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2019 Mazda MX-5 First Drive: The Classic Roadster Changes in a Major Way

by Danny Zepeda | September 9, 2018September 9, 2018 6:30 am PDT

Living in Southern California my entire adulthood, it was not out of the ordinary to spot multiple convertible Mazda Miatas on the road on a random trip to the grocery store. They are very popular here as well as throughout the country because it is a damn fun car to drive.

Up until last month, I only knew that through word of mouth because I’d never driven a Miata before. It’s not that I did not want to—I very much did—but the opportunity never presented itself. That was until Mazda invited me to partake in a road trip event it was hosting to show off the new improvements it made to the 2019 Mazda MX-5.

Of course, I accepted the invitation and made my way down to San Diego to begin the excursion up the Pacific coast to Pismo Beach with a pit stop in Malibu. You couldn’t ask for better scenery. The verdict that resulted from my experience was this: driving the Miata will be one of the best times you’ll spend behind a steering wheel.

Before I get into the minutia about why the Miata is so great, let me backtrack a little. Mazda has stayed with a focused mission statement throughout the lifespan of the Miata: keep the power and frame moderate and as a result, the driving experience will be tons of fun.

That was true for previous iterations of Mazda MX-5, but fans were still clamoring for something with a little more pep in its step. They wanted more horsepower out of the engine to make the driving experience reach a new level, though it wasn’t necessarily needed.

Unbeknownst to them, Mazda agreed and had been working on adding more horsepower to the Miata for a few years now. Casual car fans may not know, but you can’t change the design of a car’s engine on the fly. The process typically takes years to design, develop, manufacture and bring to market. So when there’s a hot idea, like adding more horsepower to the Miata crossing the minds of Mazda engineers, it will take years for it to come into fruition.

Lucky for us, all that hard work is coming to fruition this year with the unveiling of the 2019 MX-5.

More power

The main changes were made under the hood. It’s still the same Skyactiv G 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, though it was completely redesigned to incorporate the extra power. Mazda built a completely brand new engine, increasing the size of throttle body, intake ports and intake valves while adding a shorter multi-path intake manifold. This all makes it possible to get more air out of the exhaust ports enabling more power.

Mazda engineers also paid attention to redesigning the pistons and crankshaft while adding a lightweight dual-mass flywheel. These little things may go unnoticed with most drivers, yet they work behind the scenes to make the Miata driving experience special.

As a result, the new Skyactiv engine pumps out 181 horsepower and 151-pound feet of torque—increased by 26 horsepower and 3-pound feet of torque respectively. Straight up, the numbers aren’t that much more impressive the 155 horsepower and 148-pound-feet of torque last year’s model offered, but it is noticeable once you get behind the wheel of the car.

The take off is more responsive and quick, making it much easier to swallow up stretches of the road on a whim. Again, it’s not like previous models of the Miata couldn’t do this, but it just feels better to be doing it with the extra kick of power.

You can hit 60 miles per hour in 5.8 seconds and it’ll take on a quarter mile in about 14.5 seconds.  

I have to give Mazda credit for measuring its expectations with the new Miata. It would have been too easy for the carmaker to jump into the horsepower wars that have seen cars easily eclipse 400 horsepower for high-end sedans and upwards of 700 horsepower for muscle cars, but in doing so it would have lost the essence of the Miata. Even with the added boost in power, it still retains its DNA of delivering a fast roadster with enough performance on a sprite frame that tops out at 2,381 pounds. It’s still very much the driver-center car fans of the line have come to love.

Driving fun

We took off from San Diego and headed inland to find some twisty roads to see just how well the MX-5 would handle. It drove as advertised.

There are two available transmissions, a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. I drove the automatic, through by far the most popular option is the manual.

Taking up the mountains of Palomar the car sped up the incline with ease, no doubt benefitting from the extra ponies under the hood. What’s more impressive is when you can push the gears to the red line, which now reaches up to 7500 rpm, up from the previous high of 6800 rpm. It lets you fully max out the power output of the car to a new level.

The good times continued as I sped through the near-empty streets of the mountain hugging every twist and turn with just the slightest of force on the steering wheel. At times, it felt almost as if the car was driving itself, that’s how easy it was to navigate.

Coming down on the highway showcased the new MX-5’s start and stop ability. The steep declines were quite sharp, leading to near full-stops, but powering up and down was almost proved to be easy with the new engine handling dutifully.

Other improvements

Beyond the engine, Mazda also made some other big updates to the 2019 MX-5, such as adding a telescoping steering wheel. It may seem like an odd inclusion given that nearly every new car comes standard with the feature, but when it comes to adding unwanted weight, it is a big issue. That’s why engineers had to completely redesign the steering wheel column to including the telescoping feature.

The upper column was changed from a steel to aluminum, as well as tweaking minor details like adding longer welds, reinforcing the plates on the column mount and adding a mid-column.

On the back, MX-5 drivers will now be greeted by a rearview camera for the first time. It’s a welcomed addition in the 2019 model.

Just enough tech

The Miata has never been known for being spacious or luxurious and that continues with the new model. You get just enough, but that’s it. The Grand Touring model we drove came with the soft top that was easily put away with just one lever. This particular model comes standard with leather seats that are heated and Mazda’s array of i-ACTIVSENSE sensors that includes Lane-Departure Warning, Smart City Brake Support and Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.

Greeting the driver is a simplified instrument cluster of three circles. The center circle has an analog tachometer with a small digital speedometer, the right is a full analog speedometer and the left is a high definition digital display that displays information about the car such as range, fuel tank, mileage, and other details.

I don’t know why Mazda didn’t just make the entire instrument cluster digital, adding in the process a hint of tech-luxury, but it did not.

On the center of the dash is a 7-inch center display that runs Mazda Connect, its infotainment system. And though the car is brand new, it still won’t support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto out of the gate, unlike the Mazda 6 and CX-5. I asked Mazda representatives why the Miata did not get support but they had no comment. We’re still not sure when or if support will arrive.

One gripe I did have with the infotainment display was how Mazda incorporated a wonky characteristic of its touch capabilities. It is a touch display, however, when driving, much of the touch functionality is stripped away forcing users to use the physical controls near the shifter. I understand that Mazda wants users to put more focus on the road while driving rather than fidgeting around with the touch display, but it just made the interaction more complicated than it had to be.  

As a first-time driver of the Miata, I came away thoroughly impressed by the 2019 Mazda MX-5. It’s the same, fun car that built such a loyal following. I can see why it has done so. You will never have a boring drive with this car.

The changes Mazda made go a long way in refining an already fantastic experience. For what the car is, a zippy roadster meant to deliver on the thrills, it excels even the tamest of expectations. I did not want to stop driving this car.

The 2019 Mazda MX-5 starts at $33,240 for the base Club model and is available in seven different configurations, be it a soft top or RF. It’s arguably the best roadster you can buy for the money right now, and if you can do it, I’d don’t see why you shouldn’t do it.

When you drive a car, it’s all about how much fun you’re having. With 2019 Mazda MX-5, I never stopped having fun.

Disclaimer: Mazda invited TechnoBuffalo to partake in a three-day drive experience with the 2019 MX-5 along the Pacific coast. Meal and hotel accommodations were provided.


Danny Zepeda

Born and raised in Southern California, Danny grew up on a steady diet Pixar, Star Wars and Steven Spielberg movies. Unbeknownst to him, this was...

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