Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: September 11, 2018
Miata changes are seldom, so when a model year brings an updated engine and some subtle tweaks, though minor as they may be, it is big news in the Mazda realm. For 2019, the iconic MX-5 receives a reworked 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G engine that produces more power and is higher-revving, now registering with 181 hp and 151 lb-ft, a slight but meaningful 26 hp and 3 lb-ft increase over the 2018 model. To get that number, Mazda engineers added lighter pistons and connecting rods, new injectors, and a larger air intake, valves, and intake manifold. Mazda says that the torque has also been improved across both low- and high-rpm ranges and engine sound has been enhanced by adding lighter exhaust valves and a larger exhaust manifold with a less restrictive silencer.
To handle the extra power, the MX-5 has adopted a low-inertia dual-mass flywheel instead of the single-mass flywheel from 2018 models. That means it is heavier and more complex, but Mazda says it is better at isolating any vibrations coming up through the shifter but as I will touch on later in this review, it does slightly alter clutch and shifter feel.
On a good note, these minor revisions do not alter the fundamental essence of the MX-5, rather they augment the already near-perfect driving experience with extra top-end power and engine refinement. The new engine performs similarly to the previous one, but the top end is much more guttural with peak horsepower unleashed at 7,000 rpm where the outgoing MX-5 delivered it at 6,000 rpm instead. The redline has also increased from 6,800 rpm to a howling 7,500 rpm. Indeed, most of the power lies up there now in the high range, so you really have to wring out the motor to feel the differences but the new model doesn’t run out of steam as quickly. And to be honest, if you didn’t tell me about the power bump I don’t think I would have really noticed without a back to back comparison. Perhaps the power delivery is a hair smoother when building up revs, but I really don’t feel like it’s an entirely different MX-5 because of it. I don’t hear much of a change in exhaust noise either.
That might not be a bad thing, as the MX-5 remains a dream to drive but with some extra sizzle when clearing out its lungs. The marriage between engine, shifter, and chassis is direct, smooth, and effective. It’s rather difficult to explain just how well each part works together, but the way the power is linearly built up, the way the clutch feels when pressed, the way the short-throw shifter slips into the gate, and the way the wheels dig deep into the tarmac for traction and launch forward, is nothing short of driving bliss.
There’s a neutrality in the way the MX-5 behaves when you carelessly throw it around a corner. You get some initial understeer as the front nose tries to dig in, but get past that threshold and the rear comes out to play, and you can modulate and feel the oscillating levels of grip through the communicative steering rack. The MX-5 is playful without being overwhelming. It instills drivers with an unwavering sense of confidence. As far as small roadsters go, the MX-5 is the gold standard.
I suspect due to that change in flywheel, the gear shifter is slightly notchier than before when slotting into gear, especially into first, and the clutch uptake point is a little more vague than I remember - I actually found it slightly easier to stall than before. That being said, the gear shifts are much smoother and creamier in transition, and won’t lug or jerk when the rpms aren't perfectly matched. Again, these are all very minor disparities that I have only picked up on having spent countless hours behind the wheel of previous MX-5s on familiar roads and even on a three-day rally through Northern Ontario.
The interior of the MX-5 remains unchanged for 2019. The RF model I drove adds a targa-style hardtop, and is still a cramped affair for my six-foot figure. Top up, I have to hunch my back in the seat to get a cozy yet slightly claustrophobic seating position. The big news is the new telescoping steering wheel that doesn’t make too much of a difference for my long arms, but I am sure drivers with shorter arms and longer legs will appreciate this addition. The 2019 adds a new wide-angle rear view camera, a Traffic Sign Recognition System, and a safety feature called Smart City Brake Support, where the MX-5 uses front-facing sensors to detect obstacles ahead and will autonomously engage the brakes if needed. The cupholders have also been slightly redesigned for a more rugged structure that doesn’t wobble as much when loaded with a drink. In reality, it still wobbles, but noticeably less.
Overall, this 2019 MX-5 doesn’t change the rules of the book but it fortifies its strengths and adds some subtle tweaks to improve - minor as they may be - the driving experience that has defined the Miata experience since its inception. Current MX-5 owners aren’t missing much, but 2019 adds a warranted and meaningful upgrade with very little downsides on an otherwise near-perfect drop-top machine.
Model: 2019 Mazda MX-5 RF GT with Grand Sport Package
Paint Type: Ceramic Metallic ($200)
Base Price: $42,900
Price as Tested: $46,700
Length/Width/Height (mm): 3,914 / 1,918 / 1,245
Curb weight (kg): 1,118
Engine: 2.0-litre inline-four
Horsepower: 181 hp @ 7,000 rpm
Torque: 151 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, RWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 9.0 / 7.0
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 10.2
Tires: BBS forged alloy wheels; 205/45R17