to the MX-5’s soft-top – which is a manual operating top and can be taken up or down in about 5 seconds – 13 seconds feels like an eternity. Also, 10 km/h is painfully slow. Try it the next time you’re driving. It’s a lot slower than you think.
But apart from the hard or soft-tops, the 2020 Mazda MX-5 and MX-5 RF come well equipped with standard features such as heated seats, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto connectivity, blind spot sensors, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, push button start, keyless entry/exit, and LED headlights. Move up in the trims and you can get an MX-5 with either Napa leather or Recaro seats, Bose audio system with 9-speakers, navigation, automatic climate control, and a 4.6-inch screen in the driver instrument cluster.
Interior Design – The interior prioritizes driving above all else. There isn’t a whole lot to distract you from the job of driving. The controls are simple and easily reachable. Even the rotary knob and buttons next to the shifter don’t obtrude when you’re driving down a twisty road. You do have to use the rotary knob for the infotainment system when you’re moving but you can use the 7-inch touchscreen as a touchscreen when stopped.
The materials are good where you tend to touch or see most often like around the upper door panels or dashboard. With the roof down in the soft-top, outward visibility is excellent. With the roof up, the left side blind-zone is a bit difficult to see but thankfully blind spot sensors are standard. In the RF, left side blind-zone is poor regardless of the position of the top. Again though, blind spot sensors are standard.
Exterior Design – Over the decades, the Mazda MX-5 has earned a reputation as being a car for only women due to it’s small and “cute” looks. With this 4th generation, Mazda tried to make it a bit more masculine with angry looking headlights and sharp lines in the front bumper. The side and rear though have smoother flowing lines with the rear taillights mimicking the center mounted air vents on the inside. Overall, I like the design and to me, it doesn’t look like it’s a “girls car”. I’d be happy to drive it all day with the top down… if I can fit in it.
So then which 2020 Mazda MX-5 should you buy? If you’re going to use it on a daily basis throughout the entire year, the MX-5 RF is our best bet with a starting price of $40,100 CAD ($33,045 USD) . Not only does the hardtop better insulate the cabin from noise but you also have the added security and peace of mind associated with a hardtop. Also, the top keeps more heat in during the winter months. However, if you’re going to only use the MX-5 as a weekend or second car, then the soft-top is your better bet. It has a starting price of $33,100 CAD $26,580 USD) which is a pretty big savings. Regardless of which MX-5 you choose though, you’ll have a smile on your face with either one.
Thank you to Mazda Canada for providing the vehicles. www.Mazda.ca