An old adage claims that Miata stands for “Miata is always the answer.” Want something to track? Get a Miata. Looking for a convertible? You need a Miata. Shopping on a budget? Good luck finding a new car that offers more fun for the money than — you guessed it — a 2023 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF.
While other iconic cars have gotten larger, heavier, and more diluted with each generation, the MX-5 has managed to stay remarkably true to its roots. It’s still light, nimble, engaging, and stripped down to a degree that only a roadster can achieve.
The RF version adds a retractable hard top to the mix that should better equip the little convertible to tackle cold and wet weather with confidence (as long as you have tires to match).
In short: the 2023 Mazda MX-5 RF isn’t for everyone. It’s small, simple, and makes you work for every scrap of power. It’s also delightfully authentic and reminds us why we fell in love with driving in the first place.
- Engine 2.0L I-4
- Horsepower/Torque 181 hp / 151 lb.-ft.
- MPG 26 City / 34 Hwy / 29 Comb. (25/35/30 w/ automatic transmission)
- Cargo 4.5 cu. ft.
- Exquisite handling
- Manual transmission
- Best paint in the business
- Interior is genuinely good
- More practical than ever with a retractable hard top
- Cramped cabin
- Lacking in cargo space
- Not all that fun in a straight line
- A little more power would be nice
2023 Mazda MX-5 RF Review
2023 Mazda MX-5: A Pretty Car
The Mazda MX-5 has always drawn attention but in the past, that was usually because of its diminutive size. People thought the Miata was cute or funny, and only track rats seemed to really appreciate how good the car was. That’s no longer the case; this current-generation MX-5 turns heads because it’s beautiful.
The MX-5 RF’s good looks start with its bones. The front-engine, rear-wheel drive roadster setup creates classic proportions defined by a long hood, a low roof, and a trunk that’s clipped short right behind the rear wheels.
The body panels shimmer with what is arguably the best paint in the automotive industry. Mazda’s Soul Red crystal metallic paint (a $595 option) is outstanding.
Our test vehicle’s optional appearance package includes a front air dam, rear lip spoiler, rear bumper skirt, and side sill extensions — all in gloss black. Those trimmings pair nicely with the gloss black BBS wheels and red Brembo brake calipers.
Aside from the subtle appearance package, Mazda is taking a different tack than most manufacturers by abstaining from fake scoops, nonfunctional vents, and gratuitous creases that compete for your eye’s attention. The MX-5 RF’s lines work together to create a cohesive shape that looks more expensive than it is regardless of whether the top is up or down. It’s going to age well, too.
MX-5 Interior: Simple but Sufficient
The inside of the MX-5 has come a long way since the Miata’s U.S. debut in 1990. It’s still unapologetically focused on driving — the audio controls sit under the driver’s elbow and the cupholders are removable — but the cabin underneath the RF’s hardtop is much nicer than the spartan interiors of yesterday.
Raising and lowering the RF’s namesake retractable fastback takes just a few seconds (perfect for dropping it at a stoplight) and the mechanized origami is a sight to behold. Wind noise is noticeable when the roof is raised but a late snowstorm proved to me that the hard top offers a much warmer and more reassuring cabin than the conventional ragtop, especially in bad weather and on the highway.
Our test vehicle came with optional heated Recaro seats. This might seem frivolous to people who love old-school Miatas, but they are a fantastic upgrade. The gippy Alcantara and snug bolsters do a great job of holding the driver and passenger in place, and the heated seats extend top-down weather into the shoulder seasons.
At 5’9″ and 195 pounds, I fill up every bit of the left-side Recaro. My head doesn’t rub on the roof but my hair does. At least legroom is plentiful. If you’re any taller, schedule a test drive to make sure you can sit comfortably in the MX-5.
This Is How Cars Should Handle
Agile handling has always been a hallmark of the Mazda MX-5, and that remains true with the 2023 MX-5 RF. The light, nimble chassis dips into turns while the electric power-assisted steering wheel does a good job of conveying what the front tires are up to.
We’ve been conditioned to associate stiff with sporty when it comes to suspension, but Mazda disproves that stereotype. The MX-5 is soft and pliable over potholed roads and speed bumps, and makes managing grip easy by reducing the risk of snap oversteer.
