Skip to main content

The Mazda MX-5 has retained its status as a beloved darling of the automotive landscape for over three decades by delivering the superb and unadulterated driving dynamics all enthusiasts crave. Additionally, the Miata has always been relatively affordable, making it a de facto blue-collar hero that can provide serious thrills for not a lot of money. And on the subject of money, prospective Mazda MX-5 Miata buyers have a choice between the standard Miata and the RF version, which commands an additional $7,700. So, is the RF worth the money?

How the 2023 Mazda MX-5 Miata stacks up

Two Mazda MX-5 Miata (one gray, the other black) models on a city street.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata | Mazda

The 2023 Mazda MX-5 Miata still feels like a throwback to yesteryear. It’s not much bigger than when the model debuted in 1989; it has a rev-happy 181-hp four-cylinder, a six-speed manual transmission, and its power is sent to the rear wheels. Its small footprint, featherweight status, sporty chassis, engaging steering feel, and responsive engine provide the excitement that practically begets its $28,050 MSRP.

Three trim levels are offered, with the Sport iteration as the base model. The mid-range Club ($31,550) adds Bilstein shock absorbers and a limited-slip differential in manual transmission models with both manual and automatic versions sporting a front lip, rear spoiler, and creature comforts like wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity and a Bose audio system. The top-spec Grand Touring ($33,050) is fitted with additional comfort amenities like leather upholstery, navigation, and automatic climate control.

Additionally, the MX-5 is offered in an RF, or “Retractable Fastback,” guise. The RF commands notably more money, begging the question, what do you get for the added dollars?

2023 Mazda MX-5 vs. MX-5 RF: what’s the difference?

The standard Mazda MX-5 Miata and RF both use the same powertrain, underpinnings, and features, so the difference between the two models comes down to a choice of a soft-top or hard-top, the trim levels offered, and of course, price.

The RF and its metal roof require a base MSRP of $35,750, but the Grand Touring is the cheaper spec when opting for a hard top. The RF Grand Touring has a base MSRP that is a $4,700 premium over the soft-top Grand Touring and $7,700 over the base MX-5. The RF Club is priced at $38,950, a little over 23 percent more than the soft-top Club and over $10,000 more than the Sport, which is not offered as an RF model, according to Mazda.

Those looking for the ultimate performance bargain will likely weigh the $7,700 difference between the base Sport model and the entry RF. The retractable roof is raised and lowered electronically for 77 more banknotes sporting Benjamin Franklin’s mug, whereas the soft top requires manual movement. This can be done while sitting in the driver’s seat, but some may not appreciate the extensive stretch required.

With the top down, the styling of MX-5 is also altered dependent on roof choice. The soft-top Miata’s roof folds away cleanly for the traditional convertible look, while the RF has permanent roll hoops. Which looks better is subjective. On the road, those roll hoops add an aggressive look, which some may welcome but also create a notable blind spot. Then again, the soft top has a porthole-like viewing area for rearward visibility.  

Scuttle shake isn’t apparent in the soft-top version (at least not in the models this author has tested), so there’s no obvious need for added rigidity. The MX-5 is also pretty noisy at highway speeds with either top.

The RF may command $7,700 over the base MX-5, but considering this little sports car is intended to thrash back roads, it’s easily argued the real base price is $31,550 for the Club model and its sportier setup and equipment. In that instance, the RF model requires a more modest $4,200 upcharge.

Whether or not that can be considered worth the money is subjective. You get more comfort features in the entry-level RF, and its top retracts with the push of a button. However, it sports less traditional roadster styling with some visibility issues (not that the soft-top MX-5 doesn’t have its own).

So, the additional money required for the RF comes down to personal needs. But in either soft- or hard-top guises, the MX-5 is still sure to please.

The MX-5 is a performance bargain no matter how you spec it

No matter the final price, the Mazda MX-5 Miata can be considered a performance bargain for the pure driving pleasure it delivers. It is developed with a classic recipe — front engine, rear-wheel drive, manual transmission in the middle, and the option for open-air cruising — without breaking the bank. Kelley Blue Book ranks the MX-5 Miata and the Miata RF as its top convertibles of 2023, beating out the Corvette, Camaro, Mini Cooper, and Mustang.

The automotive adage says, “the Miata is always the answer,” and notice that doesn’t include whether it has a soft or hard top.  


Is the Base Mazda MX-5 Miata Enough, or Should You Spec It Up?