The Mazda MX-5 Miata is synonymous with driving fun—I should know because I owned a 2016 model (the ND). However, my time with it was cut short after my early example suffered a teething issue with its six-speed manual transmission where a manufacturing defect caused it to shred its gears. When the replacement gearbox also had issues, I decided to part with the car after a little over a year. I miss that little roadster even more now that I’ve driven the updated 2019 model, the most powerful Miata to date. It also brings up a big question for owners of 2016–2018 models: Should you consider trading in for the 2019 model? Absolutely! And here’s why.
For 2019, the Mazda MX-5 Miata gets more power. The 2.0-liter I-4 breathes better thanks to revised internal parts, and it now has a 7,500-rpm redline, 700 rpm higher than before. It generates 181 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque and can be paired to a standard six-speed manual or an optional six-speed automatic transmission. A dual-mass flywheel replaces the old single-mass unit for improved NVH. Other additions include a tilt and telescoping steering wheel and a standard rearview camera on all models. In total, the 2019 model weighs around 7 pounds more than the 2016–2018 model despite all of the changes made to improve livability and refinement. Fuel economy hasn’t taken a hit due to the additional power; it’s actually improved on the manual models to 26/34 mpg city/highway (1 mpg higher on the highway) and 26/35 mpg with the automatic.
Grand Touring models are now available with sharper handling thanks to the addition of the GT-S package. This adds Bilstein shocks, a front strut tower brace, sport-tuned suspension, and a limited-slip differential, all of which were originally exclusive to the Club trim. The Recaro seats, which were initially available only on the soft top, are now available on the RF Club grade as part of the BBS/Brembo/Recaro package. Automatic emergency braking and forward collision warning are standard on the Grand Touring trim and optional on the Sport and Club, but you can’t get the active safety tech if you opt for the BBS/Brembo or BBS/Brembo/Recaro package.
Sitting in a Miata’s driver’s seat for the first time in roughly eight months, the 2019 model feels like the same roadster I remember. It fits like a glove, snug but not cramped as long as you’re not super tall. The standard sport seats are comfortable and hold you in place reasonably well but could use more side support. The optional Recaros provide better side bolstering, but larger passengers will feel like they’re sitting on top of the bolsters rather than snuggled between them.
Once you’re on the road, you start noticing the differences between the old and refreshed car. We drove an MX-5 RF GT-S on the first day of the event and immediately noticed that the clutch and shifter are smoother than before. The throws are short, accurate, and satisfying, making the Miata an excellent car for drivers new to manual transmissions. The 2.0-liter I-4 delivers its power in a linear fashion. You don’t notice the extra power until higher up in the rev range, but the torque—despite its very modest gains—is more usable since it now arrives at 4,000 rpm, 600 rpm lower than in the 2016–2018 model. Like the old car, the 2019 Miata has plenty of midrange punch, so passing and climbing up grades isn’t an issue. Mazda vehicle dynamics manager Dave Coleman explained that the goal was to make the engine more responsive and improve drivability. What you get is more power at higher revs without sacrificing low- and midrange torque. The car is now happier to rev freely, and you’re no longer forced to upshift thanks to the higher redline. Finally, the ND Miata got the engine it’s been begging for the last three years.
The extra power and higher redline makes the 2019 Miata feel more energetic when combined with the car’s superb suspension and chassis tuning. The GT-S trim we drove on the first day offered an excellent balance of comfort and agility. Since the GT-S model adds the Club trim’s suspension, it has sharper handling than the Sport or Grand Touring trims while maintaining a supple ride. The chassis communicates with you and gives you confidence to string corners at high speeds. Like the 2016–2018 model, the 2019 Miata has plenty of body roll, but it’s not abrupt. The car eases left and right during cornering instead of suddenly sitting on its bump stops like the 2016 model did. Coleman also told us that the rear suspension tuning on the Miata RF was incorporated into the soft top, which also helped mitigate abrupt body motions. Steering, as with all Miatas, is telepathic: It goes exactly where you point it. However, since it’s an electrically assisted unit, there’s not as much feedback as we’d like.
On day two, we drove a Miata Club-grade soft top with the BBS/Brembo/Recaro package. We immediately noticed that this model was just as sharp as the GT-S variant we drove the day before. Although we found the Club’s ride to be jittery, especially on the highway, Coleman says the suspension on the Club and GT-S are exactly the same—consider test-driving both to see if you notice a difference. Regardless of the suspension tune, the Miata is comfortable enough to be a viable daily driver. There’s still enough compliance that the car won’t destroy your back when you hit a pothole.
The addition of a tilt and telescoping steering wheel makes it easier to find a comfortable driving position. Additionally, taller people will fit better and won’t need to push the driver’s seat too far forward in order to reach the wheel. Otherwise, the rest of the interior is the same as it was when the current-generation Miata debuted for the 2016 model year. Climate controls are straightforward to operate, but MazdaConnect could use an update to keep up with the competition. Its graphics are starting to look dated, and it lacks Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, both of which are available on the 2018 Mazda6 and 2019 CX-9.
Now for the elephant in the room: pricing. As of this writing, Mazda has only released pricing for the Miata RF, which starts at $33,240 including destination for the base Club trim. The Grand Touring trim checks in at $34,230. The BBS/Brembo package is an extra $3,770, and the BBS/Brembo/Recaro package is even pricier at $4,670. With the latter, a Miata RF Club checks in at $37,910. Expect the soft top to check in around $2,500 less than the equivalent RF model. A base Sport grade will be offered only on the soft top.
With the pricing of the most expensive 2019 Miata RF variant in mind, I asked my colleagues if they’d choose the Miata RF with its $38,000 price tag. Their consensus was that there are many legitimate alternatives in that price range. Two would rather pick up a Honda Civic Type R, another preferred the Volkswagen Golf GTI, and others preferred the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro 1LE, and Volkswagen Golf R. Additionally, the newcomer Hyundai Veloster N will likely undercut some rivals while offering solid performance. For a Miata addict, there’s no substitute, but for those willing to look at other vehicles in that price range, there’s a wide spectrum of options.
If I were to buy another Miata, it would be the GT-S trim regardless of whether it’s a soft top or the RF with its slick targa-style folding hardtop. It’s the best buy in the lineup, giving you the sharper handling of the Club without hurting ride comfort. Since it’s essentially a Grand Touring model, you also get more creature comforts and active safety tech like automatic emergency braking standard. For me, I wouldn’t get a BBS/Brembo or BBS/Brembo/Recaro package like the one I had on my 2016 model. Instead, I’d suggest saving the extra cash or investing in aftermarket mods for track work.
There’s plenty to like about the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata. All of the changes amount to a superb roadster that’s even more fun to drive and easier to live with. From the perspective of someone who owned a 2016 model, the 2019 is worth considering. The updates are big enough to make it a superior car that’s more refined yet retains the Miata’s legendary playfulness. Die-hard Miata enthusiasts will be more than satisfied with the 2019 model. However, for those more open to the idea of owning other performance vehicles, the Miata’s asking price may be too steep, especially the RF. There’s nothing else like the Miata, and if you must have rear-wheel drive but want linear power delivery, engaging handling, great fuel economy, and a sticker price under $40,000, it remains the answer.
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