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The 2019 MX-5 Miata is one of the last true roadsters

26 Jan 2020 9:37 PM | Danny Harrison

MSRP: $29,590 ($36,000 as tested)

4cyl, 181hp, 151pf, rwd

The Mazda Miata is one of the last true roadsters still in production. Sure, it’s a subjective argument, but it’s one I’m willing to make after having the 2019 MX-5 for a week’s review.

Let’s start with the name, though, before we talk about the more substanitive performance matters. You’ll notice on the 2019 MX-5 vehicle itself, there is no mention of Miata. It’s not even on the driver’s manual. You only see the MX-5 badging along with Mazda’s logo and wordmark. However, in commercials and in other communications, Mazda markets this vehicle as the MX-5 Miata.

Clearly, the maker wants this new car to benefit from the association with 30 years of fun on highways and speedways, yet the conspicuous lack of the “Miata” badging suggests a change is on the way. When you drive the 2019, there’s no denying it’s still a Miata, only better than its predecessors. So let’s jump into why this is the case.

The 2019 MX-5 is a redesigned Miata offering a better balanced engine and weight distribution (53/47 front/rear), more aggressive styling, updated technology and more raw power. To the latter point, previous Miatas have offered 155 horsepower, whereas the new one has 181. Some automotive journalists have argued Mazda needs even more horsepower than this, but I disagree.

When you consider that the 2019 Miata only weighs 2,339 pounds, those 181 horses can push this rear-wheel-drive roadster really hard around turns, over hilltops and wherever else you want it to go. What’s more is that, in a smaller, more agile car like this, you’re really feeling the road, the turns, the dips and the apexes. You also feel the straight-ahead acceleration.

We had the manual, six-speed version, which benefitted from the Miata’s new clutch with the dual-mass flywheel. The result is a short-throw shifter that helps you keep power to the wheels all the way up to the 7,500 RPM redline.

According to several sources, this Miata and its predecessors can reach 60 on the straight and narrow in under six seconds. That’s really quick for a naturally-aspirated four cylinder.

While larger, more powerful vehicles top the speed limit without you feeling it, the Miata feels more like riding a comfortable, race-ready go-kart. You’re much lower to the ground, you have a keen sense of your corners, and you really feel the speed. To put it simply, you can have a lot more fun and get a lot fewer speeding tickets.

There was a lot about the 2019 Miata that we really liked.

Under the Hood

It took me a few days to pop the hood, but when I did, I was surprised to see how roomy the engine space is. You’ve got a lot going on under the there, but everything is so nicely arranged that you quickly find all of your fluid checkpoints, and your key components look to be easily accessible for replacing or upgrading. Our Club version had the optional red metal oil cap with MX-5 badging.

A lot of new vehicles have smooth plastic covers over large portions of their engines, but not this Miata. As soon as you prop the hood, you’re seeing everything laid out in front of you. If you’re into cars, and Miata owners likely are, you want to see the engine. You don’t want the it-must-be-magic look.

This is, of course, one of Mazda’s Skyactive engines, which they’ve been developing since 2011. The goal is to produce cleaner, more effecient engines while increasing power as well. Strangely, I was getting about 34 miles per gallon, and I wasn’t following the Miata’s shifting prompts, which are supposed to lead you to even better fuel economy.

The Body

Miatas for the last few years have been restyled to look more aggressive all around, and they push the envelope a bit further with the 2019. The copy we reviewed had spoilers and air dams and nice, sharp lines all over. One friend suggested the windshield frame is too chunky, but I never noticed until he said something. And really, it only looks “chunky” from the front.

One really nice touch, which is a nod to the roadsters and cruisers of yesteryear, is that the door tops just inside the glass are color-keyed to look identical to the exterior. This looks really good with the windows down.

The Roof

Miatas are convertibles by default, and you can tell they take top operation seriously. This Miata’s manual latch system was so light and simple to use, I was able to unlock, lower and relock it with one hand and only a couple of simple clicks. Raising it is just as simple and super fast.

