Since its introduction in 1989, the MX-5 Miata has become one of the most recognizable convertible sports cars. Its nearest direct rival is the Fiat 124 Spider, built from the same platform by Mazda. Now in its fourth generation, the MX-5 continues to attract the sports car purist.
Mazda offers the Miata in a cloth-top convertible and the more expensive RF (Retractable Fastback), essentially a clever power retractable targa-top hardtop. Our test vehicle was the range-topping MX-5 Grand Touring ($30,780); the base Sport ($25,730) and midlevel Club ($29,590) slot below the Grand Touring. The Miata RF is available in Club ($32,345) and Grand Touring ($33,335) models. Options on the test car included snowflake white paint ($200), brown roof package ($200), Grand Touring package ($550), and interior package ($425). The total added up to $33,050 including the $895 delivery fee. Significant standard and optional equipment on the Grand Touring: LED headlights, adaptive front-lighting, Bose audio system, alloy wheels, aluminum pedals, shock tower brace, heated leather seats, 7-in. touchscreen display, rearview camera, navigation system, and torque-sensing limited-slip differential.
An all-aluminum Skyactiv-G 2.0L inline-4 powers all Miatas. Significantly revised for 2019, the dual overhead-can 2.0L is rated at 181-hp @ 7,000 RPM and 151 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 RPM, up a substantial 26-hp and 3 lb.-ft. from the previous version. Engine updates contributing to the higher output include a larger throttle, larger valves, airflow improvements, and increasing the redline from 6,800 to 7,500 RPM. Transmission choices consist of a 6-speed manual or optional automatic on all models. The manual gearbox is a close-ratio unit with a 1.000:1 sixth gear coupled to a 2.866:1 final drive ratio. The 6-speed automatic has overdrive fifth (0.713:1) and sixth (0.582:1) mated to a 3.583:1 final drive ratio for more relaxed (lower engine RPM) cruising. The test vehicle was equipped with the standard 6-speed manual. EPA fuel consumption estimates for the 6-speed manual are 26/34 MPG (city/hwy.). Selecting the automatic transmission raises the highway rating to 35 MPG.
The Miata's front suspension design consists of double wishbones, coil springs, dampers, and stabilizer bar. At the rear is a multi-link layout with coil springs, dampers, and stabilizer bar. Bilstein dampers and limited-slip differential are included with the optional Grand Touring package. Brakes are all-discs (11.0-in. dia. front and rear rotors) with Dynamic Stability Control (DSC). Brembo front brakes and BBS forged wheels are optional on the Club model. The Grand Touring gets dark silver alloy wheels (17" in. dia.) mounted with P205/45R17 Bridgestone summer performance tires. Our test vehicle substituted Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires due to the chilly early spring temperatures. Steering is a rack-and-pinion setup with electric power assist. Curb weight is an exceptionally light 2,339 lbs, a substantial 150 lbs. lighter than the previous generation Miata.
Mazda continued its tradition of designing a compact cockpit for the Miata. Anyone taller than 6 ft. will likely find the interior confining and cramped, especially with the cloth top up. The instrument cluster consists of a central tachometer, flanked by a speedometer to the right and a multi-function display on the opposite side. Coolant temperature and fuel level are shown via digital bar graph gauges on the multi-function display. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has integrated controls for phone, audio, cruise, and the vehicle status. Mounted on the dash is the 7-in. infotainment touchscreen. Climate controls knobs are mounted on the center stack within easy reach. Dual USB ports allow charging and audio input for mobile devices. A 12V power outlet is hidden under the dash in the passenger footwell. A short-throw shifter for the 6-speed manual gearbox is close at hand. Infotainment system control knobs are on the center console next to the driver's seat. Mazda's engineers were unconcerned about cupholders: the driver's cupholder is between the seats, essentially unusable while driving. The passenger cupholder is cantilevered off the center console in the footwell, a more accessible location.
Comfortable and supportive seats are especially important in a sports car. The MX-5 is above average in this regard, but there are a few shortcomings. The standard leather upholstered seats are nicely bolstered, but are only adjustable for reach and seatback rake. A height adjustment for the seat cushion would be appreciated, as some drivers may find their lower thighs positioned above the seat when driving. Also, passengers with wider posteriors will find that they are sitting above the lower seat bolsters, which could be uncomfortable for extended periods. The Grand Touring model includes standard heated seats activated by pushbuttons at the bottom of the center stack. The trunk compartment is small, shallow, and best suited for soft luggage. A rolling carry-on suitcase will fit, but leaves room for little else.
Top down motoring in the MX-5 is quite comfortable up to about 50 mph. Wind noise is tolerable, as the folding mesh wind blocker between the seats effectively cuts turbulence. If the ventilation system is set correctly, warm air rushes over the passengers' legs and shoulders. Cruising with the top retracted in 50-60 deg. F temperatures is no problem. When the weather becomes chilly, the manual convertible top can be erected and latched in less than 10 seconds while seated.
The Skyactiv-G 2.0L is surprisingly buzzy engine, considering its small displacement. At cold idle, vibrations envelope the entire body structure, but subside as the engine warms up. Throttle response is linear up to the 7,500 RPM redline. The Miata's low curb weight contributes to sprightly acceleration; redlining the engine was rarely necessary even in spirited driving. Despite our enthusiasm for the Miata's strong acceleration, this inline-4 does not match the refinement of other similar Japanese powerplants.
A short-throw lever, topped by a leather-wrapped aluminum knob connects to the standard 6-speed manual. This close-ratio gearbox has the perfect ratios for winding two-lane roads; shift gates are closely spaced, but there is just enough "notchiness" to select the correct gear. A moderately heavy, progressive clutch assists with smooth shifts. The short sixth gear causes the 2.0L to spin at around 4,000 RPM at highway speeds above 70 MPH.
The rigid chassis is the greatest contributor to the MX-5's much improved handling. Cowl shake, body shudder over bumps, and squeaks and rattles are impressively suppressed. As enthusiasts of this roadster know, it's not about maximum g-force, but the quick turn-in response and nimble reflexes that set the MX-5 apart from any other competitor. Crank the steering wheel, and the MX-5 obediently follows the intended arc. Understeer in almost nonexistent; while mild power-on oversteer is a distinct possibility in 1st or 2nd gear. Steering feel is superb; the driver seems almost directly connected to the road, although the replacement Blizzaks did contribute to some steering imprecision that we suspect would be eliminated with the standard summer performance tires. Although the short 90.9-in. wheelbase contributes to its razor-sharp handling; freeway hop on some concrete surfaces is an unavoidable consequence. At 70+ MPH, wind, tire and engine noise would cause fatigue on long trips, even with the top raised. As a long-distance cruiser, the cloth-top Miata is out of its element, but Mazda would point to the hardtop Miata RF as the comfort-oriented grand tourer.
Mazda has never wavered in its mission to continually improve its pure sports car. The Miata is unquestionably a niche 2-seater, likely to be a second or third vehicle in an owner's collection. For these customers there is no other car like this Mazda.