More-powerful 2019 Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring RF is a blast.
Pros-Fun to drive. More power. Sinuous lines with fastback roofline and power retractable hard top. Short-throw manual shifter. Efficient automatic transmission offered.
Cons-Snug "drop in/climb out" cabin." Small trunk. Occasional bumpy ride. Not a long-distance cruiser.
Bottom Line-Classic-style genuine sports car.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata set the auto world on its ear when it arrived as a 1990 model and pioneered the way for affordable, reliable genuine sports cars. More than a million Miatas have been sold worldwide.
Constant improvements have kept this small, rear-drive two-seater appealing, and the more-powerful 2019 version is the best Miata yet.
The original's pop-up headlights are long gone, and the Miata got a far more muscular look for 2016 with a wider, sleeker body, wider tracks, a more aggressive front fascia and smoother, sportier lines. The hood was made lower and windshield pillars were pulled back and made more upright for better visibility. Moreover, the car was made considerably lighter for better performance and handling.
Mazda also introduced its RF model with a power retractable hardtop that gives it a sexy fastback roof, although the standard versions continue with a conventional easily used manual top. The cleverly engineered hardtop opens and closes in just 13 seconds with the press of a switch.
The small, light MX-5 Miata comes as the entry Sport, Club and Grand Touring RF. List prices range from the $25,730 Sport with a conventional convertible top to the $33,335 top-line Grand Touring RF. I tested the Grand Touring RF and found that the Miata hasn't lost any of its fun-to-rive nature,
The big news for all 2019 Miatas is a new four-cylinder with 181 horsepower, up from 155, and additional torque. The tachometer redline increases from 6,800 r.p.m. to 7,500 r.p.m. and the engine loves to quickly rev.
The 2019 Miata definitely has more punch, although horsepower isn't what the Miata has ever been all about. The first one was a reliable, solid, cleverly copied version of the 1960s-early 1970s unreliable British Lotus Elan sports car, right down to the look of its dual overhead-camshaft cylinder heads. Despite changes, the 2019 Miata is said to have gained only an additional seven pounds. It weighs 2,453 pounds with the manual transmission and 2,499 with the automatic.
Power flows thought a short-throw but somewhat stiff six-speed manual transmission, which was in my test Miata, or an available, efficient 6-speed automatic transmission. The automatic makes the car easier to drive in heavy freeway traffic, but the shifter works so well with the clutch that I hardly noticed shifting gears. I found fourth the best gear for highway/freeway passing, but fifth was pretty good. Sixth is an overdrive gear. But if you're buzzing along at 70 m.p.h. or so on moderately traveled open roads, you can just leave the transmission in sixth gear for decent passing. Third gear is best for darting in and out of heavy urban traffic.
Estimated fuel economy of the RF with the manual is 26 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on highways. With the automatic, it's nearly identical at 26 and 35.
New items for 2019 include a tilt/telescoping steering column, rearview camera and revised cupholders, which remain rather a chore to use.
My test MX-5 Miata handled much like a go-kart. It had rather stiff but very quick steering, 17-inch alloy wheels, high-performance tires, front/rear stabilizer bars, dynamic stability control and a traction control system. Impressive handling was helped by an optional sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers, a front shock tower brace and a limited-slip differential. The anti-lock disc brakes had a brake-assist system.
The Miata's short 91-inch wheelbase and firm suspension-made stiffer by the sport-tuned suspension-cause occupants to noticeably feel freeway expansion strips and sharp bumps. While the front double-wishbone suspension and rear multi-link suspension allow a decent ride most of the time, this isn't a comfortable long-distance car.
My test car's safety items included a rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning system, smart city brake support, heated power outside mirrors and even sign recognition.
It helps if a Miata owner is nimble and not overly heavy because the snug cabin with its low seats call for a person to "fall in" and "climb out." The trunk has a high opening and isn't very big, although it's deep and nicely shaped and the lid uses struts to help create a little more room. But there are few decent cabin storage areas.
I appreciated my rest car's very supportive leather-trimmed heated front seats, generally upscale materials, automatic air conditioning, tilt/telescopic wheel, push-button start, Bose AM/FM 9-speaker sound system, power-windows with a one-touch-down feature, various leather-wrapped features including the steering wheel with audio and cruise controls and hand brake. Gauges could be quickly read, and the 7-inch color touch screen display wasn't difficult use, although I didn't spend much time with it.
Those looking for driving kicks should try out the Miata MX-5, especially in Grand Touring RF form with the manual transmission. The power retractable hard top makes it a racy looking sports car for all seasons.