Automotive

Review: 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF packs more horses and more fun

Not necessarily the ideal scene for a 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF, but the new hardtop does make it look cozier
Not necessarily the ideal scene for a 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF, but the new hardtop does make it look cozier
View 8 Images
Not necessarily the ideal scene for a 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF, but the new hardtop does make it look cozier
1/8
Not necessarily the ideal scene for a 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF, but the new hardtop does make it look cozier
Your reviewer is definitely not built for the tiny little MX-5
2/8
Your reviewer is definitely not built for the tiny little MX-5
With its roof down, the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata is a fun, sporty little car made for good times
3/8
With its roof down, the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata is a fun, sporty little car made for good times
The Mazda MX-5 Miata is tiny, cramped, and impractical for larger drivers
4/8
The Mazda MX-5 Miata is tiny, cramped, and impractical for larger drivers
Mazda boosts the little 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine of the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata to a more potent 181 hp
5/8
Mazda boosts the little 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine of the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata to a more potent 181 hp
The 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF comes in two flavors: Club and Grand Touring
6/8
The 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF comes in two flavors: Club and Grand Touring
This car was made for small people and for top-down driving
7/8
This car was made for small people and for top-down driving
The MX-5’s transmission shifts smoothly and effortlessly, with little to no opportunity for screwup from the driver
8/8
The MX-5’s transmission shifts smoothly and effortlessly, with little to no opportunity for screwup from the driver

The fun little Mazda MX-5 Miata receives a few upgrades for the 2019 model year. They start with more potency in the MX-5's little four-cylinder, upgrading horsepower output and providing a higher redline. Also added is the new Retractable Fastback model with its powered hardtop and sleeker look.

What's completely unchanged about the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata compared to previous years is the enjoyable nature of the little car. It's tiny, cramped, impractical, and not on par with any European sports coupe. But it's fun. Lots of fun.

Mazda has boosted the 2019 MX-5 Miata's little 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine to a more potent 181 hp (135 kW), which is about 26 hp (19.3 kW) more than the previous engine. There's a slight boost in torque to go with that, adding about 3 lb-ft to make it 151 (205 Nm). This doesn't make the Miata a race car, but it does add just enough oomph to make up for another big upgrade.

The Miata is also now available as a new take on Mazda's Retractable Fastback (RF) model. This is a self-powered hardtop option for the MX-5, adding a hard roof to the traditionally soft-topped Miata. The hardtop raises and lowers at the touch of a button, unlike the soft top, and doesn't affect trunk capacity. To make the larger top fit, it bisects and folds underneath a hard targa cover at the rear, ahead of the trunk, tucking away nicely and leaving behind a roll-bar-like structure with buttresses and a tiny split-window wind buffet.

With the top up, the interior of the Miata is just as cramped as it's always been, with this car being made for small people and for top-down driving. The added hardtop, though, makes for a quieter cabin on the highway and more security in the parking lot. The added power output of the engine helps make up for the added weight of about 100 lb (45.3 kg) the hardtop brings.

The 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF comes in two flavors: Club and Grand Touring
The 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF comes in two flavors: Club and Grand Touring

To go with the peppy engine, which feels more powerful than it should thanks to the Miata's tiny stature and close-to-the-ground build, is one of the most well-done manual transmissions ever engineered. It shifts smoothly and effortlessly, with little to no opportunity for screwup from the driver. Even inexperienced manual shifters will find the Mazda manual to be butter-on-bread simple.

The gear shift loves the 1-to-3 skip, the second-gear high-RPM start, and the "1-3-6" highway jump. So much so that this becomes the habit for daily driving – fun daily driving – on a level not before experienced, I dare say, for much of the motoring public. It's a sad state of affairs when boring econoboxes and slushy family rides are best-sellers when vehicles that feel like the Mazda Miata should be the norm instead.

It must be admitted, however, that a big portion of the Miata's appeal is its sheer impracticality. Big six-plus footers like myself don't fit in it. Doing anything but grabbing a bag of groceries or getting yourself (and nothing much else) from A to B is not terribly doable in this tiny Mazda. But there's freedom in knowing that you're in the least practical car available. The Miata is not a carpool drive, a soccer parent kid-hauler, or a weekend home improvement store workhorse. It exists purely for fun.

