The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata earned praise from owners and the press alike when it first debuted, and that included from CARFAX: Per our review, the all-new model is a stylish roadster that “continues to excel with great driving dynamics and an affordable price.” Now, for the 2017 model year, it’s also about to be joined by a retractable-fastback version that comes with a folding hardtop instead of a soft convertible roof.
That should significantly broaden the car’s appeal, as the previous hardtop Miata was a more popular choice in its final selling season than the standard soft-top version. Just don’t expect supply and demand to match up for the 2017 Mazda Miata MX-5 RF Launch Editions. Only 1,000 will be offered for the U.S. marketplace. Mazda’s “most loyal customers” will get first dibs, too, so that the number sold to the general public will be even smaller.
Those Mazda loyalists are scheduled to receive preliminary order invitations in the next month or so, while further details, about both the car and its availability, will follow.
Here’s what we know at this point:
The Mazda Miata RF Launch Package
For the look of the new special-edition Miatas, Mazda turned to the RF concept car that had its global introduction in April, at the New York International Auto. That’s where the Miata first showed off its new top and color scheme. Inside was a Nappa leather cabin in a warm shade of Auburn, and the exterior was detailed by a striking Machine Gray finish. The RF Launch Edition vehicles will be the only production cars to feature this particular color combination along with a black roof panel, unique badging and all the content from the up-level Grand Touring trim.
All Launch Edition owners also get a matching Tourneau watch.
It’s worth noting as well that other Miata grades, and other Mazda models, will add the Machine Gray Metallic color to their options list. The shade actually is the second of the automaker’s premium color choices, and like the first, Soul Red, it’s based on “takuminuri” technology. Mazda translates that as “paint by master craftsmen,” but the process was specifically created to help bring hand-painted concept-style exterior finishes to mass-market vehicles. To do this, the automaker says it relies on a three-coat paint structure that includes tiny, high-brightness aluminum flakes for an ultra-thin reflective layer. It highlights the metallic nature of the finish in a way that makes each vehicle appear to have been carved out of a single ingot of steel.
The ‘Regular’ Miata RF
Of course, the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF will be plenty exciting even once those Launch Models are sold out.
Consider: The retractable fastback for which the car is named creates a new, sleeker silhouette, while additionally making the car more suitable for all-weather ownership. Yet at the same time, the RF can revert to an open-air setup with a simple switch. Flip that, and the top panels of the car and its rear glass will be stowed automatically behind the rear seats, without impinging on the Miata’s 4.6 cubic feet of trunk space. That may not seem like much, but the Miata’s trunk should hold two small overnight bags for a weekend getaway.
Mazda hasn’t released open or closing times for the top at this stage, but the brand says they’ll be among the fastest of any car with a retractable hardtop. The RF’s roof system can also be operated at speeds of up to 6 mph, and other benefits range from an insulated headliner, for a quieter environment with the roof closed, to an acrylic aero-board wind blocker, for more enjoyment with the top opened.
The Miata’s Competition
The Miata RF will otherwise share many of its features with the soft-top cars, including the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider, which also will factor into the popularity of Mazda’s roadster. The new Fiat went on sale last month, and though only 480 were sold, July also was the first month that demand for the Miata had dipped since the new generation reached dealerships. That may be a coincidence. Or it may be a sign of things to come.
Remember, the Spider takes advantage of Mazda’s years of roadster experience, then adds a dash of Italian style and one of Fiat’s turbocharged 1.4-liter engines. As a result, the 124 has all the packaging and handling prowess of the best-selling roadster in the world, but complements that with its own distinctive approach to driving and design.
A retractable fastback for the Spider would eliminate one of the few advantages found only in the Mazda, and likely have a similar impact on some of the latter car’s sales. True, Fiat hasn’t verified this will happen, but the brand has premiered a hardtop Spider rally car at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show. And as the Miata RF has proven, these cars have a way of going from shows to showrooms soon after that.