The top folds away on the new Mazda MX-5 Miata FR.

These days, there are few surprises at major car shows. Either word of a new product leaks well ahead of time or a manufacturer offers reporters advanced, embargoed background material. But Mazda managed to keep the lid on its new drop-top, the MX-5 Miata RF.

That’s short for Retractable Fastback, an unusual design that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Porsche 911 Targa. Unlike the new Miata ragtop or the prior generation’s folding hardtop, the rear frame of the RF’s roof, complete with flying buttresses, remains in place while both the roof itself and the back glass fold away.

“You wait all your career to touch an icon like this,” said designer Julien Montrosse, during a Tuesday night preview ahead of Mazda’s official New York International Auto Show news conference on Thursday.

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An all-new version of the Mazda MX-5 Miata came to market last year, helping celebrate the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking roadster. While it introduced a number of modern features, including a high-mounted infotainment and navigation screen, the 2016 model remained true to the Miata’s roots and actually measured a few inches shorter than the original two-seater.

Mazda designer Julien Montrosse with the Miata RF.

The 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata’s basic looks haven’t been changed, at least not below the shoulder line. But above that, well, it’s another matter entirely. Beyond the mechanical complexities of a folding top, the most distinctive revision comes with the addition of flying buttresses like those found on an old version of the Jaguar XK roadster.

Those piano black accents on the buttresses, incidentally, are not windows. The goal was to give the Miata RF a more striking, even sinister, appearance and to minimize the appearance of mass. One goal, said Montrosse, is to make the Miata RF less of a “cute car,” an image that has scared off some potential male buyers.

Those buttresses actually serve a functional purpose, providing the rear support for the unusual, folding roof. They also add rollover protection for the little roadster.

The Miata RF's top in operation.

It’s a complex system – though in operation it is rather elegant to watch, designer Montrosse suggesting it was a “very difficult three-dimensional equation” for the Miata RF product development team to work out.

Surprisingly, he later told, the folding top, supports and motor drive system add little additional mass. By using aluminum for the top, the RF is, overall, “almost comparable” to the weight of the ragtop Miata.

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Specific details on the roof, performance, even pricing and on-sale details, will be held back for another day, but we’ve learned a bit more.

First, while the car that will be on display in New York is a prototype, this is no concept vehicle. While a few tweaks might follow, it’s effectively what we’ll see roll into showrooms.

The same basic interior as the ragtop Miata.

The cockpit layout is the same as the ragtop roadster, with the same interior space and the same sized trunk.

Pricing is likely to carry a modest premium we’re expecting to run a couple thousand dollars, though Mazda is likely to go with more heavily contended packages for the foldaway hardtop, rather than offer a stripped-down base car.

Expect to see the Retractable Fastback go on sale in Japan before the end of the year, several sources confirmed, with an American launch of the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF to follow early next year.

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