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2019 Mazda MX-5: First Drive Review

The 2019 Mazda MX-5 isn’t for everyone, but everyone should drive it. At least once. Then they can discover how much unfettered joy can be derived from being behind its steering wheel, even though there isn’t a great amount of engine power. The MX-5, or MX-5 Miata (the official name is about the only decision regarding this car that Mazda hasn’t quite nailed), doesn’t need power, although this 2019 version gets a bump up from 155 to 181 horsepower.

Instead, its talents lie in more subtle areas, like overall balance, center of gravity and the position of the driver in relation to the axles and the road. Here is a car that communicates, not disconnects.

With the exception of newly designed alloy wheels in 16- and 17-inch sizes, this refreshed 2019 version doesn’t take the usual "styling updates for the sake of it" approach. Improvements are focused on the driver and the driving experience. The following is what happens when brilliant enthusiasts are allowed to build a car.

Power Player

The new MX-5 has greater horsepower and slightly more torque — 151 lb-ft (up from 148 lb-ft). Its 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine shuns the current trend for turbocharging and is all the better for it. For this model year, many components have been revised (for example, new piston design, new valve sizes, better crankshaft balance and better breathing), resulting in an engine that remains sweet-tempered even at low revs, and will accelerate without hesitating. As always, that power goes to the rear wheels.

Parts of the Sum

Other areas of improvement are the shift action of the 6-speed manual transmission (if you’re going to buy an MX-5, seriously consider getting the manual — it’s all part of the romance). Selecting gears is quick and direct, with a short throw.

At last, the steering wheel can also telescope, whereas it only used to be adjustable for reach. A rearview camera is now standard throughout the range. Some driver assistance features have become available, including forward-collision mitigation, blind spot monitoring and traffic sign recognition.

Sum of the Parts

One great aspect of the MX-5 is that it doesn’t have a whole lot of power. That might sound counterintuitive, but giving it significantly more muscle would miss the point. Because its output is relatively modest, it allows the chassis to be finely balanced. It doesn’t have to be set up for safe, predictable understeer to counter any lateral forces that might cause a rear-drive car to spin.

The relatively soft suspension, meanwhile, allows the tail to compress under acceleration, transferring weight onto the outside rear wheel through corners and aiding traction. And, naturally, it also provides a comfortable ride over a range of surfaces. This allows the driver opportunities to take the quiet, less well-used roads that might also be neglected by highway maintenance teams.

The MX-5 is an ideal choice for anyone wishing to experience rear-wheel drive for the first time, yet it can still appeal to experienced enthusiasts.

The Other Sums of Those Parts

The 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata is a 2-seater roadster with a power-folding soft top, or a hard retractable fastback in the RF version. At the time of writing this review, pricing for the 2019 soft top versions had not been announced. For a ballpark estimate, the 2018 MX-5 starts at $26,190 for the soft top in Sport trim with a manual transmission.

The 2019 MX-5 RF is available in the higher two trims of Club and Grand Touring, and starts at $33,240. Add the GT-S package to a manual-transmission RF Grand Touring — for a firmer Bilstein suspension, limited-slip differential and front shock tower strut — and the total is close to $35,000. Somewhat expensive for a car that may be a weekend runabout.

Most people will probably need a little more practicality than the 4.6 cu ft. the trunk offers (big enough for a couple of those cases that fit in an airplane’s overhead locker) or just the one passenger seat. If, however, a buyer’s needs are much simpler, then let this minimalist approach become a source of maximum delight.

For access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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Colin Ryan
Colin Ryan specializes in writing about new cars. But he has also covered trucks, vans, 3-wheelers, even the occasional motorbike. That’s the kind of thing that happens while contributing to the Los Angeles Times, Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, Popular Mechanics, Variety, Mazda and Lexus customer magazines, as well as many enthusiast sites and publications. He was also a staff writer at BBC Top... Read More about Colin Ryan

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