2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

Liz Kim | Jan 02, 2019

Introduction

Reality can be rude and obnoxious. You fall in love with the idea of a convertible and the wind rustling through your free-flowing hair, but the reality is that said hair whips your face, diesel-fueled trucks belch fumes into the car, and the sun beats down on your shoulders with relentless and ferocious force.

However, when you catch a balmy summer evening with the sun kissing the horizon, your favorite person in the passenger’s seat, and nowhere else to be but a planned picnic on a hill, no car—not even one wearing a luxury badge—makes a better conveyance than the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata, a 2-seat roadster in its purest form.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF
2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

There are two kinds of Miata for 2019. One is the standard roadster with a folding fabric top. The other is the more expensive retractable fastback (RF), which has a hard roof panel that stows to open the car up like a classic targa-topped sports car. Both come in Club and Grand Touring trim, but only the soft-top is available in base Sport trim.

For this review, we evaluated a Miata RF Grand Touring equipped with the new-for-2019 GT-S package and the Interior package. The price came to $35,405, including the $895 destination charge.

What Owners Say

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata, it’s helpful to understand who buys compact sporty cars and what they like most and least about them.

According to J.D. Power research, demographics are evenly split between men and women, with 51% of buyers in the segment identifying themselves as male. Their median age is 56, and they earn a median annual household income of $121,281. Half of buyers identify themselves as members of the Baby Boomer (born 1946-1964) generation. Just 15% are Gen Y (1977-1994) or Gen Z (1995 and later).

As a group, fuel economy ranks low as a first consideration when choosing a vehicle, with just 54% of buyers agreeing that it is important to them. Only half agree that their friends and family think of them as knowing a great deal about autos, another surprising statistic about compact sporty car buyers.

Not surprisingly, 89% of buyers agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd, and 95% agree that they like a vehicle with responsive handling and powerful acceleration. Only 24% of compact sporty car buyers agree that a car is just a way of getting from place to place.

Perhaps importantly for the Miata, 36% disagree that they require a versatile vehicle to accommodate a busy lifestyle, and 76% disagree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company.

What Our Expert Says

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own assessment of how the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2018 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM

Exterior

My kids are used to having a convertible in the driveway; my husband has owned various Miatas over the years. But they sure are impressed by the latest version, first introduced in 2016.

I don’t know if it was the less-cute contours of the latest version, or the fact that they’re not quite ubiquitous, or if their dad’s enthusiasm for our latest test vehicle proved infectious, but they were excited by the Miata RF that spent nearly two weeks at our home. A set of 17-in. aluminum wheels in a dark silver finish, as well as a unique Ceramic Metallic paint job, simply added to the car’s allure.

The piece de resistance to this particular Miata, is, of course, the retractable fastback roof that gracefully stows itself into its compartment behind the front seats at the touch of a button. With the roof raised, the Miata RF presents a cohesive look, as if it were designed as a coupe. Lower the top, though, and the rear pillars, which remain stationary, detract from the clean look of a convertible with the top and all the windows down.

If you don’t want to splurge on the RF, don’t worry; the standard Miata’s ragtop is just as simple and easy to use, if not quite as weather-tight.

Interior

In most Miatas that you’ll find in local dealer stock, Mazda uses an abundance of black in the cabin, the darkness broken up only by red stitching and chrome accents and aluminum brightwork used. The result is handsome and no-nonsense, highlighting the singular mission of the car while avoiding the puppy-eyed ‘please-like-me’ personality of cars like the Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper.

Black is not the only interior color, though. Depending on the trim level and exterior paint color, you can also get Sport Tan leather or premium Nappa leather in an Auburn hue. Either will add desirable contrast to the Miata’s interior.

Seats

Getting in and out of a Miata can be tricky, especially with the roof up. You have to bend down low and crouch before settling into the low-mounted seats. It’s a little easier with the top down, of course.

Once ensconced in the driver’s seat, I was able to easily find a good position for exercising the three pedals, assisted by the new telescopic steering wheel. The passenger seat is snug and low as well, the legroom impeded by a clip-on cupholder that you could remove if you wish.

Look, you don’t get a Miata in order to enjoy a cushy, comfortable ride. You already know this. Let’s move on.

Climate Control System

Three rotary dials let you manage the temperature in the cabin, and Grand Touring trim includes automatic climate control and heated front seats. Though I tested the RF in Southern California, I found the heater terrifically effective at warding off the December chill during an early morning run through local canyons. The 3-stage seat heaters proved effective, too.

Aside from this, the main climate control system is the roof. Fold it away and you’re exposed to whatever temperature is out there. Driven with the roof panel and rear glass down but the side windows up, the Miata RF proved unexpectedly successful at minimizing wind buffeting. My medium-length hair was tousled, to be sure, but it didn’t end up with a rat’s nest, as it usually does when I’m driving my husband’s Miata.

Infotainment System

Miatas used to be all about minimalism. It was unrepentantly free of luxuries and technology, eschewing features in favor of minimizing weight and distraction while maximizing the connection between the driver, the car, and the road.

So it was with a little bit of skepticism that I slid into the cabin and saw the premium Bose stereo system with the head restraint-mounted speakers, the Bluetooth and USB ports, the text-messaging support and E911 emergency notification system, and the Mazda Connect 7-in. display from which to control it all. Not only that, you can access Mazda Connect functions via touch screen, steering wheel controls, voice commands, and a collection of buttons around a knob on the center console.

