The rain is beating fervently against the windshield and I’ve tossed the top up again and raised the windows to stay dry. The wipers beat back and forth, throwing sheets of water off the windscreen. I slow as the standing water on the road gets deep enough to challenge the tires steady traction. I’ve been driving the 2019 Mazda Miata all afternoon, pushing it up one of my favorite roads that hugs the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan, rising and falling over the hills and dunes, winding back and forth through the orchard valleys and fading seasonal resort towns, following the ribbon of asphalt to a Zen-like state. And I’ve been having a fantastic drive.
Now in it’s 4th generation, the MX-5 Miata has been blessed with a revised engine for 2019. It makes an additional 25 hp over the 2018 model and it makes an incredible difference. Saying that the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata is the best MX-5 ever doesn’t do it justice. The car is a masterpiece.
There doesn’t appear to be any exterior changes. It’s still the same small car it’s always been. The new design has been around since 2016, and whether you like it or not, it’s got a little more attitude than prior models. It looks a little more aggressive, a little more confident. Our car arrived in Arctic White with the black 17” BBS wheels and bright red Brembo brake calipers that come with the BBS-Brembo-Recaro package that adds nearly $5,000 of brand name performance items to the car. It’s a nice looking car, in my opinion. Most people I spoke with liked the newer, more aggressive design of the ND.
Inside is a surprisingly comfortable interior. The Recaro seats are the central visual draws. Heavily bolstered and grippy, they hold you in place nicely during sporting maneuvers. The seats are a little narrow for my wide butt (I’m 6’1″ and 235lbs) but if I removed my wallet, I was able to make myself comfortable. The seats are heated on the Club and Grand Touring models, which is an extremely welcome feature and makes top-down driving on cool evenings much more enjoyable. The tops of the doors mimic the exterior bodywork, giving the impression that the windshield was set atop a barchetta-like platform and a nice interior was dropped into the shell. It’s a design attribute that people really liked. It’s still a bit, uh, intimate inside but if you’re used to Miata interiors, you’ll be comfortable.
The gauges are real gauges, not digital, and they’re all easy to see and read, completely unobstructed by the steering wheel, which shows Mazda is sweating the details. The steering wheel is thin but leather wrapped and grippy. Radio and cruise controls are on the steering wheel. HVAC controls consist of three knobs in the center stack. Radio and Sat-nav controls are found in the touch screen on the dash. Surprisingly the touch screen is perfectly visible in the sun with the top down. There are a lot of little things to like too. There’s a thin layer of cushioning material on the center console for your elbow to rest upon, which was a thoughtful touch. The cup holders are removable and configurable. And there’s finally a rear-view camera for help when reversing too. There’s been a lot of thought put into this small interior.
Out back, the trunk is surprisingly large. The opening is small but the storage area is both deep and wide. For giggles I bet my wife she couldn’t fit in the trunk and she proved me wrong. She not only fit, but there was plenty of space left for a modest cooler and a beach bag.
The motor, a naturally-aspirated direct-injected all-aluminum 2.0L four-cylinder, is improved this year. GREATLY improved. Horsepower has jumped from 155 to 181 hp and torque has slightly risen from 148 to 151 lb-ft. MX-5 Miata engines have never been bad – they’ve always gotten the job done for little investment – but they’ve never been inspiring. All that has changed. The new, upgraded motor is a game-changer. Not only does it feel much stronger than last year, it revs extremely eagerly and it now revs 1,000 rpm higher to 7500 rpm. Most strikingly, it’s still revving strongly when it hits the cutout. It’s a *perfect* match for the car and *completely* transforms it. The sound is strong and playfully aggressive. There’s never any drone – just a sound that encourages you to push the throttle further.
The engine is hooked up to what might be the sweetest manual 6-speed transmission ever built. The gears are evenly spaced and well-suited for the engine and chassis. The gear shifter is an absolute delight. I’ve never experienced a shifter that is so smooth and buttery while maintaining the direct mechanical linkage that the MX-5 Miata is so famous for.
The steering, which is electrically-assisted, is well balanced and direct and intuitive. Turning into a curve happens just as you intend, without any surprises or mis-steps. You almost think yourself through the corner, rather than steer yourself through it.
The chassis on the Club model is standard Miata sport suspension. It consists of stiffer springs, firmer Bilstein shocks, thicker stabilizer bars, and a limited-slip differential. The front uses coilovers and unequal-length A-arms and the rear utilizes coilovers and a multi-link arrangement. Much firmer than any MX-5 sport factory suspension I’ve experienced, it still allows quite a bit of lean in corners but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
There’s a lot of travel available in the suspension and when you push the chassis you can feel it doing amazing things beneath you as you glide through corners. The car always feels sure-footed. The chassis is so communicative that while driving quickly in the rain, you can feel exactly what the tires are doing beneath you. Using just the feedback through the steering wheel and your butt in the seat, you can ride the knifes-edge between slip and grip. It’s amazing. Turn the traction/stability control off and you can slide the back end around corners with little effort and great drama. It’s a very neutral and balanced and forgiving chassis; a great platform to learn on and take advantage of.
The brakes also provide excellent feedback. There’s no sponginess or grabbiness in the pedal. There’s just good solid feeling and measured response. Again, you get a very intuitive braking experience; very communicative. And once you get a feel for it, you can brake like a pro in no time. I don’t know if the Brembo calipers in the BBS-Brembo-Recaro package are much better than the standard Mazda ones – the Mazda ones were never bad, by any means – but I thought these were great. You’re never caught out in a braking situation, no matter how sudden. And they look great too. More than one person commented on the Brembos.
The MX-5 Miata has always been a great car, no matter what year, what generation, what options. There’s a reason Mazda has sold well over a million of them and they’ve been on every “Best” list since their initial introduction, which is amazing since it’s always used a mildly massaged economy car engine. The engine has always been “good enough” while the mechanically direct transmission, the amazing suspension, strong brakes, and direct steering, have always worked together in an almost mystical way to provide one the most engaging and pure driving experiences you’ve ever had.
Having the top down and the wind in your hair just pushes the experience over the top. Now, with this new engine, the experience is ten times better. Now, the car pulls harder, revs faster and higher, sounds better, and just encourages you to wind the motor out every opportunity you get. It’s the icing on the cake. Suddenly the idea of buying a used MX-5 Miata, as good as they are, is the lesser option. The new engine makes this such a superior machine that even buying an early ND will leave you disappointed. It’s that much better.
In our time with the 2019 MX-5 Miata, with out right foot solidly pushed into the carpeting, we averaged between 28-31 mpg, which impressed us greatly. Apparently there’s quite a bit of economy in this new engine as well, though you’d swear it was a race engine.
The Club-level Miata comes in at $29,590. With the BBS-Brembo-Recaro package, our example stickered at $35,405. So worth it though. It’s actually a steal for what you’re getting. In fact, the only other car I’ve driven that is this pure of a driving experience is the Alfa Romeo 4C, which is more than twice the price.
If you’re a MX-5 Miata fan, this is the version you’ve been waiting for. If you love driving in it’s purest expression and form, this car is for you. If you love the idea of top-down driving, this is the car for you. Well done, Mazda. This Miata is even more incredible and we love it.