2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

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2019
The Car Connection
2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
November 9, 2018

The 2019 Mazda MX-5 keeps the crown of “affordable and fun” with a more potent engine this year.

Close your eyes and picture a sports car that won’t bankrupt your 401k. For most of us who aren’t members of royal families that car looks a lot like the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata, a small wonder and long-running staple for the automaker.

This year, the biggest change for the Miata is a doozy—at least for a small car that’s stayed true to its roots for more than two decades. A free-revving 2.0-liter inline-4 replaces a similarly sized engine from last year, but this year makes more power and spins past 7,000 rpm.

Like last year, the MX-5 is available in Sport, Club, and Grand Touring trims, and costs just north of $26,000 to start.

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We give the Miata a 6.0 our overall scale, a respectable score for a niche vehicle that won’t carry more than two people. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The newest Miata bowed for 2016, although its roots reach back to the late 1980s. The same shape has outlived other fads thanks to its handsome profile and focus on drivability—fun seemingly never goes out of style.

Last year’s 155-horsepower 2.0-liter inline-4 is out, a new 181-hp 2.0-liter inline-4 is in. Vital bits have been strengthified and lightenated in the new engine, at least that’s what the engineers tell us. We’re better at telling you how it feels behind the wheel: fantastic. The 26 additional hp are a welcome addition for a car that weighs less than 2,400 pounds to start and make an instant impression on driver and passenger alike.

A precise 6-speed manual rifles through its gears in the Miata’s best life; we couldn’t imagine it any other way. (A 6-speed automatic is available if you can.)

The Miata’s small size and low ride height promise comfort for two only and mostly deliver. Bad knees and backs may struggle to fit into the small confines, but their flexibility is rewarded with a cozy cabin that doesn’t take away from the view of the road ahead.

The Miata skips many luxury features that some competitors now offer, and that’s mostly fine by us. We take one exception with an infotainment system that nearly drives us to distraction and leaves us dry without a smartphone system to take over.

Like last year, the Miata is available as a convertible or folding hard-top model that Mazda calls “RF” (retractable fastback). There’s no bad pick, but spending more on the Miata doesn’t enhance its best feature: how fun the MX-5 is to drive.

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2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Styling

The Mazda Miata MX-5’s shape has endured decades for good reasons.

Even before this newest generation of Mazda MX-5 Miata was unveiled three years ago, it was already a sports car Hall of Famer.

The same proportions have served small roadsters well for decades, the latest Miata adds just a handful of expressive features to a standout silhouette. Above average, the MX-5 earns two points for its exterior and one more for its interior. We don’t have a favorite between RF hardtop and convertible models; there’s not a bad move to make. Both get an 8 for styling. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The long hood and short trunk add to the MX-5’s already racy profile. Beyond previous generations of the Miata, this version has rakish, debonair headlights and a tighter front bumper that closes up some of Mazda’s traditional gape. (Maybe that’s just our anthropomorphic tendencies talking.)

The hood has sharper creases this time around and the MX-5’s daytime running lights add small dimples to the creases of the lower front fascia.

Along the body sides, a short trunk makes a small wheelbase look even smaller. The RF’s hardtop is closer to a targa than it is a true convertible—we don’t mind one bit.

In back, the flat trunk gracefully drops toward both wheels without casting a bad shadow on the expressive, round taillights.

Inside, the cabin is spartan but not sparse. Body-colored door sills are a nice look and bring some of the outsides inside. We’re partial to Soul Red, which is a $595 option, but worth every penny for its brilliant shine.

Much like the exterior, the interior of the MX-5 is a exercise in restraint that works well. It’s aesthetically pleasing, although not ergonomically perfect.

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2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Performance

Few cars offer better performance value than the 2019 Mazda MX-5.

An improved drivetrain over last year’s version keeps the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata high among performers on our list.

This year, a revised 2.0-liter inline-4 makes its debut under the hoods of all models and brings a 26 horsepower bump over last year’s outgoing engine.

We had good feelings about the outgoing engine, but have better feelings about this year’s version. A short and positive 6-speed manual ideally mates to the new engine and the small Miata’s legendary handling returns again. Starting from an average score, the Miata gets two points above the mean for its handling and one point for its powertrain. It easily earns an 8 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Despite having the same displacement as last year’s 2.0-liter inline-4, this year’s engine in the Miata was significantly upgraded to handle more power and rev higher. Revised intake and exhaust ports complement a throttle that breathes freer for 28 percent more airflow to the engine. The result is an engine that happily spins up to 7,200 rpm or higher (last year’s peaked at 6,800 rpm) and makes 181 hp, up from 155 hp last year.

