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  • Writer's pictureMitchell Weitzman

2024 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF review: Automatic is pointless

Updated: Jun 28

The newly improved Miata can't show its real talents because of a mediocre (and thankfully optional) automatic transmission

2024 mazda miata rf

2024 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF review by The Road Beat

Words and pictures: Mitchell Weitzman


I've been here before, and most regrettably, Mazda has the ignorance to continue diluting their press fleet with automatic transmission-equipped Miatas. This car might as well have had the grave misfortune of being on the receiving end of a dementor, because sadly, vast quantities of soul are lost here in application and limit my ability to properly judge the revised ND3 MX-5.


It's true that the 2024 model is improved in a variety of the subtler ways. On the surface you wouldn't know it, but the bones have seen enough reworking to warrant a new internal model designation, dubbed the ND3 now. However, the changes are not all that plentiful, including some freshened headlights and wheels outside, some added center console padding (which, granted, is actually noticeable), and an updated and larger 8.8" infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay. Mechanically, top manual models gain a revised differential (not applicable here), but all models gain revised steering that should improve on-center and overall steering feel, increasing driver connection further.


2024 mazda miata grand touring interior

Are said changes noteworthy? Yes and no. The center infotainment screen is definitely larger than before, but it's still lags in operation at times and is not a touchscreen, which many prefer. Interestingly, Apple CarPlay can be used as a touchscreen, but touch operation is restricted to speeds under 3 MPH. I'm not even kidding as I tested this: CarPlay was only functional via your finger either completely stopped or when at a walking pace. Idle too fast and the touch function ceases to work. Amazingly annoying, Mazda; Good job.


The interior on this Grand Touring model is a very nice place to be, with soft materials all around that give it a luxurious vibe to it, minus the fact that the driver's interior door grab handle was clearly loose each time I reached for it, not boding well for the build quality of a brand new car with under 1,000 miles. So, when on approach, it appears like a genuinely nice car inside, and it's definitely increasingly upscale compared to, say, a Toyota GR86, but it's more visual stimulation than anything. For example, there's still next to no storage inside including no glovebox, the cup holders are in strange and inconvenient locations, and the center storage is nestled between and behind the seats, taking yoga skills and flexibility (which I lack) to open and close, and it's flimsy at best. Then there's the road noise, which there is plenty of. You might hope that a folding hardtop model like the RF would be quieter than a ragtop roadster, and indeed it is, but it's also like the difference of first standing next to a jackhammer and then covering your ears with your hands; it's still going to be damn bloody loud. There was also a constant rushing of turbulence behind my left ear, almost as if the little quarter window isn't sealed properly.


2024 Mazda Miata ND3 review

Unfortunately, I don't think the RF gives a very authentic convertible experience, even after the top automatically folded away. Resembling more of a 'targa top,' you don't get the same wind-in-your-hair event as the standard and cheaper soft top Miata. Instead, you're left with mostly just light rustling of your top hairs coupled to nigh-unbearable wind noise over 50 MPH. It's so loud with the roof off that, on my first drive home on the freeway, I immediately regretted it; I couldn't even hear the music without blasting it (which the stereo sounds pretty poor anyways), and then it's all made worse if you're next to other cars, as the roar of their tires are at ear level given how low the MX-5 sits. Oh, and you cannot hear any exhaust or engine noise with the roof off at higher speeds as well, something I find rather disappointing in a sports car. On slow country roads, under 50, it's very nice, as you're not having to bump the stereo to oblivion, the wind dies down, and you can talk to passengers without having to shout. So on tighter (slow) mountain roads, it works as 'vert, but even at a light trot, the wind noise picks up in multiples.


To ward off fears that I must just hate convertibles, I don't; I've driven plenty of other drop tops that are perfectly bearable at higher speeds with the roofs removed. Those same cars are also considerably more expensive and have clever ways of mitigating buffeting and excess turbulence. So, maybe it's just too expensive to fix, or Mazda could hopefully just gain more time in the wind tunnel on future models. Put it this way, I've driven other convertibles that have less wind noise with their roofs folded all away than the Miata RF does with its hardtop in place.


mazda miata rf nd3 review

On a happier note, the good news is that the MX-5 Miata drives better than ever. Are the steering changes actually detectable? To most people, probably not, but I do find there to be a slight improvement in overall tactility and during transitions. The most simple result is a car that's easier to go straight now as you're more aware of nuanced corrections, but the adjustments do pay dividends elsewhere, too, and for the better. Body roll is still wildly present when you get frisky with the wheel, but I also have liked this about Miatas, as this gives extra visceral feedback and confidence by allowing you to really lean on the tires and understand the grip available to you. Despite soft suspension, the ride quality is still choppy and unpleasant on even lightly imperfect roads, but it's fitting of a supposedly raw and analog sports car.


Look, get past my previous complaints and I'm here to tell you that, when a road gets twisted like one of Wetzel's best, there are few other cars that deliver thrills and connection in the real world that a Miata can. Fantastic fun doesn't even begin to describe the simple joys a simple car like this can produce. With such sweet, playful balance and handling, how is that so many cars have forgotten how to be truly enjoyable when driven?


Mazda Miata RF ND3

But (and this is a big but), is where things implode on this particular test example: the price and the wretched automatic transmission. This Grand Touring RF costs an eye-watering $39,895- for a Miata. I'm sorry, but that's actually absurd in all sense of the word. Luckily, you can have a cheaper manual transmission soft top for nearly $10,000 less, and that's definitely the one to get over this bloated and blasphemous incarnation of one.


Concerning the transmission, if you're already going to willingly deal with the space constraints, the noise, and overall impracticality - if you're already putting up with all that - why would you neuter the experience and poor car with an automatic? That makes no sense to me, and nor it should to you. And it's not like the automatic is some quick dual-clutch unit, but rather a measly six-speed slush box with far too long gearing that hinders performance from the two-liter four-cylinder. It might rev to a convincing 7,500 RPM, but with second gear maxing out at nearly 65 MPH, performance never feels anything more than typically tepid. A high-revving and small capacity engine begs for quick, short gear ratios in any circumstance (which the manual helps with), but this automatic does the opposite. At least it averages over 30 MPG in daily driving, but the last manual Miata I tried also enjoyed over 30...


I'm not here to hate on Miatas because I can really, really, enjoy these fun roadsters. However, this RF Grand Touring with an automatic is literally the worst spec you can possibly have in a new Miata, ironic that it's also the most pricey. It's far too expensive for what it is, and that transmission just zaps the fun like a mosquito. Besides, with the manual transmission that's available being so dang good, you have literally no reason for choosing an automatic MX-5 other than literally being a heretic due for exorcism. Take the pureness out of a Miata and you're sadly left with something that is in all essence not a Miata anymore. And last I checked, that inflated price tag now places the Mazda perilously close to a whole other realm of sports cars. Are there improvements to the Miata? Yes, but for the love for all that is holy, just get the cheaper soft top with a proper manual and have fun the way the MX-5 Miata was truly destined for.


2024 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Grand Touring

As-tested price: $39,895

Pros: Still looks good; Deft and accessible handling

Cons: Expensive; Automatic transmission; Noise


2024 Mazda Miata RF Grand Touring review

2024 mazda miata review | The Road Beat

2024 mazda miata rf grand touring interior

mazda miata nd3 interior

mazda mx-5 nd3 interior

2024 mazda mx-5 miata nd3 interior

2024 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF review by The Road Beat with Mitchell Weitzman.

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