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The Mazda MX-5 holds the Guinness World Record for the ‘best-selling two-seater sports car’. Chances are you’ve seen a few drive past in your lifetime. So why is it so popular? Is it the classic roadster looks, the fun and sporty engine, or its accessible price-point? We took the new hardtop Mazda MX-5 RF GT for a test drive around picturesque Byron Bay to find out what makes this little convertible such an attractive choice.

On this variant, the hardtop exterior immediately gives the car a more muscular silhouette. Different to the softtop of the MX-5, which folds away completely, the rear section of the RF model returns to its spot after the roof is tucked away beneath. Attention is now shifted to the rear, and even though the body kit is the same, the solid roof accentuates the existing curves giving the impression that they are bigger and bolder. The roof can be lowered or raised at speeds under 10km/h, and completes the whole process in just thirteen seconds. The rest of the car retains the same sleek profile the MX-5 is known for, and while both versions are great looking vehicles, we are absolutely loving the hardtop.

Inside the car, Mazda has opted for a fairly minimalist, sporty aesthetic with rounded dials, speedometers and air-con vents dotting the cabin. In our MX-5 RF GT, the seats were covered with soft, black Nappa leather complemented by subtle red stitching throughout. Despite being a relatively small car we didn’t feel cramped behind the wheel. Both driver and passenger have enough leg and headroom to feel comfortable for longer journeys.

We had some beautiful weather taking the MX-5 down from the Gold Coast to Byron Bay. On a bright sunny day, the feeling of cruising around town with the top down is exhilarating. Towards the later part of the day as it got colder we were able to keep enjoying that feeling thanks to the heated seats. As you would expect with such a compact car, boot space is limited but being forced to pack light isn’t a bad thing.

The centre console features a click-wheel for navigating Mazda’s easy-to-use 7” MZD Connect infotainment system that controls audio, navigation and internet connectivity. There are no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto options but that didn’t really matter as we were able to connect our phone for calls and music quite easily. Mazda has partnered with Bose for the sound system which produced awesome tunes as expected, but what was unexpected was the extra speakers built into the headrests – which really enhanced our enjoyment with the top down. Travelling at over 80km/h you can still clearly hear the vocals on an acoustic track.

The driving experience is shaped by ‘Jinba Ittai’, a Japanese philosophy of balance and power. Engineered to have a perfect 50/50 balance of weight distribution to power, the Mazda MX-5 RF GT is a thrilling drive that is best enjoyed with the roof down where the sound of the wind and a raspy exhaust note fly past your ears.

It handled the freeways with finesse and when we got to the quaint town of Byron Bay, driving through the tree-lined streets and leafy suburbs was just an absolute pleasure. Despite the added weight of the hardtop roof, the MX-5 RF GT is still an agile package and whips through tight corners with ease thanks to the exceptionally responsive steering. Ride comfort is good, despite the suspension being a little tight, but then again isn’t that what you would want to get that sporty feeling?

We drove the manual 2.0L variant, and the added power feels perfectly at home inside the beefier looking hardtop. If you’ve ever driven a Mazda MX-5 before and loved it, then your opinion won’t change here. It’s not an overhaul, but rather a refinement, and we certainly like it. Changing gears on the stick shift was silky smooth and reminded us how fun it was to drive a manual. This added to the feeling of snappy acceleration for city driving and it had plenty of extra power to give on the freeway.

Due to the location of the retractable roof cover, rear vision can be somewhat impaired, but the Mazda MX-5 RF GT has a few clever safety features to counter this issue. A Blind Spot Monitoring system uses a series of radars to detect the surroundings of the vehicle, giving you a little bit of extra assistance in spotting potential hazards before they happen. These same radars, in addition to a reversing camera, also detect obstacles around you when parking. The safety package is rounded out with adaptive lights that will detect and adjust their brightness levels relative to the vehicle’s surroundings; and a Lane Departure Warning system that will apply corrective steering if you begin to stray out of your lane.

The redesigned exterior and interior give the Mazda MX-5 RF GT a very premium feel; certainly more than the $47,000 AUD price tag would suggest. With the top down and the wind blowing through your hair, it’s hard not to feel like every trip in this MX-5 is a little adventure. That is the heart of the MX-5 experience and one of the main reasons why it has been so widely popular.

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