Mazda says that all the vital components (pistons, connecting rods, crankshaft) are lighter and were made stronger to handle the increased pressure from more power. Its injectors now pressurize the fuel more for a better bang, depending on speed.

Behind the wheel, the changes net to a throttle pedal that’s supernaturally connected to our reptilian brains that are hardwired for more speed. Each stab at the pedal creates a predictable and repeatable response for more revs, more speed, and more sound. Mazda’s engineering prowess for making cars that are fun to drive is distilled in the MX-5—then refined, weaponized, and turned loose in the MX-5. Yep, it’s that fun to drive.

The best pairing is a sharp and positive 6-speed manual transmission that clicks through all six gears with precision. The clutch takeup is firm, but not stiff, with just enough slack to keep the MX-5 drivable every day in stop-and-go traffic.

The optional 6-speed automatic is complemented by standard paddle shifters, although it’s not as quick to shift as other paddle-shifted autoboxes we’ve tested before.

If that all sounds good, we have better news: the Miata’s handling is just as sharp. Just as generations before it have excelled at turning sheets of pavement into ribbons, this year’s Miata delivers the same budget thrills that rivals cars twice or even three times the cost. The MX-5 skips the jittery high-speed racks found in other sports cars for a comparatively sedate 15.5:1 ratio. What it lacks in outright speed it makes up for in precision and a progressive feel.

The Miata rides atop standard double wishbones up front with a rear multi-link setup for the rear end. Club versions get stiffer springs, a slightly lower ride height, and larger front strut tower for better performance along with a rear limited-slip differential. Grand Touring trims can add the same hardware for roughly $750 more, but only on manual-equipped models.

All Miatas filter out road imperfections well, although bigger wheels and stiffer springs on Club models (and so-equipped Grand Touring trims) trade road comfort for track aptitude.

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2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Comfort & Quality

The 2019 Miata is the starter apartment among cars: cluttered and cramped, but always fun.

The 2019 Mazda MX-5 doesn’t make promises it can’t keep. Its cozy cabin offers to seat two belted passengers and a small trunk for weekend bags. It’s not a family car and it doesn’t pretend to be.

Starting from an average score, the Miata loses a point for a trunk that’s smaller than five cubic feet. It earns a 4 for comfort. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Despite its small size, most tall bodies will fit comfortably in the MX-5, provided they can crouch low enough to enter. This year, the MX-5 steering wheel tilts and telescopes, which helps long legs and short torsos better fit in the cabin.

Most Miatas will feature durable cloth upholstery that skips springs and padding for suspended fabric that’s lighter. They’re not ideal for cross-country sojourns but have enough padding for day trips and weekend getaways. The upgraded leather seats are just as comfortable but aren’t especially convincing as luxury seats in the MX-5.

Club versions equipped with grippy Recaro seats are ideal for track cars. Their bolstering is firm and inspires confidence around corners, but is a pricey option on Club cars and not suitable for everyday drivers.

This year, Mazda dialed up the drama from the Miata’s exhaust for a more confident burble coming from the small car’s backside. No MX-5 is quiet, but the RF was pleasant enough with the top down to carry on a conversation through a Bluetooth-connected phone.

The convertible features 4.6 cubic feet of cargo room and the RF hardtop convertible shaves a scant hair from that figure (the top folds behind the seats, but ahead of the trunk). Neither one is particularly spacious, but the square cargo hold is deep and offers enough room for groceries or small luggage.

Fold the top down, and the Miata offers roughly 20,000 vertical feet of cargo storage in the front seat for the brave among us. Go ahead, bring the saguaro with you this trip.

Ergonomic curiosities abound. The infotainment controller is placed in an awkward location near the driver’s forearm, the cupholders are hilariously out of reach, and the 12-volt connector is an unwelcome Easter Egg we encourage owners to discover on their own. Not everything can be perfect.

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2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Safety

The 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata lacks a complete set of safety data.

