In the late 19th century, it Heinrich Rudolf Hertz first discovered’ how to use radio waves but ironically, he stated that he didn’t see any practical value in it but as the 20th century came into play, Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi picked up the mantle and ‘pioneered’ Radio Transmission as we know it. Nowadays, we are bombarded by radio waves. They fill up our airspace, offering ways to communicate, they are used by Radar, for navigation and of course music.
In 1930 William Lear with Joseph and Paul Galvin put a radio into a vehicle dashboard – calling it a Motorola – it was a device that captured RF (Radio Frequencies), and invited them (and later; the multitude of channels) to be your companion as you drove. New Zealand has nigh on thirty ‘legal’ radio stations, each with their own form of entertainment – Pop music (old to new), talkback and sport; to name a few – but despite there being a broad and diverse range, (just like the vehicle we drive) most of us end up narrowing our channel selection to one main favourite, the one that suits us best.
In true radio station fashion, the current Mazda range offers up a plethora of very popular and well designed vehicles (something for everyone to pick their favourite from) – a statement underlined by their impressive 11.3% growth NZ (finishing up a record 4th) and top/near top category positioning with virtually all their models. This week I was invited to the launch of their new hit, the MX-5 RF – or as I like to call it, their Band Expander.
The MX-5 is a hero product for Mazda. It’s a near iconic two seater sports car that (when the NA was released in 1989) bucked the then trend of elitist, high performance (and highly strung) supercars – Mazda call it ‘Noncept’ by the way – and launched a car that was compact, fun to drive and above all; easy to live with. Its popularity is unquestionable as last year it reached its 1 millionth sale (a Guinness World Record) and apparently nor is its design (2016 saw the ND version win BOTH the World Car of the Year and the World Car Design of the Year awards).
Despite these impressive accolades and obvious adoration, an open top roadster isn’t for everyone. Which brings me back to the launch of the RF (Retractable Fastback). The RF has all the attributes of the MX-5 Soft top including the innovations of the ND 4th Generation – SKYACTIVE technology, KODO design and KAN sensations but also has the added versatility of a hard top.
According to Mazda, their designers started the RF development process with a sheet of paper and an image of a driver, then constructed the car around that – and if I’m honest, although the finished product looks great, the RF looks even better with someone (ideally me) in the driver’s seat – it seems to complete the picture. Roof down, it has a Targa silhouette and roof up, it’s a racey fastback sportscar – either way it attracts attention. On the subject of the roof, it’s quite an innovative ‘one touch’ process of flicking a button on the dash and waiting a mere 13 seconds (another record) for the system to do it’s three part thing – it’s a joy to watch. Funnily enough, the retracted roof barely eats into boot space too (127L vs Roadster’s 130) and although the roof only adds 47 kg’s to the car’s weight, the Mazda techs have played with the suspension to ensure that it doesn’t compromise the driving thrill – overall it’s actually a slightly softer ride than the Roadster in my opinion.
For the launch; Mazda had laid on both the Roadster’s and the RF’s, in Manual and Auto, it was a great way to compare the rides. We drove from Villa Maria out to the coast at Maraetai and had lunch at Kauri Bay Boomrock (an exceptional place – you really should go there). The RF handled the tight weaving tarmac with as much gusto as the roadster and that really does sum it up beautifully. Like I said, the ride is a fraction softer but the perfectly balanced ride is still there, as is the point and shoot steering. Roof up, the road noise and NVH (noise vibration harshness) is muted, there was still some wind noise coming from the passenger side B pillar but it was easily ignored by the fun of the drive and the open top Targa gives you more of a sense of protection over the roadster.
Mazda informed us that due to the versatility of the hardtop (and the unpredictable NZ climate) the MX-5 RF will appeal to a much wider audience than the Roadster and I have to agree. It offers up the thrill of convertible driving and the element avoiding cosseting of a three layered roof lining (with both experiences only separated by 13 seconds). Simply put, the MX-5 ‘RF’ will really expand the MX’s adoration from solely open air driving lovers to an all weather ‘daily driver’ option and in turn increase the frequency we see them on the road.
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