COAL: 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF GT – Affordable Exotic

If you survey my COAL history most of the vehicles I have owned that been on the more “affordable” side. Affordable is, of course, a very relative term according to one’s means. The majority of the purchases have been below the five thousand dollar mark … most being well under. This time was different with a splurge for me but still it could be considered affordable in the full automotive spectrum of interesting vehicles.

I suppose Corvettes, Porsches, Harley Davidson motorcycles along with MX-5s are common mid life crisis vehicle choices but I am not sure I would label it as such even though I would likely fit the description of middle age. So if I am claiming this is not some purchase to reject my middle age status then why did I buy it? There are a few factors including the fact that I had crashed my motorcycle the previous summer. Or maybe it had crashed me since for some still unknown reason the front wheel had suddenly locked on me sending me and it pin wheeling almost the full 360 degree rotation. This left the bike cosmetically banged up and for me a collar bone broken in several places.

While I successfully rode it to the hospital 30 kms (19 miles) or so down the highway without any further issue (poor choice in retrospect) I had lost some trust in the bike and my own riding ability. So the bike that was supposed to be “the keeper” was sold as a project for someone else to undertake. A replacement would ideally take some the wind in your hair and impractical elements of the bike while perhaps adding a couple wheels. I am not ruling out future motorbikes but none at this moment.

I could have bought a cheap convertible such as the Triumph Spitfire or MG B I had owned in the past which would offered similar thrills. But I did not go the budget route this time because when I bought the Mazda back in March I had a sneaking suspicion that we would be entering an era of inflation due to COVID related economic slow downs and government financial supports. So if I were ever to own an expensive vehicle (again, a subjective term) now might be the time. At least in the short term this seems to have been relatively accurate although for a different reason since supply chain shortages have caused vehicle prices to rise and selection to plummet.

Armed with an enlarged budget a much larger selection of vehicles were open to me but I choose some self imposed criteria to limit the field. I had no interest in dealing with complexities and costs of keeping a modern German car such as a BMW or Audi alive. I am sure they are wonderful and I would love to borrow someone else’s for a while but long term ownership is not for me. I also wanted it to be reliable and not special enough so that I could daily drive it for most of the year. This ruled out any older, relatively pricey classic cars. I do not mind fiddling with carburetors and points on my project/hobby car but not the one that gets me to work everyday.

Random Miata photo – source –

What about a Miata? I had driven an early NA example many moons ago and loved it. At the time it had felt a little too mainstream for me and I had passed on it but the memory lingered years later. The prices for the NA generation cars in western Canada have always been high and recently have risen even higher. I felt it was likely to be close to the ten thousand dollar mark to get a decent one. Importing from elsewhere is complicated by COVID related border restrictions. While I admit it is shallow the styling of the later NB and NC cars do not appeal to me nearly as much as the early car. Yes, the person who owned a “fish face” Ford Taurus is drawing the line on styling is a little ironic but this was for a fun impractical car not a transportation device. I did, however, like the concept and styling of the current ND generation MX-5. I was drawn towards the retractable roof RF version introduced in 2016. The contrasting interior colors of the top of the line GT version really caught my eye as well.

Did I not just say a paragraph or two up that I did not want to a complicated car with lots of gadgets and I immediately go lusting after something with an electric roof and other fancy features? A Mazda is reliable right? There was only one fairly big snag in my way and that was price. The cost of brand new RF GT all in with taxes, destination, etc is knocking on the door of sixty grand in Canada. I actually went as far as sitting in a brand 2021 RF GT example at the local dealer. This confirmed I fit and I liked it an awful lot. I suppose I could have afforded that but I certainly did not want to or felt I should. I would not judge someone who went for the new car but my frugal nature did not allow for it.

The dream then went on ice until I came across an ad for a 2017 example with crazy low mileage (kilometorage?) several hours away. It was loaded example with the previous owner apparently checking every option box save the automatic transmission which I did not want. Even the pricy, optional BBS wheels and Brembo brakes had even been selected. I was not totally sold on the black BBS wheels as they lacked a bit of color contrast with a dark gray car and black tires but they certainly are not offensive enough to consider changing out. The interior accent color was more brown than red of the latest car and output was down at 155hp as opposed to 181hp of the current MX-5. But for less than half the price of brand new example I could forgive those two things.  Further softening the performance blow is the additional power is only available up high as indicated by this dyno chart by Flying Miata.

The only real downside was that the car was a five plus hour drive away. I called the dealer, we agreed to a price and arranged a pick up date. Given that I had only sat in one but never driven it they agreed to a quick test drive to seal the deal when I arrived. March is not ideal open top car weather in Canada but my wife and I drove up on a weekend that had unseasonably reasonable weather to retrieve it. It was certainly strange to take ownership of something that did not need a tow or limped home. In fact it needed no immediate repair and everything worked. How odd. The long drive was uneventful beyond a strange bug infestation in the trunk seal area. They seemed to hatch as I drove away from the dealership and the sheer number of them meant I keep the top closed for the initial drive home. Luckily, I enjoyed driving the car as it is by far the most expensive one I have purchased for myself. I still feel a little guilty every time I drive it months later.

Of course it would snow the day after taking the plunge on a semi open top car. I had not even had time to toss the dealership license plate frame in the trash yet. Fortunately, the snow was only a thin layer which did not stick around too long but not before I learned the car can get sideways in a hurry on a wet road with its performance oriented summer tires.

Being the shallow sucker for attractive styling that I am I feel the need to show the interior that drew me into the higher trim level. The leather is certainly less practical (for me) than cloth but it just looks so good with the two tone color treatment. Unfortunately, like a lot of modern cars it suffers a little bit with “iPad glued to the dashboard” look but its less jarring once behind the wheel. Being a GT trim I was exposed to all sorts of new luxuries, some of which were extremely annoying like lane departure warnings, some quite nice like factory Bluetooth audio, others like the factory navigation are of negligible value. Months later I still have not got used to the auto headlights and wipers as turning these features on and off does not seem like a burden to me.

For North American there is only one engine choice, a 2.0L Skyactive four cylinder, that depending on year develops either 155 or 181 hp which is not a lot to be sure for a modern car. Other markets could select a base 1.5L four. Balancing out this modest output is a philosophy of minimal weight as this generation of MX-5 bucked the trend and actually lost weight over the previous car.

Rowing your own gears certainly helps as well and I would describe the car as quick rather than outright fast. You can certainly kick the tail out on command especially on gravel or in the rain/snow. Like all MX-5s the gearchange feel is superb. The bottom line is that it is plenty rapid enough for me.

One surprise that I got was that the MX-5 included a CD player in an extremely awkward location. Perhaps a sign that it was/is marketed to an older demographic? The later cars dropped the feature in favor of an enlarged storage cubby which is likely a better use of the space. Those cup holders are removable and the passenger can move theirs to two different places with the second being close to the transmission on the central tunnel.

Can a sports car save you money? Sure, as it certainly limits purchasing volume potential at Costco!

So in the title I added the exotic descriptor … for a Mazda MX-5. Perhaps it is a little bit of a stretch but the power top is a little uncommon and a bit of dying breed in the current automotive landscape of mostly similar looking SUVs and pickup trucks with only a few car body styles to be seen. Double this factor for western Canada as we seem to love our trucks. Making it a little more unique is the fact that its not a traditional convertible but more like a targa top which feels like a convertible while driving. It is probably as close to exotic as I will get and it never fails to put a smile on my face while out for a drive.