Almost Three Decades in the Making

The Miata Is Mazda’s Best Car. Now They’ve Made It Even Better


October 2, 2018 Cars By Photo by Chandler Bondurant
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Mazda has half a dozen distinctly different models across its lineup, from a full-size SUV to multiple sedans to a four-door hatchback. None of them, however, get the same amount of fanfare as the MX-5 Miata roadster, especially when an all-new version comes out. The MX-5 represents Mazda’s ethos, the company’s heart and soul. It’s the only car Mazda builds that is uniformly put under a high-intensity microscope, scrutinized by enthusiasts to make sure every box is ticked and every target hit. When the latest-generation MX-5 was unveiled and driven, it seemed as though Mazda had hit another home run — or at least cracked the ball deep into the outfield.

Everything about the 2015 MX-5 was all anyone could have hoped for — except for one thing. The engine. It wasn’t bad by any measure, it just fell short on matching the superb handling of the chassis carrying it. There were cries for more power; the engine, at 155 horses, warranted those cries. In tight and twisty corners the powerplant felt right at home, but if you showed it any sort of straightaway it ran out of steam in the top end.

For 2019 Mazda transformed the MX-5. There isn’t a new design or refreshed look, all they did was give the little roadster the hotrod treatment and batted this one over the stadium nosebleed section into the parking lot. Instead of 155 horsepower, the new car makes 181.

The Good: The famous lightweight construction, the steering, the planted cornering, the new and improved lively engine… The list could go on.

Who It’s For: The practical purist who still enjoys the thrill of driving and who thinks ‘connectivity’ refers to clutch and steering feel.

Watch Out For: If you have an eye on the 2019 RF model, prices start around $33,000 and climb quickly after that, creeping closer to the $40,000 mark.

Alternatives: As far as small, affordable rear-wheel-drive coupes go, it’s a slim grid. The base model MX-5 falls in the territory of the Fiat 124 Spider (a car it shares a platform with) and its compatriot Subaru BRZ. Until the recent engine upgrades, the MX-5 was outmuscled but made up for it by carrying less weight. Now that it has the power to match Fiat and Subaru fanboys have even less of an argument.

• Fiat 124 Spider ($24,995)
• Subaru BRZ ($25,595)

Verdict: I’d like to be able to say Mazda left itself no room to improve the MX-5 after this much-needed update, but I’m sure its very well-paid engineers are already staring at blueprints that’ll prove me wrong. I’d like to see Mazda flex some muscle and go all-in on a lightweight next-generation instead of adding more power, but for now, the ND MX-5 is all the car you need to put a smile on your face.

Review: The Mazda MX-5 takes a lot of flak for being ‘tiny’ and ‘cute’ and, historically, the people that think that aren’t wrong. The current generation MX-5 aimed to cure the latter with a sharp, edgy redesign, but its pint-sized stature can still be a turn-off for most. But, when people ask me what’s my favorite of all the cars I’ve driven, time and time again, I walk past all of them in my mind’s garage and go to the MX-5. And that’s before Mazda beefed up the engine and gave it 30-ish more horsepower and a higher redline.

There are other cars more thrilling to drive, some are unforgettable experiences in their own right, but none of them are as rewarding as the MX-5. There’s no electronic torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system or advanced GPS-guided active suspension to keep you on the road — it’s just you and one of the most direct and communicative steering and chassis setups on the road. Mazda transformed the MX-5 for 2019, but as you can tell from the photos, it looks identical to the outgoing 2018 model and that’s because the only thing that needed addressing was the engine.

When the ND generation MX-5 broke cover and hit the road, it weighed almost the same as the original Miata and was down on power from the previous generation, but Mazda says that was intentional. Mazda was aiming to get the newest MX-5 to resemble the first MX-5 as much as possible, so the power-to-weight ratio needed addressing. The side-effect of that tune-down was that the car’s chassis outperforming its engine. In reality, on open roads, that imbalance was only noticed at the top-end. Otherwise, there was still very little to complain about, with either the engine or the car as a whole.

As great as the first-round ND was, Mazda wanted to address the complaints about power. Engineers set about revising lightening the crankshaft, flywheel and the other guts of the engine to raise the redline from 6800rpm to 7500rpm. All of that sounds negligible in the grand scheme of things, but what it does is spread the engine’s power band and give it more breathing room to put the 181 horsepower to use. Where the old ND lost momentum around the 6000rpm mark, it now pulls all the way to the new redline — territory the outgoing MX-5 didn’t seem comfortable in, but the 2019 model revels around.

Mazda’s mission objective with the MX-5 is always to make the most distilled version of a sports car while keeping it approachable and friendly. It’s one of the few cars on the road in which you can get within whispering distance of its limit in corners and still feel safe and within the boundaries of sensibility. Try to find the same edge in a 700-horsepower McLaren or even a 444-horsepower Audi RS5 and you’ll find your own limit of nerve before the car’s. The new, more powerful MX-5 is as friendly and rewarding as ever, now it simply comes with more room to stretch its legs.

What Others Are Saying:

• “The Mazda MX-5 still offers some of the best driving feel on the road thanks to a balanced chassis and excellent handling. The 2019 model offers more enthusiast-friendly top-end power, more flexible steering wheel positioning and new standard and optional safety tech.” — Antuan Goodwin, Cnet

• “All of the changes amount to a superb roadster that’s even more fun to drive and easier to live with. From the perspective of someone who owned a 2016 model, the 2019 is worth considering. The updates are big enough to make it a superior car that’s more refined yet retains the Miata’s legendary playfulness. ” — Stephan Ogbac, MotorTrend

• “No surprise that the Miata is the same darling in a canyon road as it ever was, with just enough compliance in the suspension to engage the driver and just enough grip to allow for predictable, progressive behavior at its approachable limits.” — Joseph Capparella, Car and Driver

Key Specs: 2019 Mazda MX-5

Engine: 2.0-liter inline four
Horsepower: 181
Torque: 151 lb-ft
Red line: 7,500 rpm
Weight: 2,345 lbs
Price (MSRP): $25,730(base)

The Mazda MX-5, Triple Distilled

Every Mazda MX-5 since 1989 has rolled off the production line in Hiroshima, Japan. Some just go on to bigger and better things. Read the Story

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