Federal and independent testers haven’t rated the Mazda MX-5 Miata’s crashworthiness so we withhold our score for now. We don’t expect that will change anytime soon, neither official agency typically crashes low-selling, niche vehicles like the Miata. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Outward vision in the little convertible is expectedly exceptional with an unfettered view around the car with the top down. The RF convertible’s rear roof pillars only cut into rear three-quarter looks but come equipped with standard blind-spot monitors to remedy.

Low-speed automatic emergency braking is optional on base and Club trim levels, but standard Grand Touring trims. In other cars, the low-speed system was rated as “Advanced” by the IIHS and avoided forward crashes at 12 mph or slower. However, the system doesn’t meet federal criteria for forward-collision warnings.

Club trims and higher are equipped with blind-spot monitors as standard equipment and Grand Touring trims get lane-departure warning systems.

A rearview camera was made standard for 2019 after a federal mandate.

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2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Features

The 2019 Mazda MX-5’s best feature is the road ahead.

Connectivity in the 2019 Mazda MX-5 takes on a new meaning. The connection the car makes between the driver and the road is more entertaining than any infotainment software. Base models are fairly spartan and dressy trims are far from luxurious.

But the only sin Mazda commits in the MX-5 is with its infotainment software—it’s dysfunctional, at best. Starting from an average score, the 2019 Miata rings the bell at a 5 for features with one point added for the screen size that’s quickly taken away for its frustrating controller and software. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Base Sport convertibles, which cost more than $26,500, are equipped with cloth interior, a 7.0-inch infotainment display, 16-inch wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, and two USB ports. Newly standard this year are a rearview camera and a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes.

Sport convertibles are the version we’d suggest for most buyers without track days circled on their calendars. A spend-up safety package adds blind-spot monitors, lane departure warnings and low-speed automatic emergency braking for $850.

The Club trim adds performance-related features such as a limited-slip differential, stiffer springs and front shock tower brace (manual transmission versions only); 17-inch wheels with wider tires; upgraded audio; and upgraded cloth seats for nearly $4,000 more than the base convertible. Two pricey options packages add heated Recaro seats and upgraded brakes, or leather upholstery, upgraded brakes, and wheels. Either package adds $4,400 or $3,700 to the overall price, so we suggest approaching both with caution.

Grand Touring models go further with more luxury items but stop short of feeling like a luxury car. Leather upholstery, heated seats, navigation, adaptive headlights, and traffic sign recognition swell the bottom line beyond $30,000. Grand Touring trims opt out of the Club’s racier limited-slip differential and stiffer springs but can sub those back in for more money.

The RF hardtop is only available in Club and Grand Touring trim levels and costs roughly $2,700 more than comparably equipped convertibles.

Mazda charges more for three brilliant shades on the MX-5 Miata: Soul Red, Snowflake White, and Machine Gray. We wouldn’t begrudge any buyer for spending more on any of the colors, particularly Soul Red.

We do take umbrage with the base infotainment system in the MX-5. The software’s pared-down display makes any typical task a chore, right down to changing the radio station. The 7.0-inch display is sharp and bright but its controller is out of reach and requires an unusually high number of button presses for even common tasks. We’ve frequently bumped the controller and buttons with our forearms while shifting, adding to our overall irritation. Unlike Mazda’s crossovers, there’s no help from available Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in the MX-5.

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2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Fuel Economy

A power bump for 2019 doesn’t mar the Mazda MX-5 Miata’s good fuel-economy scores.

A new engine for the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata tells the same story for fuel economy as last year. That’s a good thing.

When equipped with a 6-speed manual, the EPA rates the MX-5 at 26 mpg city, 34 highway, 29 combined. Those numbers are for the convertible and RF hardtop and are a high 5 on our scale—and in the cockpit. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The numbers are slightly better with an automatic, even if it’s just a little less fun. The EPA rates those cars at 26/35/30 mpg.

Both figures fare favorably to competitors. The Toyota 86 rates 24 mpg combined with a manual and the Audi TT rates 26 mpg with its automatic.

The Fiat 124 Spider is related to the MX-5 but uses a different engine. The EPA doesn’t much care and rates both Fiat and Mazda nearly identically.

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6.0
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 8
Performance 8
Comfort & Quality 4
Safety N/A
Features 5
Fuel Economy 5
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2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Pricing Insights

  • 2019 MX-5 Miata arriving; 2018s remain on sale
  • New $500 Mazda trade-in bonus available
  • Lease a 2019 from $399 for 36 months
  • APR as low as 1.9% for 72 months
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