The 2021 Mazda MX-5 RF GT RS is what a sports car should be; lightweight and easy to drive. But that hasn’t always been the case. When the current spec MX-5 first arrived in 2015, it fell a little short on the sportiness scale.
The Japanese car maker is back with a vengeance with this one though, and while RF GT RS is a mouthful to pronounce, in a nutshell, it’s the top-of-the-line hardtop roof variant. Never fear though, the roof retracts electronically and hides in its own compartment.
The upside of that is you’re not compromising boot space. But we don’t really care about the roof, to be honest. What we care about is what comes on the RS edition, including 17-inch BBS forged wheels, Bilstein dampers and Brembo brakes.
The combination really transforms the car, and the stopping power from the four-pot brakes at the front inspires confidence when entering a corner. Combine this with the brilliant dampers and you have a car that truly handles like a go-kart.
The capabilities it adds will exceed the skills of most drivers on the road, and that’s fine too, but that also makes this a handy track car. That aside, it truly adds to the quality of the daily driving experience as well.
It’s knowing the brakes are always there in the event of an emergency, that the 280mm ventilated discs and Brembo callipers combine with Mazda’s outstanding ABS system, providing exceptional stopping power, even in the wet.
We took the 2021 Mazda MX-5 RF GT RS for a 1,000km journey across four days and at no time did the suspension feel too stiff to handle. It ate up multiple winding roads through the Alpine regions of NSW, soaking up the corners with ease.
The only thing we could say let the experience down a little was the actual rubber. The 205mm wide tyres seemed subpar to the rest of the package, with the car occasionally struggling through tight corners, albeit ever so slightly, especially in the rain.
Luckily, the Mazda traction control setup kicks in to handle any hairy situations. If you were aiming to hit the track in one of these, we suggest you consider a few tyre options that might provide stickier capabilities.
The MX-5 interior is beautiful too, with plenty of stylish but minimalistic choices throughout to echo the car’s simple nature. Despite the MX-5 being a small car by today’s standards, tall people can rejoice as there is plenty of legroom to be had.
Mazda has also ditched the previous model’s Recaro seats for their own, and after a few straight hours of driving in them, it was probably inevitable we’d feel a little discomfort from the road. They do come with seat warmers though, and that’s very handy.
The infotainment system is relatively simple but effective, a 7.0-inch screen in the middle of the dash hosts a radio, Apple CarPlay and a pretty average satellite navigation system that is annoying to use at times.
The screen can be controlled via touch or a rotary dial in the centre console, which got in the way when shifting into fourth or sixth gear. We found ourselves either clicking something on the map or muting the music at times.
Safety technology too is solid, or effective, if you prefer, and includes lane departure warnings that flash up on the instrument display, a blind spot indicator, emergency stop warnings.
The driveline of the 2021 Mazda MX-5 RF GT RS is the standout. It’s perfect. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder offers 135kW all the way up to 7,000rpm but wants to be driven. It almost begs to be pushed hard.
It’s no rocket ship but it can be exceptional fun to drive. Down low in the rev range, there’s subtle power on tap when you need it too. In the MX-5, it’s all about driving style, and getting the most from the car, with driver and vehicle working together as one.
There’s even a name for it, Jinba Ittai, which in Japanese means horse and rider as one, much like the ideal way to drive your MX-5 RF GT RS. The six-speed gearbox echoes its past, it’s pure ease, and short snaps into gear.
The short gear changes help spring the gears across the gate, maintaining the feeling of nostalgia that a proper manual gearbox provides. Everyone knows a modern day auto will shift a lot faster than a human ever will, but that’s not the point. This is about connection.
The chassis provides 50/50 weight distribution, developed over all four of the compact Mazda sports car’s four generations. Despite the fact that the car only weighs 1,065kg, the rear-wheel drive/front engine setup keeps you feeling like you’re planted on the road.
Its balance contributes to eliminating understeer and ensuring those fun oversteering moments remain predictable. Now, while having the roof down is a fun way to soak ups some rays, and fresh air, there’s quite a bit of wind noise that spoils the joy a bit.
We found ourselves stopping to put the roof back up when the speed-limit exceeded 90km/h as it was almost impossible to have any sort of conversation in the car or hear the music coming from Mazda’s great sound system.
If you’re looking for a car that you can brag to people about how much horsepower you make, then the 2021 Mazda MX-5 RF GT RS isn’t for you.
But, if you’re looking for a more than capable platform to sharpen your driving skills and have a tonne of fun then we urge you to try out the MX-5 in its RS form.
At $55,631 drive away, it sits comfortably in the middle of the sports car market, but the fun you’ll get from pushing this car to your limits, or just cruising the ocean roads with the roof down, is priceless.
Our test vehicle was provided by Mazda Australia. To find out more about the 2021 Mazda MX-5 RF GT RS, contact your local Mazda dealer.