When it comes to the open road, summer is the best time to pop the top, aim for your future destination, and enjoy the sunny skies from above, according to our man-about-globe, Michael Satterfield of TheGentlemanRacer.com, who shares the exhilaration of the new Mazda MX-5. 

Photography by TheGentelmanRacer.com Michael Satterfield and Joshua Martin

THE SUMMER WIND

There is nothing like exploring a winding coast road in an open-top sports car, the smell of the sea air, wind in your hair, and the joy of a purely visceral driving experience. You may have noticed that the sports car has been slowly disappearing since the 1970s and each year there are fewer and fewer of the impractical two-seat, smile-generators, from which buyers can choose. Forty years ago, buyers had a wide range of affordable choices when it came to sports cars, MG, Triumph, Alfa Romeo, and many more. Nearly every manufacturer had at least a small sporty drop-top for two. But today the affordable two-seat sports car is all but dead…except for the Mazda MX-5.

 

To really experience the MX-5, Mazda invited me out to San Francisco to take the MX-5 on some of the greatest driving roads in the world along California’s coast. The MX-5 is offered in two styles: the soft-top roadster and the RF with a power targa hardtop. Both come with the same 181 hp four-cylinder engine and are offered with a six-speed manual or automatic with paddle shift. There were several other automotive writers who were invited on this trip, but surprisingly, some writers can still only drive a manual transmission. So, I was given a White Pearl Mica MX-5 RF with a 6-speed manual gearbox and Brembo/BBS/Recaro package. If I was going to order an RF, this is exactly how I would spec it.

The $4,670 Brembo/BBS/Recaro option is a deal–with it–the RF is elevated to the level of sports cars that cost far more, featuring Brembo brakes, lightweight BBS wheels, Bridgestone Potenza S001 performance tires, and beautifully trimmed leather Recaro sports bucket seats. It is the most expensive option on the list, yet well worth it. To put it in perspective, a base model Porsche Boxster starts at over $23,000 more than the fully optioned MX-5 RF.

Driving the RF through the twisty roads in the mountains, I really felt the Mazda philosophy of “a horse and rider as one,” connecting to the road through the car. From the way the Recaro seats kept me firmly in place, to the throw of the shifter as I downshifted into a corner, I could feel that the car was designed around creating an incredible diving experience.

THE OPEN ROAD

Pulling out of downtown San Francisco and heading across the Golden Gate Bridge is always magical, but it is even more special with the top open since the sun burns its way through the fog. My plan was to stay on the Pacific Coast Highway through Point Reyes, stopping along the way to take in the sights and snap some pictures before stopping for lunch in Mendocino.

 

At this point, I was able to switch over to the MX-5 Roadster, still with a manual transmission, to explore more of Northern California. The Roadster is one of the purist sports cars on the market today, simple, fun, with a manual soft top, and starting MSRP of just $26,830. With that price point many pick up an MX-5 for a weekend car, or a second or third vehicle.

Ripping along the coast with the top down the Roadster is more akin to the classic sports car experience, more wind, more noise, but all in a good way. At under 2400 lbs., and with near-perfect weight distribution, the roadster was built for canyon carving and is a joy to drive. Unlike the RF, the Roadster is offered in three trim levels: Sport, Club, and Grand Touring. The Grand Touring version is the most well-appointed and there are a few more options from which to choose.

After spending the rest of the day in the Roadster, I must admit I am torn over which one I like more. I find the RF is more pleasant to drive with the roof up and is more quiet and refined. The soft top, when down, is more exciting and brings back fond memories of my classic sports cars. In both cars, the trunk space is adequate for a road trip for two, so long as you have soft luggage, all’s well. I think that the RF looks sportier with the top closed than the roadster. The creature comforts are nice as well: including heated seats, a Bose premium sound system, and Mazda’s excellent infotainment system all make the cockpit a nice place to be. It comes down to deciding if the RF is worth over $6,000 more than the soft top.

While the MX-5 might not be the fastest sports car on the market, in the real world with speed limits and traffic, the MX-5 has plenty of power. After a spirited drive in the canyons, the MX-5 settles down and becomes a comfortable cruiser. Pulling back out on Pacific Coast Highway, top open, music playing, it is hard to think of a better place to be than the open road enjoying the sunshine.