How do you like the wind in your hair?
If you're someone who loves soaking up the sun and having the wind blow through your hair, or lack thereof, there's no replacement for the soft-top Miata. The manual folding mechanism will get you out into the fresh air faster than virtually any other convertible, and it will go back up just as easily when the rain comes. Raising and lowering it is quick and easy, and can be done with one hand from the driver's seat. And with the top down, you'll be greeted by breeze from virtually every direction, and an airy, unencumbered feeling that only comes with a full convertible.
However, if you prefer to keep your hair in place and just get some sun, the RF is the better choice. The retractable targa top still descends and reemerges quickly, taking just 13 seconds either way. Keeping the windows up with the targa stowed will allow in plenty of sun, but will keep wind to a minimum. But when the windows drop, you'll still get a healthy dose of airflow. It still doesn't feel as open as the soft top, though, since you'll be able to catch the fastback pillar out of the corner of your eye. But if you value protection over airflow, that won't be an issue.
Does your Miata need to be a daily driver and occasional road tripper?
While many Miatas will be weekend toys, one of the appealing things about them is that they're reliable enough and have just enough cargo space that they can serve as an everyday vehicle. For people who want to use a Miata as a daily commuter, and even take it on road trips, we would recommend an RF with the Grand Touring trim, as seen above. Although it still isn't a quiet car in the grand scheme of things, the RF's solid top makes it more livable for highway stints both short and long.
The Grand Touring trim comes recommended for these purposes for a couple of reasons. Foremost is the more forgiving suspension shared between it and the base-level Sport. It dampens bumps admirably, while still keeping the car tossable and fun. The Grand Touring also provides niceties that are optional or unavailable on lower Miata trims. Among those features are standard automatic climate control, navigation, heated seats, leather, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and universal garage door opener. And if you have to have a soft top, the non-RF Grand Touring will still be the most quiet with the top up, since it has a more insulated roof than the Sport and Club models.
One thing to be mindful of is that it is the most expensive version of the Miata. For 2018, it starts at $31,085 for the soft top version. It jumps up to $33,640 for an RF Grand Touring with no options.
Are you a weekend autocross warrior?
If you care about performance over anything else, the traditional soft top Miata in Club trim is the car for you. While the RF Club is equipped just like the soft top, you'll save about 100 pounds in weight by picking the canvas roof version. The Club trim is also a necessity, as it includes firmer springs and Bilstein shocks, and the all-important mechanical limited slip differential.
Opting for the Club trim also offers the optional Brembo and BBS package. For 2018, the price increased to $3,770 over the previous model year's $3,400. The reason for that is that in addition to the package's beautiful forged, 17-inch BBS mesh wheels, side skirts, rear bumper extension, and Brembo front brakes, it now also adds heated leather seats. And for an extra $700, you can get new Recaro seats, which Associate Editor Reese Counts highly recommends. Our long-term Miata had the package, sans heated seats of course, and it looked stellar. That extra braking performance could make a difference at a track or autocross course.
The Club falls in the middle of the price range, starting at $30,045 for the soft-top version. It is also available in RF form, if the extra style and insulation from noise is worth the extra weight. But moving up to the RF Club brings the price to $32,800 with no options.
Are you on a budget?
Not everyone is going to have the scratch to spec out a Miata with all of the goodies. Fortunately, the base Sport soft-top is loads of fun, and starts at $26,185. For that money, you'll get the same 155-horsepower engine and super-slick gearbox as every other trim level. The suspension is the same as the Grand Touring, so it should be just as comfortable over ruts and imperfections. You'll also be treated to basic amenities such as air conditioning, USB- and Bluetooth-connected stereo, cruise control, and leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter.
Now you there are a couple of things you don't get with the base Sport model, but they're nothing to lose sleep over. The most notable omission is the lack of a limited slip differential, which is only available on the manual-transmission Club and can't be optioned in the Sport or Grand Touring trims. Unless you're the hardcore track enthusiast mentioned above, you likely won't miss it.
The Club model's appearance package also isn't included, but it is an extra-cost option. We like the way it looks on our Club long-termer, but if skipping it makes the Miata fit in your budget, do it. Colors are limited to just four hues, but you can at least get the awesome Ceramic Metallic paint found on our Club without paying anything extra. The Sport isn't available in RF form either, so you'll be living the soft-top life, not that that's bad.