When the rear tires let go, the transition from leaning to sliding is so smooth that it happens before you know it. Tail-wagging fun is intuitive and effortless to control — a credit to the engine’s modest output and linear power delivery.
This driving experience is unspoiled by the electronic nannies that are ubiquitous in modern cars; there are no drive modes, either. A simple lane-departure warning sounds when you approach dividing lines on the road, but it can be deactivated with the touch of a button and remains off the next time you start the car. Traction control also has a dedicated button, but it reactivates every time you cycle the ignition.
More Expensive, but Still a Decent Value
Part of the MX-5’s mass appeal has always been its price — it’s an attainable sports car. Prices for a 2023 MX-5 Sport start at $28,050 but our test model, an MX-5 RF Club with several upgrades, checks in at $40,610. That’s a really, really expensive Miata.
As much as it pains me to see such a price on an MX-5’s window sticker, times have changed and car prices are rising whether we like it or not. A comparable Toyota GR86 costs about $10,000 less, albeit without the ability to go topless. Ford’s entry-level EcoBoost convertible Mustang starts at $33,270. The base Porsche 718 Boxter starts at $70,400. By comparison, a loaded MX-5 for $40,610 sounds pretty good.
Another factor to consider is the money you’ll spend after you leave the lot. An MX-5 should be reasonable to insure, and it will cost pennies to own and maintain. Its combined fuel economy is EPA-rated at 29 mpg. Skinny 205-width tires and small brakes will be cheap to replace, and you won’t be burning through these consumables all the time because the light MX-5 doesn’t place very much stress on them.
In the end, the money you spend will get you a car that turns heads everywhere you go — even if you park it next to a current-generation Toyota Supra at your local cars and coffee, as I did.
Power Is There, but You Have to Work for It
The 2023 Mazda MX-5 is not gutless but, in a world where just about everything on four wheels comes with a turbocharger, the 181-horsepower engine can take some getting used to. Instead of an instant shove of grunt from a turbocharged engine, you’ll get treated to a gradual swell of power that rewards you for keeping the needle in the top half of the tachometer.
Around town, it’ll take quick hands and feet to switch gears fast enough to get ahead of traffic. Stoplight-to-stoplight blasts are of no concern to the people at Mazda. If that’s where you spend all your time, the MX-5 might not be for you.
Roles reverse on a curvy back road, though. If you can keep the naturally aspirated 2.0L engine in its happy place and maintain momentum, you’ll understand why many expensive, powerful sports cars have been humbled by a Miata at tracks around the world.
Weight is key: The 2023 MX-5 RF (with a manual transmission) has a curb weight of only 2,341 pounds. Unlike many modern performance cars that beat the road into submission with power, digital gadgetry, and massive tires, the MX-5 floats along the pavement like a surfer’s fingers dragging through the water in the barrel of a wave.
The MX-5 is an excellent teacher. It’s approachable, predictable, and rewards you lavishly for getting everything right.
No, I did not misplace a decimal point when I listed the 2023 MX-5 RF’s cargo space as 4.5 cubic feet.
After making room for the retractable hardtop, there are only 4.5 cubic feet of space available behind the seats of the MX-5 RF (you get a cavernous 4.6 cubic feet in the soft-top model). Trunk space is separated from the roof’s storage area so there’s no risk of getting your duffel bag tangled in the roof’s mechanism. In that space, you can fit a pair of weekend bags and not much else.
Inside the cabin of the MX-5 RF, there is a tiny cubby in the center console, a lockable compartment in the vertical area between the seats, and a nook for your phone under the analog climate control dials. There’s no glovebox in the dash and no map pockets in the doors.
2023 Mazda MX-5 RF Review: Conclusion
The 2023 Mazda MX-5 RF is a far cry from early generations. Sure, Mazda could have cut weight — and so can you, by opting out of heated seats and the hardtop — but these additions have made the MX-5 more usable and more appealing to a wider audience. They also make the $40,000 price tag easier to stomach.
Meanwhile, the driving experience is still excellent. The car comes alive with vigorous steering input and eggs you on with every turn. The engine revs and revs, encouraging you to hold the throttle wide open just a little bit longer. You get the midlife crisis experience without the financial hangover. Miata may or may not be the answer, but it’s definitely still the benchmark to beat in the fun driver’s car category.
Virtually build out your own Miata online and find a local dealer to get behind the wheel yourself.