The RF (the name stands for Retractable Fastback), which was first revealed at the New York Motor Show, follows the folding hardtop version, which accounted for up to 80% of all MX-5s sold by the time the Mk3 edition of the car was phased out in 2014. However, it takes a more radical approach than its predecessor, with a complex mechanism that’s similar in principle to the set-up used by Porsche on the latest 911 Targa.
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“We started work on this car eight years ago,” Nobuhiro Yamamoto, Program Manager of MX-5, told Auto Express. “We had the soft-top and this version in mind right from the start.”
“We wanted the cars to have two different characters: the soft top is more casual and the RF is a little bit more formal.” That’s reflected in the interior, too, according to Yamamoto-san, with a higher quality feel and a new LCD display in the dash.
Mazda’s designers have created new bodywork, which joins the central roof panel to the boot deck, giving the RF different side and rear profiles to the regular car. A switch on the dashboard operates electric motors, which lift a section of rear bodywork up as a single piece, allowing the car to tuck away the central roof section. The process takes around 12 seconds, and it can happen at speeds of up to 6mph.
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Accoding to Yamamoto-san, the priorities for the roof were for it to stow away easily, for the mechanism to stay true to Mazda’s light weight philosophy and for there to be no increase in wheelbase.
Mazda’s engineers assessed eight and six-part folding roof mechanisms, before settling on the four-part structure shown in our exclusive drawings by MX-5 chief designer Masashi Nakayama (below).
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Despite the intricate construction, boot capacity remains the same as the regular MX-5’s, at 130 litres. The rear glass can also be lowered with the roof in place, allowing more air into the cabin in conditions where a fully opened top would not be desirable.
No official figures for the new car have been released, but Yamamoto-san did reveal to us that we should expect an increase in body weight that’s slightly more than the 40kg extra the old folding hard-top MX-5 used to carry over the old soft-top model.
Mazda has retuned the RF’s power-steering set-up to reflect changes in the car’s balance, while suspension settings have been tweaked to reflect the car’s different character and to adjust for the extra weight. The new MX-5 is the same length and width as a regular roadster, and its roofline is just 5mm higher.
Mazda says the central roof panel can be offered in a contrast piano-black finish, as well as in the body colour – but this hasn’t been confirmed for the UK.
The RF is due on sale in the UK in 2017. Prices have yet to be confirmed, but we expect it to carry a premium of around £2,500 over the regular roadster. The RF editions will be available with both the 1.5 and 2.0-litre engines, so prices should start from around £21,000.
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