Being the lightest and most compact Miata since the original, there are obvious merits to the ND generation. With more power and less weight it feels more potent than it is, and with a near-perfect 51/49 weight balance front/rear, the RF was made to handle. The RF also benefits from the hard-top roof, which, when closed, adds more rigidity to the chassis, but unfortunately counters this by adding the 100-pound weight gain high up on the body, raising the center of gravity. It’s not vastly noticeable compared to the soft-top, but the RF lacks the fluidity and predictability of the Roadster.
Balance the car right coming into a turn and you’ll feel supernaturally talented – it’ll carry speed and deliver a little bit of slip on corner exit just like a good sports car should. But the margin for error is slim and the tolerances of the chassis form a narrow window of operation. Come in slightly too heavy on the brakes and the suspension dips too much, the rear becomes too light, and you oversteer on corner entry. Jump on the throttle too early and the nose lifts, pushing the front end wide with understeer. The line is too fine for a sports car supposed to be enjoyed by the layman, and the unpredictability of it means you can never dive headlong into a corner with complete trust in the machine.
Contrary to this lack of trustability, the steering is sublimely weighted. There’s also a surprisingly large amount of feedback from the road surface, with dimples delivered to your fingertips. But when pushing on at eight-tenths or more, there’s very little communication as to where the front tires are in terms of their limits. The same can be said of the brakes, which feel great under general use but tend to lose their luster when pushing on too much. There is an available Brembo brake package to improve this, though, and with a manual gearbox, the added limited slip differential improves handling slightly.
It’s a strange combination of traits endowed upon the Miata RF, and it stands at odds with the original ethos. Yes, it’s enjoyable – but only to a point, and the lack of predictability is at odds with the firm suspension that seems to ride a little too harshly over broken surfaces. Old MX-5s had a bit of bounce and were a lot more forgiving; the ND takes itself too seriously, losing the whimsicality of the old cars but without having the raw talent at full blast to back up the seriousness.