More power improves the MX-5 experience, but doesn’t redefine it.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata is not a fast car. It is, and always has been, a momentum vehicle. The kind of thing that requires much more than the mashing of the accelerator pedal to enjoy. It’s a car that asks its driver to think a little bit harder before entering a turn. You plan, strategize, and take advantage of its outstanding agility and impressive balance to keep it moving. Power complements the MX-5 driving experience, but it never defines it.
And that’s still true of the 2019 MX-5, a vehicle that’s most notable feature is an extra dollop of power and torque. But while this little roadster packs more punch under the hood, the extra potency is more a quality of life improvement than one that redefines this popular two-seater.
The 2019 Mazda MX-5 has more power than last year’s model, but it doesn’t come at a big premium. Prices start at $25,730 for a base, soft-top Sport, just $435 more than last year’s entry-level model. That year-over-year increase applies to our tester, the enthusiast-focused Club trim with the folding-hardtop body – it rings up at $32,345, while the less-powerful 2018 model starts at $31,910.
As with the MX-5 Club soft-top we tested earlier this year, our tester has all the performance goodies. Highlights include lovely BBS wheels, snug Recaro seats, and Brembo brakes, all available as part of a single $4,670 package. Grabbing this option pack also adds a black finish to the hardtop, which likely explains why the price is $200 more than the Brembo/BBS package we sampled earlier this year. Our as-tested price, including the $895 destination charge and a $425 Interior Package (alloy pedals, stainless sill trim, and a red cap for the engine oil), is $38,335.
Compared to its rivals, the MX-5 RF Club – the most affordable trim to offer a tin top – is not cheap. The Subaru BRZ starts at $25,795, while its twin, the Toyota 86, costs $26,455. There is some relief compared to other convertibles, though. A turbocharged Ford Mustang Convertible costs at least $31,620, but the Chevrolet Camaro Convertible undercuts both cars handily, with prices starting at $26,200.
Gallery: 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF: Review
Mazda didn’t make any significant exterior changes for the 2019 MX-5, and we just reviewed the 2018 MX-5 in June, so… yeah. We don’t really have much to say here. This is still a very attractive little two-seater, and we’re big fans of the RF’s stylish profile. It makes us wish Mazda would just go all the way and sell an MX-5 with a permanently fixed roof.
The BBS wheels are fantastic, too, and while the Ceramic Metallic paint on our tester is lovely in the sun, we were kind of missing the Machine Gray paint from the car we drove in June.
The big news – and we use that term loosely – is the new telescopic steering column. That sounds fantastic if you’re a taller driver, but the adjustable range simply isn’t that big. Much like the additional power, the telescoping tiller is a nice quality of life change, but not some earth-shaking update – long-legged drivers still suffer more when driving an MX-5.
Beyond the more adjustable steering, this is still the same smart cabin. Material quality is solid, the available Recaro seats are absolutely fantastic, and the driving position is excellent (with the roof down – tall folk still suffer with the top in place).
Again, not much has changed, but we do have something to say. The fact that Mazda had the wherewithal to acknowledge critics of the ND by adding power is splendid. People complained that the original 155-horsepower version of this car was on the low end in a world of increasing outputs, and Mazda listened. We wish it would have listened to the same critics that said its infotainment system was terrible, sluggish, and difficult to learn, and that not offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in this day and age is a significant handicap.
The 2019 MX-5 still doesn’t have CarPlay or Android Auto and its infotainment system is still competing for worst-in-the-industry honors. Period. Full stop. The end.
The 2019 MX-5’s Skyactiv 2.0-liter now pumps out 181 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque, compared to 155 hp and 148 lb-ft in the 2018 model. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s amazing how much easier the updated MX-5 is to drive.
Around town, the MX-5 doesn’t require the same level of planning. We had little concern about what gear we were in, because the engine had enough grunt to keep us moving ahead. Situations that used to require a two-gear downshift now take just one, or none. The MX-5 was never a taxing car to drive, but everyday driving is far better in the 2019 model.
That trait extends to its lateral dynamics, too. The MX-5 is still a momentum car, but there’s a safety net now. Thanks to the extra power, it feels more forgiving in the turns – brake too hard, too early, or miss an apex, and it’s easier to recover. The 2019 Miata feels more eager on corner exit, but that never comes at the expense of its overall character as a momentum car. To put it another way, the 2019 MX-5 lowers the difficulty level, not necessarily from Normal to Easy, but to something in between, and the result is that one of the most likable cars on the market is somehow even more endearing.
The MX-5’s taut suspension, delightful balance, and fast steering are unchanged. The Brembo brakes, meanwhile, remain a valuable addition to an entertaining package. What’s good remains good on the 2019 MX-5, and what was merely fine is now even better.
The 2019 MX-5 gets its first active safety suite with the $450 I-Activesense Club package. It adds both forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning – features that help elevate the 2019 MX-5’s safety scores over last year’s model. These are welcome additions, but if you’re looking for an all-encompassing safety suite on your roadster, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Despite the additional power, the MX-5 sees a very slight gain in fuel economy, returning 26 miles per gallon city, 34 highway, and 29 combined with a six-speed manual transmission. Last year’s model returned an EPA-estimated 26 city, 33 highway, and 29 combined with the stick. That modest improvement isn’t big enough to impact our fuel economy scores, though, which are yet another carryover from last year’s car.
Editor’s Note: This review was updated in December 2019 and the ratings changed to reflect Motor1.com’s revised vehicle rating system. Changes to this vehicle’s scores were made primarily to the Safety, Fuel Economy, and Pricing ratings. For more on how Motor1.com rates cars, click here.
2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club RF