The Mazda MX-5 adds horsepower for 2019, addressing one of the most common complaints from people who’ve never actually driven the car. Is the extra output more of a good thing, capable of pushing the world’s most popular roadster to the next level where it can better hang with the current crop of sports cars? Or is it too much sauce slathered on top of an already excellent recipe?
Of all the vehicles in Mazda’s lineup, it’s the MX-5 – née Miata – whose styling has grown on me the most. Angular and jarring to my eyes when it was first introduced, my most recent week with the car had me regularly stopping to admire it after parking the diminutive roadster. Although there are still a few angles I am iffy on, particularly the short rear deck, the look of the car – now in its fifth year on the market – has matured well, especially in classic soft-top style. So it goes when designing with a crystal ball next to your AutoCAD station.
The 2019 Mazda MX-5 GS-P model that I drove features the same safety gear as the base model, which includes lane-departure warning and blind spot monitoring. In fact, there aren’t any additional items to add on the active protection front, and a rear-view camera – previously unavailable on the car – is now standard, too, thanks to a government mandate.
Mazda is to be congratulated for not making one pay extra for top-tier security, however, I wish the systems were a bit better executed. The overly sensitive blind spot warning chirped at me almost constantly when changing lanes in traffic with little regard for how far behind the vehicle in the adjacent lane might have been. Was the Miata keen to shame my driving style? It’s hard to say, but after the tenth time I simply tuned out the warning, which defeats its entire purpose.
Here’s the one department where roadsters generally can’t compete with any sports car that includes a fixed roof and a rear seat. Trunk space in the MX-5 is limited to a couple of overnight bags unless you’re willing to get creative with your cargo stuffing. You’ll also be hard-put to position all of your gear inside the cockpit, although the secondary glove box mounted between the front two seats is deeper than one would expect. Larger items can be accommodated with the roof open, as long as you attach a red flag to the end that sticks up outside the cabin.
User Friendliness: 7/10
The Mazda MX-5’s rotary infotainment controller and volume dial are placed on the centre console almost exactly where your elbow is guaranteed to come in contact with them every time you shift the standard six-speed manual. I repeatedly looked up to discover that the infotainment display had skipped to some sub-menu selected at random by my right-hand rowing. It’s a regular frustration with the vehicle, and one that seemingly could be rectified by transplanting the knob-and-button cluster elsewhere, or perhaps moving to a touchscreen-only system in a vehicle where driver engagement is paramount and interior space limited.
The Miata is intended to be driven, and as a result there’s not much on the menu that will distract you from that task. Most of the car’s equipment is aimed at keeping driver and passenger comfortable and entertained – heated seats, Bose stereo – with a bit of fake engine noise thrown in on the GS-P model. My tester also included navigation (increasingly irrelevant in a smartphone-heavy world), but no support for Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, which will be problematic for some buyers. If you want automatic climate control or satellite radio, you’ll have to pay extra for the GT model, which feels like a curious omission from the options list for lesser trims.
Did the Miata need more horsepower? Absolutely not. It was a blast to drive with the pedal down, with surprisingly accessible limits and a friendly character even a novice sports car fan could appreciate. Does it benefit from its new-for-2019 engine? Without a doubt.
Now rated at 181 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque (and increase of 26 ponies compared to the year before), the Miata can hit 100 km/h from a standing start in 5.7 seconds, which is quite respectable. Much more importantly, however, the car’s 2.0L four-cylinder engine has shifted that output higher in the rev range, which rewards winding out the motor to a redline that sits 700 rpm higher than it did the year before. This has a serious impact on the character of the car, and gives it a much sportier personality than when the current-generation MX-5 was launched a handful of years ago.
Tall people have a bit of trouble in small convertibles like the Miata – or so I’ve been told, because I’m blessed with more average stature and thus have no trouble settling in, even with the optional Recaros that were outfitted to the model I drove. On longer trips the MX-5 is a reasonable companion, but it is noisier than one might expect. Even with the top raised, sound from the street leaks in through the rear and makes you question whether you actually rolled up the windows or not. This, plus the somewhat flimsy doors (noticeable when closing) creates a less-than-premium feel inside the Miata compared to more expensive roadster choices.
Driving Feel: 8/10
The subtle change in engine output goes beyond the numbers on the dyno sheet to create a more engaging experience that helps drivers better bond with the convertible. Matched with its crisp six-speed manual gearbox (don’t even bother with the optional automatic), the Miata now begs to be revved out, and provides ample incentive to do so thanks to its revised powerband.
Stick with the stick and you get a standard limited-slip differential with the GS-P model, helping to keep the car’s rear wheels stuck to the ground wherever possible – although it’s still possible to squirm and chirp the tires on cold asphalt. My tester’s Sport Package also installed 17-inch BBS wheels, Brembo brakes, and the previously mentioned Recaro sport seats, providing an extra edge in terms of performance and style over the entry-level Miata.
If only the car’s steering could keep up with the rest of its chassis. I’m still not a fan of Mazda’s electric assist, which doesn’t deliver the feedback older Miata models offered. It’s my one complaint about an otherwise very well put together sports car.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
The MX-5 is rated at 9.0 L/100 km in city driving and 7.0 L/100 km on the highway. Drive it more aggressively, and you’re looking at closer to 12 L/100 km combined.
Unlike south of the border, in Canada the Miata is positioned as more of an upscale option. Its $33,000 base price (and a surprising $41,300 out-the-door for my GS-P tester) puts it in an unusual spot compared to similarly themed entry-level performance cars like the Subaru BRZ, Ford Mustang, or Chevrolet Camaro, each of which offers a rear seat, vastly more practicality, and, in some cases, better performance at a cheaper price.
However, none can peel the top back at the same price as the Miata, while only the BRZ can match its driving feel. If you seek a roadster, but don’t want to double the price in order to add a luxury badge, the MX-5 is your only bet.
The 2019 edition of the Mazda MX-5 continues to deliver excellent top-down motoring, improved by a mightier and more compelling standard engine under the hood. There is nothing like it at its price point.
|Peak Horsepower||181 hp @ 7,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||151 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||9.0/7.0/8.1 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||130 L|
|Model Tested||2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata GS-P|
|Price as Tested||$43,645|
$4,850 – Sport Package, $4,400; Soul Red Crystal Metallic Paint, $450