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Maximum Fun Allowed by Law – Mazda Miata RF/Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Test drive: Mazda MX-5 Miata

Can’t decide between the security of a sexy sports coupe and the alfresco appeal of a convertible? Now you don’t have to with the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF.

The new RF trades the Miata’s familiar manually operated soft top for a power-retractable hardtop. Press the dash-mounted button and the coupe-like RF is transformed, as the center section of the roof stows neatly behind you, leaving only thick targa-like roof pillars in place.

Which brings us to the trade-offs for this open-air motoring experience. First off, with about 4 cubic feet of trunk space, you and your companion will need to learn to pack light. You’ll also want to check the driver seat’s ergonomics to, simply put, make sure you fit.

Get past those nitpicks and you’ll find the Miata RF is still a blast on a curvy stretch of road. The Club model I drove features a stiffer suspension that makes long freeway slogs a tad tedious; the slightly softer underpinnings of other versions make the car much more livable on an everyday basis.

Add a newly redesigned 181-hp, four-cylinder engine and the slick six-speed manual transmission (an automatic is also available) and you have a car that will deliver smiles for miles.

Test drive: Alfa Romeo Stelvio
The head-turning Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

Different is good. Which explains (but only in part) why I like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio so much.

While there’s something to be said for not seeing one of these compact crossovers at every stoplight, this Italian beauty’s attraction rests on more than its uniqueness. From every angle you’ll find perfect proportions and distinctive styling details.

Those drop-dead good looks continue inside. With its optional carbon fiber interior trim, the top-of-the-line Quadrifoglio high-performance model I drove was honestly as sexy as any Ferrari.

While other SUVs make at least some pretense of being rugged, the all-wheel-drive Stelvio is designed for on-pavement performance. From its superbly tuned suspension to ultra-precise steering, the experience is like whipping along in a two-seat sports car that just happens to have room for three friends and their luggage.

The Stelvio is not without its flaws, including a relatively small cargo hold. That said, those looking for an SUV that’s legitimately fun to drive will find this exotic entry endearing enough to overlook its few shortcomings.

Looking for a new ride? Check out more car reviews at AAA.com/TestDrive.


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