The 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF comes in two flavors: Club and Grand Touring. The Club has several upgrade options to make it more daily usable and sporty, while the Grand Touring comes with all of the goodies and not as much of the fun. The Club can have heated Recaro sport seats, Brembo front braking, BBS wheels, and some driver assistance and advanced safety technologies added on. These go with the tighter suspension, Bilstein dampers, limited-slip rear differential, and shock tower bracing. The Grand Touring dumps some of that in favor of comfort, sadly, which kind of kills the point of the Miata.

As always, the 2019 Miata is rear-wheel drive. Pricing for the new RF model starts at US$32,345.

Product Page: 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata

11 comments
yawood
You must be big if you had trouble fitting into an MX-5. I am 6'1" and I have had two MX-5s (a 1990 and a 2005) and they fitted perfectly with room to spare. Many of the old European sports cars were too small for a six footer (e.g the MG Midget or the Fiat X1/9) but the MX-5 was fine. There's nothing on the market for the money that is as good as the MX-5.
Altairtech
I agree with yawood. The Miata's size is perfect for the majority of people. I don't see the point of using words like cramped, tiny, "made for small people" many times in the article to give the impression that the car is too small. Maybe the reviewer should start a diet, and focus on reviewing SUVs until he gets back to normal size.
Aaron Turpen
I'm not fat, I'm big boned!
jzj
20 years ago, Honda's naturally-aspirated 2-liter F20C engine (in the S2000) made 240 HP. Mazda's 2-liter is now all the way up to 181 HP. Not great progress.
Jsb
It’s not really true that the “Miata is just as cramped as it’s always been.” One of the most controversial characteristics of the current Miata (generation “ND”) is that it’s shorter than any previous Miata, with a noticeable lower interior volume—much more so than at least the two previous generations. I have plenty of space in my 2015 NC, yet I feel very cramped in the ND. I think that’s why the two commenters who have previous-gen Miatas were a bit confused by the author’s statements. As for the commenter who mentioned the S2000 engine, yup, it was special and amazing for its time. However, it had so-so fuel economy (18 city, 25 highway) and it made its power way up in the rev range...8500+ rpm. The Miata engine has more torque and horsepower up until about 6500 rpm, and it’s almost 50% more fuel efficient (!!) at 25 city, 35 highway. I call that major progress. And this engine is in a significantly lighter vehicle.
rick08
The body style reminds me of the Cheeta built by Chevrolet to counter the Shelby Cobra.
TomLeeM
It has a style similar to the Opel GT. I think it looks great.
dcpfjr
My base model NC Miata is the perfect Suv, with the emphasis on Sport. When I bought the car, I had the dealer put a trailer hitch and cruise control on it. I use the hitch for a bike rack, a ski rack and a Trailex kayak trailer that I have outfitted to carry 2 kayaks and two bicycles. I've outfitted the original wheels with a set of Michelin X-Ice winter tires and drove to CO, from my home in eastern PA, this winter for a ski vacation and encountered a near blizzard on the way. I was passing people the next day @ 70mph on hard packed snow on I-70. I bought a set of MSW Type 85 wheels and put Continental Extreme Contact DWS06 all weathers on them. I have fun chasing down SUVs on windy back roads WHILE pulling my fully loaded trailer. DO NOT tell me that the Miata is impractical.
Expanded Viewpoint
I LOVE getting behind the wheel of my friend's 2001 Miata every chance I get! I'm right at 6' and about 165 Lbs, so I have no problem fitting in it at all. After I get some financial stuff taken care of this year, I'm going to be seriously looking for one of my own. No stranger to hot rodding I, mine will probably be sporting a Duratec V6 or maybe even a 5.0 Ford with GT-40 heads on it with a T-Bird IRS and a T-5 trans in between them. Yee Haw!! Randy
Expanded Viewpoint
Oh yeah, I forgot to say that Mazda should punch that block out to 2.5L and get some extra HP that way. The only substitute for cubic inches is cubic bucks. Randy
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