Proving you don’t need eight cylinders, massive tires, or turbochargers to have a good time, the Mazda MX-5 RF offers the thrills of brawnier cars for $30,000. Its looks are divisive; particularly the retractable hardtop, but it seems to improve the driving experience in some ways. Thanks to better sound attenuation, reportedly better rigidity, and more power and torque with the 2019 model, the 2019 MX-5 RF able to thrill its owners with several features to complement its famously frisky chassis. By testing this car on admittedly worn tires at the very technical Toronto Motorsports Park, Speed Academy’s Dave Pratte show us just how much of a handful the new RF is.
It’s a car that requires constant corrections on the limit, and though it might lack a little power, it’s lively enough to slide under throttle in most corners. Now benefiting from an 181 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque—the latter figure produced at 4,000 rpm—the SkyActiv 2.0-liter has more than enough to make the 2,453-pound Miata a riot.
The reason for that is because, far from being an overpowered drift car, it has a natural balance which edges towards oversteer—and it doesn’t necessarily require power to go sideways. Note how willingly the car rotates off the throttle (4:15), how Dave powerslides onto the front straight beside a wall, and how he pitches the car through Toronto Motorsports Park’s quick Turn 1 just seconds later. Clearly, he’s not too intimidated when the RF’s tail steps out. A short wheelbase, a predictable platform, and just enough power to spin the wheels results in plenty of chuckling in the cozy but not cramped cabin.
Yet, Dave looks happy and relaxed; the Bridgestone Potenza S001 and the limited-slip differential offer Dave the predictability one needs when drifting at high speeds. Throughout the lap, little hints of countersteer are all that’s needed to tame the regularly dancing rear. Even with little horsepower, there’s plenty this car requires the driver think about.
In the end, that sorted chassis and adequate amount of power amount to a 1:25.35 around Toronto Motorsports Park—roughly 1.5 seconds faster than the 2019 MX-5 GT—putting it near a stock Honda S2000. For something that isn’t specifically designed for the road course, that speaks volumes to the effectiveness of the chassis. I’d suggest imagining what this car would be capable of with some track-oriented suspension and tires, but with Speed Academy’s propensity to modify anything and everything that they get their hands on, there’s a very good chance we’ll see this car again in a more focused form.
Still, there aren’t too many faults with this car as it stands. Sure, lacking the big Brembos available on the GT variant kept this car from going even quicker; brakes are usually the first thing to go during hard lapping. Plus, the car rolls a fair amount, which might not be ideal on the road course, but it is the base model. Perhaps a little telling roll prior to the breakaway is helpful, especially for the amateurs this snappy machine is accessible to. It would be hard to explain why you parked the Miata in a ditch on your way from the dealership, wouldn’t it?