Why the Mazda MX-5 RF is the car I hate to love the most

An ill-fated romance?
by Drei Laurel | Jul 6, 2017

"Nope, that's not going to work," I tell myself as I once again back away to reposition my test unit--a shiny, new, Mazda MX-5 RF in machine gray--in hopes of finally driving over this damn ramp and into the car wash. For the nth time, with a growing line behind me, might I add.

I repeat the process during my exit. The parking attendant and I breathe a sigh of relief as I'm finally able to make my way down and out without a scratch--though we both know that whatever tip I handed him didn't cut it. "Freedom at last." Well, or at least as much freedom driving such a cramped, low-slung vehicle in Manila will get me.

Don't get me wrong--I absolutely love the Miata. Ask me what car I would buy given a P2.5 million budget, it would be either the RF (at P2.25 million) or its soft-top counterpart. But I have to say that a little over 24 hours behind its wheel has put quite a few things in perspective regarding whether or not that decision would be the right one.

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For one thing, I can't reach for my wallet without having to unbuckle my seatbelt and attempt my best Reed Richards impersonation. Little space, one viable compartment, and a 5'10" dude with budding back problems is just as bad a combination as it sounds.


And speaking of height, driving the RF in the city poses an issue even without taking its low, low ground clearance and oversized humps into account--it's dwarfed by just about every other vehicle on the road. You're basically Frodo in Mordor inside this thing, except instead of Uruk-Hai you're surrounded by much taller PUVs who swerve in and out of lanes with reckless abandon.

Storage? What storage? Never mind the interior, where you'll be searching desperately for somewhere to place whatever gadgets or personal effects you may have on you--but that trunk. Oh man, we hope you don't plan on picking anyone up from NAIA in this baby, because there's barely any room back there. And did we mention you can't pop it open from inside?

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It can be pretty loud (in a bad way), too. While wind noise has been reduced thanks to the folding hard top, over some surfaces, it seems like road noise can be pretty bad. I had heard that equipping the roadster with a solid roof causes road noise to echo inside the cabin a bit more, though I can't say for certain if this is the cause.

Finally, there's the disapproval--from the wife, from the parents, from anyone else smart enough to note everything I've mentioned above. "It's not practical," they'll say. "Who buys a drop top in the Philippines, in this weather?" they'll scoff. "What about the kids?" she'll ask. And you know what? These are all very, very valid points.

I can't pick up my laundry up in this car. I can't take my dog along on road trips. I can't park this thing on the side of the road without worrying about someone running his key across it for kicks. I cannot, for the life of me, say this car is practical.

But I will say that driving the Mazda MX-5 RF is the most fun I've had behind the wheel in a very long time.

If you enjoy driving, the RF can do no wrong--well, almost. It isn't available with a manual transmission, though the company didn't rule out the possibility of bringing one in entirely.

But... a lively, naturally aspirated engine (2.0-liter, 158hp and 200Nm)? Check. Exceptional handling? Check. The option to drop that top, even if you do have to come to a near halt to do so? Check. Random people looking into the cabin only to be disappointed the driver is nowhere near as sexy or handsome as the car he's driving? Big, big check. So many checks, this car.

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It's just so enjoyable to drive. Granted, it isn't the fastest car on the road (though its looks might suggest otherwise), as I watch midsize SUVs and pickup trucks gleefully pull ahead of me on the expressway. But, I can let them have that. They're lifeless hunks of metal compared to what I'm behind the wheel of.

I will make an exception for the black Aston Martin who blew past me on SCTEX, though. But man, lay off the pedal a bit, will you?

Besides, if you're spending majority of your time driving this thing in a straight line, you're doing it wrong. Bring it up to some twisties: perhaps Kennon Road heading up to Baguio, Halsema Highway on the way to Sagada, or even just a quick drive up to Mount Samat in Bataan--as I did. It's an inspiring and incredibly balanced vehicle to drive.

And it was here--driving up to that big white cross on the mountain, roof down, enveloped in breeze, flicking the RF's paddle shifters as I took in every curve the 15 or so minute ascent had to offer--where I just knew: It might not make sense, and my aching back and I might be better off without it, but I love this car. Sorry, kidneys, but you're not safe just yet.

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PHOTO: Mark Jesalva
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