So far, 2016 is shaping up to be a year full of “moments,” those rare occurrences when something becomes so captivating that it comes to dominate the conversation. There’s a strong argument that Kanye West, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump are all (for good or ill) having a moment right now. The Golden State Warriors are definitely having a moment. And after 25 years as the moral compass of the sports car world, the Mazda Miata is having one hell of a moment.
Last week, the fourth-generation Miata dominated the World Car of the Year awards, taking home two of the five trophies: one for best design and the big World Car of the Year win. Less than 48 hours before that, the brand surprised the automotive press with the reveal of the Miata RF, a beautiful targa-topped corner-carver that has the potential to completely redefine the high-$20K sports car segment.
The all-new for 2016 model saw Miata sales numbers double after it was introduced in spring, and now in its first full calendar year on sale, Mazda’s will almost certainly move even more. That likely would’ve happened without the RF – it’s nearly impossible to think of a better driver’s car for the money. But for most of the country, the Miata is a second or third car, and even in the best of winters, you’d be lucky to get more than nine months out of your roadster. With the RF however, we’d be tempted to buy a set of snow tires and take the thing drifting during the first heavy snowfall.
A removable hardtop was an available option on first-generation Miatas, and the third-gen car got a bubble-shaped (and heavy) power retractable hardtop. But the RF is aesthetically much more unique than previous attempts at weatherproofing the Miata. Mazda seems to have learned Italian thanks to its partnership with Fiat and gave the RF some very Ferrari Dino-esque flying buttresses that make the car even sexier, though we wish Mazda skipped the fake rear quarter windows outright (besides, they remind us too much of the Toyota 86) and left sheet metal, a la ’66-’68 Mustang fastbacks.
But those are small gripes, especially since the RF will be the cheapest targa-topped sports car this side of the $108K-plus Porsche 911 Targa. Mazda brass at the reveal told us that the weight difference is negligible (and pointed out that the hardtop mechanism fits in the same cavity as the soft top), but Automobile has reported that the new top will come with a 175 to 200 pound penalty. While that means pushing the car’s curb weight into the 2,500 pound range, remember that the last-generation Miata soft top started at 2,480 pounds, so we really can’t imagine too much of a performance penalty. Handling may suffer a bit, but if you want the full-on lightweight experience, you can always stick with the classic soft top.
Mazda hasn’t released important details like pricing or on-sale dates yet, but based on the previous hardtop Miata (which is still available at Mazda dealerships), it fetched an $1,800 premium over ragtop models. There might be more of of a premium due to the RF’s complex targa top, but there’s a good chance you’ll be able to leave your Mazda dealership in one for under $30K. As for delivery, don’t expect to drive one home until after the next president is inaugurated. Powertrains are carried over from the roadster, and thanks to the aforementioned compact footprint of the roof, trunk space remains the same, too.
It may seen silly to fall for the heavy version of a car that was universally praised for its fanatic devotion to weight-saving, but we have the feeling that the RF will have a personality all its own – think of it as adding depth to the Miata line rather than compromising it. Besides, it’s nearly universally understood that the Miata is as close to a pure sports car as you can get, but for FRS/BR-Z owners that are willing to admit their backseats are useless, bored Nissan 370Z owners, lonely entry-level Mustang and Camaro owners, or anyone who wants a sports car but lives in places with sub-40 degree winters, the RF suddenly provides a very attractive alternative. Writing this at the tail-end of a New York winter, we sure wouldn’t mind living with one. We may have to wait a while before we can get our hands on an RF, but who knows what other accolades the Miata will rack up between now and then.