Honestly, I thought Mazda Connect would detract from my concentration on the task at hand: driving. Nevertheless, there it was, with its myriad functions available just in case anyone wanted further stimulation than simply enjoying the car. Note that the system’s touch screen works only when the car is not moving, Mazda’s nod to helping the driver focus on what’s most important.

One item I always need and which was not installed in the test car was Apple CarPlay (Android Auto is also MIA). Recently, Mazda announced a smartphone integration upgrade through dealerships, priced from about $200 (not including labor charges). So, it seems to be possible if you’re willing to shell out the extra cash.

Storage and Space

You want cargo space or flexible utility? Stick with crossover SUVs. The Miata is a tiny car with a tiny trunk, one measuring just 4.5 cu. ft. in RF spec. For reference, that’s about what will fit into the drum of a commercial washing machine. Airport runs will prove challenging unless you’re a light packer.

A small, lockable storage bin resides between the seats on the rear wall of the cabin, serving as the only useful stowage spot in the cabin unless you count the smartphone tray forward of the shifter. There’s no glove box, the cupholder is optional, and a tiny covered tray in the center console won’t hold much more than the car’s key fob.

Visibility and Safety

As you might well imagine, it’s a little unsettling to drive such a low-slung, small, and light vehicle amongst the huge trucks and SUVs that clog America’s roads, but you get used to it fairly quickly.

With the top down, forward visibility is awesome, with a great view over the sloping hood and between the peaked fenders. Rear quarter visibility is blocked by the rear roof pillars, though, so I relied on the blind-spot monitoring system when changing lanes and on the reversing camera while backing out of slanted parking.

The 2019 Miata has yet to be crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). But in order to help avoid collisions, Mazda has assembled a fairly comprehensive set of active safety systems.

New for 2019, all Miatas benefit from a standard reversing camera, and you can further equip your vehicle with features such as Smart City Brake Support with low-speed automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and the aforementioned blind-spot monitoring system.

Mazda thoughtfully allows a driver to program the lane-departure warning system to emit a beep or a rumble. Using the latter tone, I tend to keep the system engaged. Using the beep, I usually elect to shut the technology off.

Engine/Transmission

There’s an old automotive adage: it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow. That becomes abundantly clear when you live in an area where exotic supercars bellowing 500+ horsepower are regularly stuck in traffic going 15 mph, just like every other car on the freeway during rush hour.

On the flip side, a tiny, lightweight vehicle with a small-displacement, naturally aspirated engine that makes less than 200 horsepower might not sound like much fun, but you couldn’t be more wrong.

For 2019, the Miata gets a bump in horsepower from 155 to 181, peaking at a lofty 7,000 rpm. Torque is also increased from 148 lb.-ft. to 151, made 600 rpm lower. This broader power curve, combined with sharper throttle response and other engineering changes, make a big difference in terms of smoothness and refinement.

The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine does a splendid job of providing animated power across the rev band, and the 6-speed manual gearbox simply heightens the joy, allowing the driver to make use of every last drop of power. It lacked the snick-snick feel of previous Miata manuals, but its more fluid action made it more pleasurable to use.

Fuel Economy

Most impressively, my test vehicle got 29.6 mpg during a couple of weeks filled with exuberant acceleration runs and exhaustive canyon carving. That’s just over what the EPA states you should get as an average (26 mpg city/34 mpg highway/29 mpg combined). Kudos to this fuel-sipper that knows how to have a frugal, fun date.

Driving Dynamics

The beauty of a car like the Miata resides not in complex air suspensions or computer-analyzed road mapping to isolate you from bumps and dips while retaining maximum handling capabilities. No, the Miata is delightfully analog, dedicated to connecting you to the road and communicating clearly about what the car is doing.

Through the taut yet compliant suspension tuning, the instantaneous and precise steering, and the stout and ideally modulated brakes, the Miata is a true sports car.

At the same time, with the manual gearbox this is not a great car to drive in stop-and-go traffic. Rough-hewn roads make you wish for something less delicate to drive. And when you have lots of other things on your mind and you want to zone out a bit during the commute, you don’t really want a car to be chattering to you, coaxing you to engage in some play. As parents of young children and owners of puppies know, sometimes you just don’t want to.

But on the kinky roads in the mountains near my home, you won’t find a car better suited to that environment. It is sheer pleasure to brake, downshift if necessary, toss the Miata into a turn, and then roar out of the apex, enthusiastically anticipating the next corner. The daily-driver pains of Miata ownership pay dividends on the kinds of roads that were built not to get you to your destination the fastest way, but the most memorable way.

Note that my test vehicle came with the new-for-2019 GT-S package, which is available only with the manual gearbox and includes a shock tower cross-brace, Bilstein shocks, and a limited-slip rear differential. Put it all together and it’s a recipe that guarantees an exhilarating ride.

You want to play? The Miata will play all day long, and then some.

Final Impressions

Practical? No. Comfortable? Not really.

The 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata is about you, your favorite passenger, a little bit of your stuff, the open road, and your destination. Comfort and practicality would take a back seat if there were one. Instead, Mazda leaves them at the side of the highway.

To me, the beauty of the Miata is that it boils life down to its essence and makes you realize what’s most important.

Unless you have kids. Then you need a babysitter.

Mazda North American Operations supplied the vehicle used for this 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata review.

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