No manual? No problem.
For more than three decades, the Mazda MX-5 Miata has been the go-to, open-top option for enthusiasts. And for good reason: it's lightweight, fun to drive, and looks good. That's even truer in 2019, as the Miata is more powerful and more stylish than its predecessor, yet still maintains its lightweight qualities, tipping the scales at a mere 2,300 pounds in its lightest form.
The Miata RF is a bit bulkier, though, weighing 2,453 pounds, and a bit more technical, too, with a retractable metal roof replacing the traditional soft top. But even with its extra heft and additional engineering, the RF doesn't lose the key components that make the Miata a Miata in the first place.
Above all else, the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF is an absolute riot on road. It doesn't even require twisty roads to appreciate it fully (though, we suggest it). Take a turn at speed and the Miata handles like a go-kart; hilariously pitting itself into a corner with absolute precision. The perfectly tuned suspension and steering mean it doesn't take a ton of speed to have a lot of fun, although the punchy-enough 2.0-liter engine (updated for 2019) still provides plenty of push.
A big upgrade for 2019 is the addition of a more powerful 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which now produces 181 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. That's a sizeable improvement over the previous year's 155 hp and 148 lb-ft. Predictably, it makes the Miata RF noticeably better in a straight line while providing better power out of corners, too. Even up into third and fourth gear – where the pre-update Miata would have plateaued – the Miata RF has more left in it.
Unlike the soft-top Miata, which is extremely loud on the road (even with the roof up), the Miata RF’s retractable metal roof makes for a much better in-cabin experience at high speeds. Even though it is a bit heavier than the soft top (by 116 pounds), it doesn't feel it. The RF is still supremely fun to drive, and more quiet and convenient as its power-operated hardtop folds back in about 13 seconds.
A manual gearbox makes the most sense in a Miata. The six-speed automatic in the Miata RF is fine – it shifts well enough, it's quick in Sport mode, and it’s totally inoffensive on the highway – but falls short of perfection. It’s hard to truly appreciate the impressive performance of the Miata RF without Mazda’s slick, short-throw six-speed manual gearbox. It’s just the better of the two transmissions.
It’s a tiny two-seater; what do you expect? The Miata is one of the smallest cars on sale today, and it proves it with a measly 4.5 cubic feet of trunk space and just enough headroom for your six-foot-tall author (headroom is about half an inch better in the soft top). From the passenger seat, though, there simply isn’t enough legroom. It's extremely cramped.
This is a minor gripe, considering the Miata excels so well as a performance vehicle. Still, the lack of intuitive seat controls makes finding the right driving position difficult. Even the ability to move the driver’s seat up and down with the touch of a button would make all the difference (it currently relies on a hand-operated knob). At least the steering wheel now telescopes for 2019, which alleviates some distress.