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2021 Mazda MX-5 Long-Term Review, Part 3 of 5

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Auto123 puts the 2021 Mazda MX-5 through its paces. Today, part 3: Soft or hard top?

See also: 2021 Mazda MX-5 Long-Term Review, Part 1 of 5: The name conundrum

See also: 2021 Mazda MX-5 Long-Term Review, Part 2 of 5: The machine that dares to be symbiotic

See also: 2021 Mazda MX-5 Long-Term Review, Part 4 of 5: Meeting Mr. Miata

It's summer, the weather is nice and warm, you're driving in your relatively conventional car, the air conditioning is doing its job, the radio is doing its job, you're thinking not necessarily glorious thoughts, and then you see this couple coming in the opposite direction, him behind the wheel, her blissfully enjoying the scenery as it passes by, the roof down, their little car that looks so much more fun than yours, and, most of all, the relaxed look on the faces of these strangers.

You know they're in a Mazda Miata (or MX-5, or whatever – see Part 1 of our review), because you've seen this convertible every summer for ages. Each time, its appearance triggers a mixture of emotions like satisfaction (you are happy for these strangers), envy (you are also jealous of them) and inspiration (you could live this kind of happiness too, if you only had one of those cars).

And so, it's decided: You're going to buy one!

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A button or wrist action?
Before you head to a Mazda dealership, let me play, for our purposes here, the part of the friendly and knowledgeable sales consultant you're bound to meet. Thanks to my time spent driving this roadster for the past few weeks, I'm going to help you make your choice among the available models. For example, first thing first: Is it the RF that interests you?

The Mazda MX-5 with hard top
Photo: M.Crépault
The Mazda MX-5 with hard top
The Mazda MX-5 with soft top
Photo: M.Crépault
The Mazda MX-5 with soft top

What's that? The what?
The RF stands for Retractable Fastback. Look above - it's this one, with the hardtop. The MX-5 you probably have in mind, the one that’s been calling you for years, is the soft-top one. The original. But in 2017, Mazda introduced the RF, with a more athletic look. It's also a convertible. But instead of a canvas top, its roof is aluminum. As soon as you flip the switch on the dashboard, three panels move and stow away behind your head, all without affecting the trunk capacity. It’s a brilliant system that works like a charm.

The Mazda MX-5 with hard roof, from above
Photo: M.Crépault
The Mazda MX-5 with hard roof, from above

And I drive without a roof?
And you drive without a roof... but with the side sections, here, staying in place. With the windshield, the windows up, the back windshield behind you and those earpieces, you've got a roll bar around your head. In the trade, that's called a Targa roof (a name Porsche trademarked in 1965 for a 911 that opened like a can of sardines).

And the MX-5 with a soft top?
Since its birth, its fabric top has been operated via the magic of, well, elbow grease. But the mechanism is light and easy because the surface is so small. Even while sitting in your seat, you simply lift the arm, unhook the top from the windshield and then throw it back where it clicks into place. The reverse operation is just as smooth. Three seconds and you’re open to the sun or protected from the rain!

The Mazda MX-5 with soft top
Photo: M.Crépault
The Mazda MX-5 with soft top

Now, the question is, are there differences in the way you feel when you ride with the RF or the soft top?

Absolutely. I must admit that I didn't like the RF topless on the highway because it becomes very noisy. The wind swirls around your ears, as if held captive. At high speeds, it drives you crazy. Soon enough, I stopped to raise the roof. With the MX-5 soft top, you also get turbulence, but it's not as aggressive to your ears. However, it does not pass the cap test as well.

What does that mean?
In the open air, I always wear a cap. Not to look cool, but at the behest of my dermatologist. In the RF, it's normally stays screwed onto my head, but in the other, best to tie a Christmas ribbon around my head because it constantly threatens to fly away. Obviously, the wind is more brutal in the soft top roadster than in the hard top one.

That said, I have to qualify this. I'm 6 feet tall, so my head is more in the air currents that travel in low-angle mode. A smaller driver should fare better. I've also found that the noise in the RF decreases when you roll down the windows; except then the wind whips up everything it finds.

The Mazda MX-5 with hard top, with windows up
Photo: M.Crépault
The Mazda MX-5 with hard top, with windows up

Anyways, I can tell you that all MX-5s are loud when you're driving at full speed on the highway. You have to shout to be heard by your passenger. And even though the Bose sound system is the best of the lot, with its nine speakers, it just can’t compete .

Fortunately, there's a simple solution: get off the highway! As soon as you're driving at less than 90 km/h, all those irritants disappear. It's not for nothing that you always come across that happy couple on country lanes or in the heart of a picturesque village. They get it. They know that an MX-5 is best enjoyed at a moderate speed.

And when you're pushing your MX-5 around for thrills, I promise you won't be on the highway either, and you won't care about the noise, because you'll be focused on pure, unadulterated driving fun like there’s no tomorrow.

The Mazda MX-5 hard and soft tops, nose to nose
Photo: M.Crépault
The Mazda MX-5 hard and soft tops, nose to nose