Drive topless in style

The Mazda MX-5 RF's targa-like profile keeps turbulence down to a minimum.
The Mazda MX-5 RF's targa-like profile keeps turbulence down to a minimum.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Mazda's new hard-top convertible provides more comfort and amenities

Wind-in-your-hair motoring is not what it used to be. Not at my age, anyway, when literally every follicle must be strategically arranged to mask increasingly vacant real estate.

Mazda's new MX-5 RF, however, makes open-top driving less embarrassing. Its targa-like profile - a first for the MX-5 - miraculously keeps turbulence down to a minimum within street-legal speeds.

Which is good news for folks like me, as well as tai tais, who do not particularly care to have their $600 hairdos rearranged.

Of course, tai tais and balding men are not the only ones who would care for a car like the MX-5 RF (for Retractable Fastback).

The two-seater is endowed with the same exuberance that makes the classic soft-top MX-5 a natural choice for all who enjoy driving.

  • SPECS / MAZDA MX-5 RF

  • Price: From $171,800 with COE

    Engine: 1,998cc 16-valve inline-4

    Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual override

    Power: 158bhp at 6,000rpm

    Torque: 200Nm at 4,600rpm

    0-100kmh: 8.6 seconds

    Top speed: 194kmh

    Fuel consumption: 6.7 litres/100km

    Agent: Trans Eurokars Mazda

While the hard-top RF does not offer any discernible improvement in body rigidity, it is still as much of a blast to drive as its rag-top twin.

They share the same drivetrain - a 2-litre high-compression fourcylinder paired with a synaptic six-speed autobox. Power is sent to the rear wheels in an elegant fashion.

The car is slightly heavier than the soft-top. Its boot is just a shade smaller - a surprise, since metal roofs typically take up a lot more space than fabric canopies.

The folding mechanism is quick, deceptively simple and can be operated at up to 10kmh.

Like most convertibles, the MX-5 RF is best enjoyed with the roof down. The car has an intimate connection to the road, which means the driver feels the dynamic nuances of a journey as well as every little undulation of the tarmac.

With the roof up, the latter is amplified. With the roof down, the elements not only become a useful distraction, but they also seem to contribute to the overall experience of driving this little roadster in a positive way - perhaps like how eating on a verandah with the sun setting and a cool breeze blowing enhances the dining experience.

In the case of the Mazda, the cool breeze is guaranteed by a powerful air-conditioning system which makes it viable to drive topless, even in mid-day.

Another reason for driving with the roof down is that the RF has less headroom than its soft-top sibling.

Its targa construction, with the rear quarter in place when the roof is tucked away, somehow reduces wind buffeting. Besides minimising mess to your crowning glory, it allows you to enjoy the roar of its engine.

In the soft-top, this sporty aural feedback is more muted.

The RF is a slightly slower car, with a century sprint time of 8.6 seconds versus the regular MX-5's 8.0. Peak velocity is 194kmh instead of 198kmh.

This is immaterial when the unique propositions of an MX-5, such as well-honed handling, fine roadholding and communicative steering, remain intact.

The latest generation model recaptures the magic of the benchmark-setting first-generation car, while providing more comfort and amenities (the least useful of which being the stop-start function).

The RF costs $10,000 more than the soft-top. Is it worth it? Well, it depends on how much premium you place on arriving in style.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2017, with the headline 'Drive topless in style'. Print Edition | Subscribe