When an automotive nameplate makes it to the 20 year mark and still has a die-hard fan following, you know it is something special. With almost no competition in its segment and such a unique form factor and value proposition, the 2019 Mazda MX-5 RF is a wonderful place to find yourself in the waning days of warm weather. Taking a fresh-air drive to see the leaves changing, we bid a sad farewell to open-top driving season in one of our favourite sports cars.
The current fourth generation MX-5, no longer officially bearing the “Miata” name, comes in two variants, a soft top convertible and the Retractable Fastback (RF) tested here. This is a different type of hard roof than the previous generation PRHT model offered. Both available roof styles provide the driver with an open air feel within seconds, something that’s absolutely necessary in a two seater roadster. Dropping the top lets you take full advantage of sunny summer days, roaming the back country roads and just enjoying the drive, something the MX-5 is very good at.
There are a few reasons why one would opt for the RF over the traditional soft top. The first is body stiffness; the roof, when not in the retracted position, forms a solid connection between the windshield and the rear half of the car, keeping vibration down and body stiffness up. The second reason is noise and temperature; on days when you don’t want the roof down, the RF creates a much quieter and more insulated cabin, similar but not quite like a coupe. Lastly, the RF adds gorgeous body lines to the nicely sculpted MX-5, giving it incredible road presence for such a small package.
There are some serious downsides to the RF option however, which is why it is not the only way you can buy an MX-5. The solid roof adds approximately 53 kilograms (116 pounds) to the total curb weight, not ideal for fuel economy or those wanting to go to the track. The roof never really gets out of the way, meaning rearward and especially blind spot visibility remains abysmal. With the roof open, the rear portion of the RF creates a big wind barrier, so wind noise on the highway is significantly worse than with the soft top.
Underneath all that roof, or lack thereof, sits a compact, minimalistic cabin for two passengers and not all that much storage. MX-5s are no winners in the storage category to begin with, lacking door pockets and a glove box, and sporting a tiny trunk. RF models have even less storage room in the small cubbies behind the seats, since the roof takes up more room. To save space, stereo speakers are cleverly placed in the headrest of the seats, which is especially fantastic for phone calls.
Infotainment services are provided via a seven-inch touchscreen powered by Mazda Connect, and additional controls using knobs and buttons placed rearward of the shifter. The same system is found in other Mazda vehicles; navigating through the system is pretty intuitive, although the placement of the knob means we occasionally whacked the screen into a menu while holding the shifter between gears. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is not automatically equipped on 2019 vehicles, but a dealer installed upgrade option is available for a fee to add the functionality.
Available in two trim levels with the hard roof, the lower one being the GS-P trim, the MX-5 RF comes with a starting price of $39,900. The only package available for the GS-P is the Sport Package, not equipped on our test vehicle. Some paint colours do come with an up-charge, so at $300 for the Machine Grey Metallic, our MX-5 Miata comes in at an as-tested sticker of $40,200.
Don’t be mistaken into thinking that the lower trim means this MX-5 isn’t well equipped. A nine-speaker Bose sound system, LED lights, an array of safety and collision systems and keyless entry are just a few of the features that come standard. The comfortable cloth seats with red stitching are standard fare, but for no charge if you like to be hugged more, you can opt for the Nappa Leather and Alcantara Recaro seats. For spirited driving, all manual transmission RF models come equipped with a sport tuned suspension.
Unlike its co-developed platform mate, the Fiat 124 (reviewed here) the engine under the hood is all Mazda. A SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four cylinder engine is the new kid on the block for 2019, out-revving and out performing the old 2.0-liter on all accounts thanks to new internal parts and a higher rev limit. With 181 horsepower at 7,000RPM and 151 lb-ft. of torque at 4,000RPM the MX-5 never feels slow or underpowered, in any gear.
There is a good amount of performance in this small package, with a well matched six-speed manual transmission ready and waiting to power to the ground. With the manual transmission being somewhat of an afterthought in most cars these days, the MX-5 is a breath of fresh air in this regard. Gearing is perfectly matched to engine power and vehicle weight, and the shifter has great feel to it. There’s no need to think this car is better with an automatic; in fact it might lose most of its charm if this gearbox isn’t equipped.
The fuel economy argument doesn’t really make a strong case for an automatic either. Burning premium fuel and changing your own gears should get you pretty close to the official ratings of 9.0L/100km for city driving, 7.0L/100km highway and a combined cycle rating of 8.1L/100km. These are middle of the pack numbers for a small car, considering what small sedans are capable of these days, but you aren’t buying a Mazda MX-5 to be economical and practical while commuting.
With that kind of fuel economy packed into a road hugging machine, don’t be afraid to rack up the miles and get out to see as much of the countryside as possible. The MX-5 gets Mazda’s incredible Mazda Unlimited warranty coverage. This means there is no mileage limit on the big-ticket warranty categories of bumper-to-bumper, powertrain, or rust perforation, and roadside assistance is included.
There are not many roadsters on the market these days, and no others that offer a hard retractable roof under the $40,000 mark. With the new engine and wonderfully matched transmission in the 2019 Mazda MX-5 RF, the Fiat 124 Spider is effectively the only competition in this price range. Unless your shopping criteria consists entirely of curb appeal, the Fiat doesn’t stand a chance. If you crave affordable open air driving on summer days and don’t need more than one passenger, find your way over to the nearest Mazda dealership.