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