The Interior

The 2019 Miata’s interior is just about perfect. You have a lot of electronic gadetry in there, but it is not smeared everywhere like you see in a lot of cars. Mazda designed this model with the more retro look and feel of having simple, easy-to-find gauges and control knobs, which help you keep your eyes on the road and not scanning through scores of buttons you don’t regularly need.

Even the touchscreen display plays the simple-times card. When you’re dialing through the radio channels, you can use the touchscreen controls or the ones on the steering wheel, or even better you can engage the dial at the fore of the center console armrest, and it simulates rolling through the stations like we used to do in the 1980s and before. They’ve done well to marry technology to the old-school feel of a roadster.

One feature that screams luxury is cup and bottle holders. Sadly, there’s not much room in the Miata for many of these, but the ones they do offer are super clever. There are two standard holders, and normally they are situated on the aft part of the center console armrest. Reaching around to them is tricky, but if you’re driving solo, you can pop one out and reposition it to where the passenger’s left knee would be.

On storage, Mazda excels again here in the 2019 Miata. It doesn’t have a traditional glove box in the dash, but they do offer a small cubby under the climate control knobs to stow your phone. Under the center console armrest is a small storage space for change, a wallet or whatever other sundries you need close to hand. Somewhat larger storage boxes are located on the back wall between the seats and behind the seats themselves. I’m thinking I’d keep baseball caps in the storage behind the seats, and when the top’s down, I’d keep any small valuables in that lockable center box.

The trunk is small, but I was able to get a surprising amount of groceries in it.

The sound system is pretty good. A clever thing they do in some trims, including the one we reviewed, is to put stereo speakers in the driver and passenger headrest. Even with the top down, you’re experiencing a full range of great sound without being overpowered.

The Track

The optional Brembo brakes, which also come with BBS wheels, make this Miata ready for race mode. We don’t tend to take review cars to the track, but this would be a fun one.

Mazda has a clever YouTube video that claims the Miata is the fastest quarter-mile convertible in the world. It’s true, but there’s a catch. The video shows that the competiors, which include several six-figure vehicles and the Miata, all had to first close their convertible tops under simulated rainfall before they could accelerate down the track. The Miata’s manual latch system gives the car a huge advantage, and it completed the challenge ahead of the pack with several seconds to spare.

The Downside

There’s no such thing as a perfect car, at least not in this life, but it is fun watching the automobile industry try to make one.

The only complaint I have with this MX-5 has to do with the difficulty I had getting in and out of it. This is not entirely Mazda’s fault, as I am above average in height and weight.

A friend of mine who works on Mazdas responded to my dilemma with, “The best way to put on a Miata is to drop in and roll out.”

Another friend likened the experience of exiting a Miata to popping open a can of biscuits.

Again, there is no perfect car. What Mazda has done with this 2019 MX-5 is to keep the weight down while giving it better balance and a lot more power. They weren’t about to make it a bigger roadster just to accommodate easier entrances and exits for larger, less-nimble people.

So this really isn’t a complaint so much as an observation. I’ve heard from people as tall as six-four, who say they squeezed in and were comfortable enough once situated behind the wheel. One man said his legs were uncomfortably close to the dash and steering wheel. My height problem is due to a longer-than-average torso, so my legs were comfortable, but my head was in the roof. In fact, on several occasions I dropped the top just long enough to get in more comfortably, and then I closed it again.

Again, this isn’t a complaint. You’ll just want to be sure you fit in the thing before buying it.

The Overall Impression

Despite the snugness of this driving experience, the 2019 MX-5 is a superb, true roadster that remains relatively affordable while delivering on pretty much everything a sports car enthusiast wants to see, feel and hear. Thirty years into the Miata program, I think Mazda has nailed their landing with this newest iteration.

And this brings us back to the question: Will Mazda really drop the Miata moniker in the near future. Second question: How will they top the 2019 MX-5?

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