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Miata RF or Soft-Top - How To Choose

We explain the differences between the Mazda Miata soft-top and the retractable fastback hardtop version. Here is how to know which is right for you.


So you’ve decided you want a Mazda Miata? That is a great point in life, and let us tell you, you have made the right decision. The Mazda Miata is more fun than any supercar we’ve ever driven, and we have driven our share. It’s more affordable than most of the other roadsters or convertibles left on the market and has safety features that you won’t find in a Camaro or Mustang. Best of all, the Miata is legendary for its reliability and low cost of ownership. Just in case you needed to sell the spouse on your choice.

Related Story: Why One Vehicle Tester Thinks The Mazda Miata Is The Best Dream Car In The World

Two Types Of Miatas - RF vs. Soft-top
There are two Miatas in the current generation. The first is the traditional soft-top. The top lowers manually, and you raise it manually. It works beautifully. The high-quality textile roof material made by U.S.-based Haartz Corporation is durable and performs its duties extremely well. You won’t have to worry about your soft top wearing out if you care for it.

The second Miata is a fastback. It has a rigid structure behind the driver. Notice that I said, “behind the driver.” That’s very important. We will explain why shortly. The fast-back has a solid roof that retracts automagically with power assist. It takes about two shakes of a lamb’s tail to go up or down, and there is a neat little graphic of it moving in your driver’s info display as it operates (click here for a video). Miata RF roofs have proven to be super-reliable.

Which Miata Type Is Best At What
The soft top is less expensive. You can theoretically buy a base Miata soft-top for less than $30K. We do not take prices lightly when we discuss Miatas. It matters to many shoppers, and if price is among your priorities, the soft-top may be the end of the discussion.

The soft-top also has a bit more of the classic convertible look and vibe. The Miata’s top stows so perfectly that you need not worry that it will spoil the looks when down. Quite the opposite. The roll hoops add a great visual touch. So for many, the soft-top is the better-looking Miata. That may do it for you as well.

The RF is a coupe with a roof that folds away. That is a fact, not an opinion. So is it also a convertible? I vote “yes,” but your cousin Jebediah will likely tell you otherwise. Do you care? If you do, then buy the soft top.

The RF has one real-world plus that this Miata owner and tester can point to that makes it a really attractive choice. It feels more secure. If you park in public anywhere, the soft top seems vulnerable to vandalism and theft, and the RF simply does not. In my life, that matters. I owned a soft-top, but I would prefer the RF for this one reason.

The RF’s power-operated top is also both cool and very functional. My shoulders are not what they once were. Reaching back to pull up the soft top is no big deal if you are in top form. If not, power is nice.

The RF also looks very cool to some eyes. I prefer it to the convertible. I realize I posted the exact opposite view above, but to each their own. If you like the look of the fast-back, buy it. You will not regret it. It looks great.

Where the Soft-Top and RF Miata’s Are Equal
Does the RF’s structure add rigidity? Maybe. I don’t care. The soft-top handles better than supercars costing five times as much. If a lack of rigidity matters it is not to those who plan to drive on public roads. If there is a real-world benefit to the RF over the soft-top in terms of handling, I can’t feel it, and I’ve driven a lot of Miatas. On track and on public roads.

Wind and such seem similar too. The Miata is a great convertible. The little wind deflector is built in, and it works great on both models. The structure of the RF is behind your field of view, so it feels like a convertible. One does not have a big advantage over the other in terms of wind in the cabin.

The RF has a wicked blind spot over your left shoulder. So there’s that. And it never goes away. However, the car comes with blind spot monitoring. You get used to it. The Convertible is much easier to see behind with its top down, but harder to see behind top up. So this one’s a wash.

As you can see, there is no single answer. Which Miata is right for you depends on your preferences and priorities. Which would I pick? I would likely opt for the RF, having had a convertible. If I was buying my first Miata, I think I’d go for the soft top. And I’d get the dark-cherry-colored one. It’s just so beautiful in person.

Tell us in the comments below which Miata you would opt for and why.

Image of Mazda Miata RF by John Goreham

John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. John's interest in EVs goes back to 1990 when he designed the thermal control system for an EV battery as part of an academic team. After earning his mechanical engineering degree, John completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers, in the semiconductor industry, and in biotech. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American news outlets and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on TikTok @ToknCars, on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin

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