Mazda's tossable retro ragtop just got a hit of horsepower
It might not sound like a lot, but it is. A 17 percent election victory margin is a historic landslide. If you weighed 200 pounds (91 kg) and lost 17 percent of your weight, you would weigh 166 pounds (75 kg) (talk about getting back in shape).
For 2019, Mazda has given its traditionally peppy-but-not-quick MX-5 Miata 17 percent more horsepower, its engine output jumping from a modest 155 hp to an exuberant 181.
Does that mean Mazda’s tossable ragtop is 17 percent quicker? Not so fast.
Let’s get our testing numbers out of the way: The refined 2019 model races from 0 to 60 in 5.7 seconds; in three separate tests of the 2016 version of the MX-5 Club, we hit 60 in 6.1, 6.0, and 5.8 seconds. Similarly, the 2019 Miata hits the quarter mile in 14.4 seconds at 95.5 mph (153.7 km/h), whereas the 2016 version was only one-tenth slower in two tests and two-tenths slower in the other.
So the 2019 Miata is not light years faster stoplight to stoplight. It’s a tenth here and there (but for you weekend racers, it was 2 full seconds quicker around WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca than the 2016 MX-5 Club). Perhaps more important to everyday driving, the engine feels different. It’s a healthier sensation you get underfoot, in your buttocks, and in your ears as the 2.0-liter naturally aspirated inline-four winds out. Editor-in-chief Ed Loh noted that it doesn’t feel like Mazda gave the Miata 26 more ponies, “but rather that each of the original horsies bulked up a bit.”
In the old MX-5, as you got within 1,500 rpm of redline, you’d feel the power delivery wane and hear the engine get reedy. Not so with the new gen, which has a deeper tone and is content to zing all the way to redline and just hang out. “[In] the original ND, the engine just went south about 5,300 rpm,” staff pro racer Randy Pobst said. “It just was wheezing; it was sipping through a straw. And that’s not sporty. This Miata revs. It’s pulling so well at high revs. It just feels free.”
Added road test editor Chris Walton: “It doesn’t so much add objective performance as it does subjective. Power is solid through the rev range. I found myself shifting far less often—third gear for longer stretches and fourth occasionally for the fast bits.”
What does the seat-cushion stopwatch indicate? Features editor Scott Evans answers that query: “Before, you spent a lot of time at full throttle thinking, ‘Man, I wish it had just a little more.’ Now, you keep it floored and you think, ‘This is the perfect amount of power.’”
Engine upgrades include lighter pistons and connecting rods, as well as reconfigured intake ports and higher-pressure fuel injectors for improved efficiency. The engine’s increased valve opening angle and valve lift height, as well as the increased inner diameter of the exhaust manifold, help reduce exhaust loss.
The Miata has long been known for its snick-snick gearbox and easy clutch. Engaging the clutch remains a tip of the cap as opposed to fully doffing your chapeau. There’s no need to take the pedal all the way to the firewall. Just a little nudge of your toes will do. For 2019, the Miata receives a low-inertia dual-mass flywheel that promises to improve smoothness and responsiveness over the previous single-mass flywheel. Mazda also increased the transmission’s final drive ratio from 3.45 to 3.58. This might be one reason why you can reach 60 mph (barely) before having to perform the 2–3 shift.
Although its curb weight is in line with past Miatas, the 2019 took a foot longer—112 feet at its best—to stop from 60 mph. Walton noted “a firm pedal, a little dive, a little light in the rear, and good fade resistance even with a couple 100–0 stops.” However, around Laguna Seca, the brakes went “bye-bye” on Pobst at the start of his fourth lap. “I was amazed,” he said. “It was pure fade. The pedal was still firm. It just flipping wouldn’t stop. And that surprised the heck out of me.”
Of course, most folks don’t buy an MX-5 for its power; rather, they delight in its handling, which is communicative and direct at up to 80 percent then thrillingly (some might say startlingly) tail-happy at the extreme. It’s the same lovably annoying Miata: flittery, flighty, wiggly, and floppy. In short, its behavior is a reflection of its driver.
“The steering is light and precise, and it feels delightfully light and chuckable,” technical director Frank Markus said. But Markus also noted an “almost disorienting amount of body roll. The big body motion excursions sometimes result in bump-stop compression events that upset the chassis.”
Walton agreed: “Turn-in is crisp, but the rear flop is still there. Hops and compressions are not this car’s friend; steady state is.”
During his Laguna Seca hot laps, Pobst deemed the shocks and springs to be too soft: “It rolls a lot, and it oversteers. And I have fun with that, but it’s better if it’s balanced.” He added this caveat racer for the SCCA crowd: “This Miata wants you to brake pretty straight and then go to power and drive through the corner on the power. And the reason for that is because of the way it’s tuned, with a little bit of oversteer, which is fun in a way and beautiful. But when I’m going really fast, it’s a fight. I’m trying to keep that tail behind me. I’m a trail-braker. My style is to enter the corner with some weight on the nose. This car hates that when you’re at the limit. If you put weight on the nose and get the rear end a little light, you’ve got a lot of oversteer. It would be a difficult car for a normal person to drive fast because they’d have to deal with that oversteer all the time. And most people are not capable of correcting, catching, and controlling a slide.”
Off the racetrack, just driving around, how does it feel? Even taller drivers, such as myself, didn’t feel claustrophobically entombed. Did Mazda somehow find an extra inch of headroom or seat pitch with the top up? No, it just feels that way. I’m 6-foot-1, and I never felt my head come near the ragtop (although my knees were widely splayed, and my tailbone was pinned into the base of the seat back). Similarly, with older Miatas, my sightline was frequently impeded by the top of the windshield frame, and I would have to scrunch down to see out. Not so this time.
As is true with all Miatas, the seats offer ample lateral support without feeling confining. And as is true with all Miatas, it’s loud as hell inside—a run from King City to Monterey on the 101 carried a level of top-up road roar so thundering that the stereo (with cool headrest-mounted speakers) couldn’t drown it out. Even with the top up, you can forget calling home from the road, as all your beloved will hear is wind and tire noise.
In terms of features, the Miata gets a new standard rearview camera (you can stop with the jokes about the old rearview involving flinging back the ragtop). Other safety bits include traffic sign recognition and automatic braking below 19 mph (30 km/h), as well as different levels of the i-Activsense suite, depending on the trim level.
But mostly, we’re nitpicking at the Miata’s faults. This is a retro racer with all mod cons, coming in Club trim at $30,485 USD. (Our tester was $35,255 USD.) Evans summed it up best: “This remains the best sports car for the money in the world, full stop. You cannot have more fun per dollar spent. They nailed it. This is everything I wanted the Miata to be two years ago. The stiffer rear suspension that still moves and leans with you but doesn’t bang down on its bump stops. The freer-revving engine with the sky-high redline. The horsepower-to-weight ratio. All of it is perfect. Don’t change anything.”
|2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata (Club)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$35,255|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door convertible|
|ENGINE||2.0L/181-hp/151-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||2,318 lb (52/48%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||154.1 x 68.3 x 48.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.4 sec @ 95.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||112 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.95 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.2 sec @ 0.73 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||26/34/29 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||130/99 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.67 lb/mile|