LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – Every single writer and editor at our office will agree that the Miata is at the top of our hypothetical wish list of cars we must own in our lifetimes. Common questions asked when in the market for a practical but fun daily revolve around practicality, cold weather stability, and of course, whether or not the power number is sufficient. Over the course of a week in California, we had the opportunity to test out the 2019 Mazda MX-5 RF Club in a variety of conditions. The canyons tell stories, and the Miata is the right dance partner for a great story.
Halfway through 2018, the MX-5 (now informally called the “ND2”) received a welcomed engine update to its SKYACTIV-G engine, bringing engine output to 181 horsepower at 7,000RPM (up from 151 previously), and 151 lb-ft. of torque at 4,000RPM. The last MX-5 was perfectly adequate, but definitely could have benefitted from this power bump. This bump is good for a 0-100km/h time in well under six seconds, but this isn’t the area where the MX-5 excels. The 2.0L pulls all the way through to a newly raised redline, almost replicating the confidence of a rotary.
A six-speed automatic is available and we have tested it briefly, but this is the one car where the six-speed manual is a gearbox that is harmonious with the engine. The short-throw shifter feels absolutely natural and has an undeniably excellent connection to the nicely weighted clutch. This transmission complements the MX-5’s light-footed personality well and is a dream to row through the gears even in traffic. Pedal placement is also perfect for heel-toe maneuvers throughout our canyon carving adventures.
The RF Club model tested here (US only – Canadians get it as the Sport Package) includes a sport-tuned suspension that keeps the car even more planted. This suspension setup includes Bilstein shock absorbers that make for excellent ride quality, though it’s definitely on the firmer side. Your backside will notice on poor quality pavement; that’s for sure. The electrically assisted power steering responds well and it’s extremely easy to induce oversteer on demand. The MX-5 is manageable in all sorts of conditions, but a part of me still misses the hydraulic steering of previous MX-5s, which really would have made this a perfect car all around.
Performance goodies on the Club include BBS wheels, Brembo brakes, and Recaro seats. The seats are far more supportive than the base seats in the MX-5, and were even comfortable for one of our editors who is north of six-feet in height. It’s worth noting that he claimed to not be as comfortable in the Fiat 124 Spider (reviewed here). Also, like in other MX-5 models, passenger legroom is significantly worse due to a huge hump taking up some valuable real estate.
After a week’s worth of rush hour commuting and canyon carving, we averaged a very impressive 7.1L/100km in the MX-5. We saw numbers as low as 5.6L/100km in conservative highway driving, and the MX-5’s light weight combined with the SKYACTIV-G powertrain means it remains extremely efficient regardless of the situation. Buyers should know that the MX-5 in any trim level and with either transmission requires premium 91-octane fuel.
The interior of the MX-5 is just as simplistic as the original Miata that won over roadster enthusiasts in 1989. A seven-inch touchscreen with the HMI Commander is the center point of the cabin, and 2019 models are now available with an update that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The touch functionality of the screen is disabled when in motion, but the rotary dial is quite easy to use. Our test vehicle was not equipped with the smartphone compatibility, but we have sampled other Mazda products that include it and it works just fine.
The Bose nine-speaker audio system is a treat, and this is a must-have for those who want to do any open air driving. It’s capable of crystal clear audio and even has headrest speakers that amplify this. A difference that may be hard to notice at first is the reverse camera, a first for the MX-5. It’s now integrated into the bumper and definitely helps when parking the MX-5 with the retractable roof in place.
A huge question mark is whether to go for the conventional soft-top MX-5 or the Retractable Fastback (RF) model tested here. While the RF is absolutely stunning (especially in Soul Red Crystal Metallic as pictured), the soft-top is the way we’d go. It is also available in this trim level with the performance goodies and is a bit cheaper. The RF’s styling means the blind spots are significant with the top up, and the wind buffeting is considerable. Plus, the soft-top is manually operated, takes about three seconds, and doesn’t have the complicated motor that could go wrong down the road.
Because the 2019 Mazda MX-5 RF Club was a finalist for DoubleClutch.ca Car of the Year at the time of testing, our main focus with it was to test it against its co-finalists in the canyons around Los Angeles. The MX-5 really is one of those cars where “driving matters”, and there are so many ways in which it really talks to you. While its goal isn’t to be a drag-strip monster, it’s great at keeping your blood flowing. The confidence the MX-5 delivers in the corners just can’t be matched, and the well-deserved update for this year makes it just about perfect.