Sports car purists are going to write me off for saying this, but I genuinely like the automatic transmission version of the 2020 Mazda MX-5 RF.
Don't get me wrong. I like the manual transmission version, too. The smooth shifting six-speed is a blast to drive on open roads where you can push the high-revving 2.0-liter to its limits.
But around town — where I do most of my driving these days — constantly running up and down the lower gears can get a little tedious. Not just in the MX-5 but any car with a manual transmission. The automatic version is much easier to drive in stop-and-go traffic, but still responsive enough to take quickly advantage of breaks in the traffic to change lanes and pass slower cars.
I admit that I would never have said that when I was younger. All of early cars had manuals, from the early rotary Mazda R100 to the classic TR3 to the Trans Am that my friends ridiculed before muscle cars became collectible. But that was also a time when automatics had only two or three gears and were sluggish without aftermarket shift kits that shortened their lives.
Although the automatic in the 2020 MX-5 is not the most advanced on the market, it is far from a sacrifice or compromise to drive. There's also a Sport mode that holds each gear a little longer for better acceleration. Laugh if you want, but I thank Mazda for giving the opportunity to test the automatic version for the first time.
But few should laugh when I say that I prefer the retractable hardtop RF version introduced in 2017 to the standard convertible. Of course it costs more, but I think it's worth it. Mazda has done a great job making it quick and easy to raise and lower the fabric top, especially compared to early convertible sports cars with multiple latches. But retractable hardtop is even easier to raise a lower with a single button. And it looks great up, giving the MX-5 a fastback look that highlights the flowing exterior lines even more.
Our test Club version included a firmer but not harsh suspension and a dazzling Soul Red Crystal paint job that should be the only choice for anyone wanting to jazz up their lives.
The MX-5 was first introduced in 1989. By channelling the spirit of inexpensive but fun European two-seats from the 50's and 60's, the MX-5 has become the best-selling sports car in history. The current generation, which has been in production since 2015, is the most refined.
Mazda made very few adjustments for 2020, which makes sense because there was so little that needed changing. Most importantly, the MX-5 receives Mazda's i-Activsense set of driver-assistance features as standard equipment, including forward-collision warning, automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and lane-departure warning.
In addition, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability is now standard on Club and Grand Touring models. And the top-of-the-line Grand Touring trim receives the sport suspension and limited-slip rear differential from the Club model.
Whether you choose the convertible or hardtop RF, the manual or the automatic, the 2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata still delivers on its promise of being a back-to-basic two-seat sports car that is consistently fun to drive. Few cars have been around so long and stayed so true to their original mission.
2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF
Base price: $33,645
Price as tested: $35,160 (Club)
Type: Sports car
Engine: 2.0-liter inline 4 (181 hp, 151 ft-lbs)
Transmissions: 6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic (as tested)
EPA estimated mileage: 26/35
Overall length: 154 inches
Curb weight: 2,332 to 2,381 pounds
Final assembly: Hiroshima, Japan
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.