2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

For 2019, Mazda is giving Miata-fanatics the most powerful version of its drop-top sportscar yet which also gets a number of other refinements that will make you fall in love all over again with the lightweight rear-wheel drive convertible.

The headline-stealing statement is the 181 horsepower that comes from the new engine nestled snugly up front. It’s still a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, but Mazda has given it a higher redline of 7,500 rpm instead of 6,800. There’s a bit more torque too and ten more pound-feet at the low end of the rev-range. This, combined with the higher rev limit makes the MX-5 a bit easier to drive around town, requiring fewer gear changes.

The Japanese automaker gave this engine a thorough makeover, with a number of more robust components, including a high flow exhaust manifold and updated intake ports to go along with lighter parts throughout the whole engine. Each piston is 27 grams less than before, and the connecting rods are 41 grams lighter than the outgoing model too.

Other drivetrain changes include a new final drive ratio for the automatic-equipped models, and a cleverly engineered dual-mass flywheel is in place for smooth and responsive gear changes.

Eureka! The Miata CAN Work with More Power!

Putting the new powertrain in action is a true joy. Mazda definitely didn’t have to make any of these changes as the old engine and transmission were pretty good, but the new iteration is extremely refined and smooth, taking away a bit of the raw feel from the car, but providing a more accommodating and driver friendly feel in every other way. It’s still a blast to row through the gears, and there’s great action in the manual transmission. The engine is fantastically responsive, and you get up to speed quickly and easily. I’ll admit, the 26 horsepower bump doesn’t feel like an obvious increase because this fourth generation MX-5 always felt lively and fast, but I did find myself cruising in gears a bit longer, rather than aggressively firing a downshift and taking off.

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This is especially noticeable in the MX-5s natural habitat: windy roads. Last year, you’d wind the engine up to redline coincidentally when the road curves, which then requires a downshift to tackle. Now with the higher redline and more power, you can stay in a gear through a corner and still be able to propel out of it.

One of the Best Handling Cars

The car still feels fantastic in such situations too, and there’s no way Mazda would let its roadster slide as a canyon carver or road racing marvel. Not much has changed in terms of handling, which is to say it’s good, although Mazda is now combining elements of the fancy GT trim with the sporty Club trim, with a GT-S model that includes stiffer, more responsive Bilstein shocks. It’s a bit much at times, as some less maintained roads demonstrated, during our road trip from San Luis Obispo to Monterey and then to San Francisco, but when you have smooth pavement it performs like few other new cars out there.

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On the right roads, the MX-5 is a perfect compliment to a driver. It makes you feel alive and engaged, as part of the whole driving experience. It’s enough to make someone say “no thank you” to a future filled with autonomous cars. When cars drive as good as the MX-5 does, it’s intoxicating and refreshing since so many new cars feature nannies, safety nets and complicated technologies that take the driving feel away from the driver, while also adding weight, meaning the vehicle is less entertaining to drive. But the MX-5 is so far removed from that. Several times through this road trip, I found myself wondering whether I could fit a new MX-5 into my own personal garage…

Other than the drive

But of course, the realities of life settle in. The MX-5 is a great car to drive, but to live with, that’s a bit of a stretch, as there’s a limited amount of cargo space in the trunk, allowing for maybe two carry-on sized bags and little else. There’s not much more space elsewhere, meaning the MX-5 is truly a toy and best suited as a second car.

Mazda has included a few safety features to ensure that the MX-5 doesn’t seem totally out of place in 2019. There’s now a standard rear-view camera, which sticks out on the cars rear bumper, looking like a dimple. There’s available traffic sign recognition which is a handy feature that helps keep the driver better educated of their surroundings when they’re zipping around in the sportscar. There’s also a smart city brake system available as well, to help prevent avoidable accidents. I’m still not a fan of the blind spot monitor, which is a bit overbearing given the MX-5s small size and excellent visibility with the roof down.

The cabin is still small, but at least its a bit more accommodating than before with a telescoping steering wheel, which is a first for the MX-5, a car that’s been around for 29 years. It’s a feature that needed to be approached with hesitation, as a telescoping wheel can add unwanted vibration and reduce the steering feel that defines the Mazda. But the automaker included eight countermeasures to keep it stiff… but it adds .5 of a pound to the whole steering system, which was a necessary sacrifice.

Choices, choices

The MX-5 is still available in either soft or hardtop models, the latter of which is called the RF (for retractable fastback) and is making up 2/3s of the MX-5 sales out there. Although the MX-5 RF is pretty looking (and gets an option for a black roof this year) it can be a bit tough to see out of and hinders the open, airy feel that convertibles are typically known for. I like the regular soft top a bit more but each driver will have different tastes.

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Unfortunately, as the RF is the more popular model, its the only one we know the pricing of, and to be frank; it’s a doozy. It starts at $33,240 for a Club model with a six-speed manual, but that price can extend to $37,910 by adding the Brembo brakes, BBS wheels, and Recaro seat package. Fancy paint finishes are an extra cost too, so you can spend over $38,000 which is far too much for an MX-5, no matter how you look at it. Fortunately, you don’t need to get all those features to have fun, and the upcoming soft-top will surely be less expensive, whenever Mazda unveils its pricing strategy for that model.

The Verdict: 2019 Mazda MX-5 Review

If you were worried that the new engine is going to steal some of the spotlight away from the MX-5’s handling prowess, rest easy because the engine and chassis seem like a great fit. The MX-5 is just as much fun to drive as it was before, it’s just more powerful now, and that’s far from a bad thing.

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