I recently had the chance to spend some time with the brand-new 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata, which is a sports car that everyone loves. What I discovered is that the 2019 MX-5 Miata is the best Miata yet. That’s a bold claim, but I’ll try to explain what I mean.
First off, there’s the driving experience. This one is simple: The Miata is just absolutely amazingly fun to drive. It was amazingly fun to drive when the "NA" model first came out in 1990, and it’s amazingly fun to drive now, 30 years later, with the "ND" version. It’s light, it’s tossable, the steering is direct, there’s no body roll, and you can just fling it around corners. It’s hard to explain how fun the Miata makes everyday driving — in part because the relative lack of power means you can’t really get in all that much trouble. You just stomp on it whenever you want, and you use the entire car, and you laugh the entire time. A right turn on red — an everyday occurrence in all other vehicles — becomes an opportunity for an ear-to-ear smile and a belly laugh in the Miata.
But the lack of power really isn’t all that lacking anymore. The ND Miata now has 181 horsepower, up from 155, and the additional grunt makes a big and noticeable difference. What it does not do, for better or worse, is make the Miata truly fast: It’s "just right," some would say, in the tradition of old-school, two-seat roadsters from brands like Triumph and MG — but it’s not raucously fast. More on this in a minute.
Power aside, though, the new Miata is gorgeous. The "ND" Miata came out a few years ago, and I’ve been doing double-takes ever since, thrilled with the styling of such a relatively inexpensive car that looks like such a massively expensive one. I love the look of the ND Miata, and there’s absolutely no question that it’s the most handsome Miata yet — and it’s surely a big step up over the odd-looking "NC" model that came before it.
It’s also a step up over the NC in terms of curb weight. The ND Miata is actually lighter than the NC, reversing a trend of increasingly heavier Miata models that started decades ago, back when the Miata was first redesigned to become the "NB" model in the late 1990s. The newer version is lighter, with excess "stuff" — like a trunk liner or a stupid plastic engine cover — stripped out and removed. There’s no need for it, so it’s gone.
Nonetheless, I feel that the Miata is a bit slow. I know it’s fun to drive, I know it makes you happy, I know it’s one of the best sports cars ever — but I feel that it’s a bit disingenuous for car journalists to consistently complain about the lack of power in the Subaru BRZ and the Toyota 86, while simultaneously praising the Miata for its "perfect balance." My thought: If the BRZ and the 86 need more power at 200 horses, the Miata needs more at 181 — and it certainly needed more at 155. I love the Miata, but I wish they’d bring back the turbocharged "MazdaSpeed" version they offered for a few years in the early 2000s.
As for the RF model, it’s worth a few notes all on its own. The Miata is offered in two flavors: There’s a "regular" version, with a typical cloth convertible top, and there’s the "RF" version, which I drove, and which features a retractable folding hardtop and fixed roof pillars. I expected to question the need of the RF model — especially since its base price is about $7,000 more than the regular one — but I actually found myself loving it, given two major benefits: One is that there’s a lot less cabin noise with the roof down, so you can actually talk to your passenger while still enjoying the benefits of an open-top convertible. The other is that a folding hardtop transforms the Miata into a year-round car, which is a big deal for people in cold-weather climates. I recommend it if either of those two items are important to you.
I’m also happy to recommend the Miata if technology is important to you, because the latest version now has a lot of it — there’s a blind spot monitor, a standard backup camera, traffic-sign recognition, a good, usable infotainment system and more. The Miata still boasts the amazing, fun-to-drive, exciting, thrilling characteristics it always has — but now it’s better-looking and better-equipped than ever before. And that’s why the 2019 MX-5 Miata is the best version yet of this iconic car.
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