Mazda MX-5 RF and Mercedes-Benz SLK (used): Who’s better?

Mazda rightfully boasts about the weight of their MX-5 that has the entry level soft-top which did the job in the case of lightness. It barely crossed the border of over a ton.

The last hard topped RF (retractable fastback) variation weighs 45kg more, and most of that ‘new’ weight is on the top of the car. With these changes we get improvements as the company claims that chassis modifications have enabled better dynamics for this roadster. Closed-cockpit and top-down thrills come in a pint-sized pack, and that will set you back for £25,695 if you opt for the 2.0-liter Sport Nav variation. However, we found that amount close to one that is needed for a new MX-5 RF can get you a used Mercedes SLK, the vehicle that introduced folding hard-tops to roadsters in 1996.

For that much, you have the option to buy the current gen 1.8-liter SLK 200s just like the Palladium Silver AMG Sport model that we have here. It is almost two years old, and it was driven for only 3,700 miles, and we got it for £21,000 which is almost £16,000 less than its price list. And we even got 15 months of warranty at Mercedes-Benz of Portsmouth. The only bad thing is that we borrowed it for a day, we didn’t actually buy it. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t get it one day.

When it comes to the interior of the cars, SLK is hands down more elegant. Satin effect and soft touch surfaces, leather upholstery, and precise, solid switchgear add to the feel. The firm, enveloping seats that are adjustable and can be set low enough to get you enough clearance for a driver of Yao Ming’s height when the roof is up. Okay, maybe not Yao’s but a little bit shorter which is still quite tall. If you opt for this, you’ll have to say goodbye to load capacity (goes from 335 liters to 225), but this is still more than MX-5’s pathetic 127.

Mazda’s cabin shows that company had a goal of cutting the weight and also the price. The all-black-everything feel is fit for the all around look of the car, but one can notice the lack of adjustability and a kind of robust feel. When you compare it to the SLK, it really looks pathetic. Not totally because the seats match SLK’s ones for support, but vertical adjustments are better in SLK. The steering wheel cannot be adjusted for reach, and infotainment display is far and cannot be easily used.

Of course, since this is a Sport Nav trim, you will enjoy perks such as a 7.0-inch touchscreen with sat nav while the SLK has a 5.8-inch screen and no navigation. Other things include dusk, rain and rear parking sensors and heating for the seats. But you couldn’t actually expect the SLK to win in every field, after all, that’s a car from 1996.

We tried out the folding roof, and Mazda required 15 seconds to fully pack it while Mercedes took 20 seconds. We did not have problems that would require our manual intervention, so we came to a conclusion that cars are pretty even there. When we started the MX-5’s engine, we felt a vibration to the interior. The vibration went away as soon as we got the car rolling but we felt it again at 1,500 rpm and once again when we really put our foot in it between 3,000 rpm and 6,500 rpm which is where the red bar stands. The transmission was satisfactory, we had no issues with the six-speed manual gearbox. It carried out all of the shifts smoothly.

The SLK has a sports exhaust which comes as a standard part of the AMG Sport Trim, and it produced some noise at the start. After that, we heard a rough sound when turbocharger took over. The car accelerated pretty quickly and relatively quietly if we put aside the noise produced at higher revs. It was fairly quiet all the way from 2,000 rpm to 6,000 rpm where it started getting a bit loud to be fair.

During the ride, we could not help but not notice that the SLK is steadier and more balanced. The steering was a bit tricky, but it was quite accurate. The SLK swung through corners with comfort. We tried those same corners with the MX-5 RF, and we experienced snappy turn-ins which made our life harder and we had to be more careful. Even though Mazda had lighter steering the control the one we had in SLK was better. However, one thing where Japanese competitor won was the fact that steering obeyed us swiftly and car’s limited slip diff gave us lovely exits. Although it is a bit harder to handle, Mazda was the winner there.

Aside from this ‘little’ victory we just cannot pronounce MX-5 RF as the winner. The SLK is just a league above because of its elegance, reduced wind noise and low turbulence. You won’t get that in its rival. If you drive with the roof up, you’ll get plastered by noise in Mazda. To add salt to the wind, you’ll also hear the engine. Sounds combine here like a broken record. The SLK just has better aerodynamics which reduced noise perfectly.

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We just had to declare the Mercedes Benz SLK 200 AMG Sport a winner here!

Price new: £36,710
Price used: £21,000
Engine: 4 cyls, 1796cc, turbo, petrol
Power: 181 bhp at 5,250 rpm Torque: 199lb ft at 1,800-4,600 rpm
Gearbox: 7-spd automatic
Kerb weight: 1470 kg
0-62 mph 7.0 sec
Top speed: 147 mph
Fuel economy: 43.5mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band 151g/km, 27%

The runner up – Mazda MX-5 RF 160 Sport Nac
Price new: £25,695
Price used: £25,695*
Engine: 4 cyls, 1998cc, petrol
Power: 158 bhp at 6,000 rpm Torque: 148 lb-ft at 4,600 rpm
Gearbox: 6-spd manual
Kerb weight: 1120 kg,
0-62 mph 7.4 sec
Top speed: 134 mph
Fuel economy: 40.9mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band 161 g/km, 29%
*car tested was brand new