Mazda MX-5 Finally Has The Power It Deserves

from Car & Driver by Joseph Capparella

We have cared a lot about the Mazda MX-5 Miata for nearly three decades. So, too, have the thousands of loyal Miata owners who race their cars, modify their cars, and take them to Miata Club meets. But do you know who cares about the Miata even more? Mazda. The little roadster truly is the company’s pride and joy, a North Star doubling as its philosophical center.
Price creep with performance goodies, noisy on the highway.
Thus, it isn’t surprising that Mazda is both steadfast about keeping the Miata true to its original missive and always looking for ways to make it better. The precedent of continuous improvement could be seen in the first three generations of MX-5, each of which received tweaks throughout its life cycle. It’s now time for the current, fourth-generation Miata (ND to the cognoscenti) to get better; for 2019, that means a revised 2.0-liter inline-four Skyactiv engine.

More Oomph for 2019

Previously, the ND Miata was powered by a 2.0-liter inline-four that was little more than a Mazda 3 engine turned longitudinally and stuffed into the MX-5’s small engine bay. Vehicle dynamics engineer Dave Coleman admits that the car was originally designed around the less powerful 1.5-liter four-cylinder that’s available in other markets and that by the time the decision was made to install a bigger engine in the Miata bound for the United States, it was too late to truly fine-tune the 2.0-liter for a sports-car application. Of course, the engine itself was hardly a dud—responsive and eager, it made the current car quicker than any Miata before it in our testing despite its meager 155 horsepower.

Acceleration Numbers Don’t Tell the Whole Story

Mazda even cares enough about the Miata to address small details. The 2019 car now has a telescoping steering wheel, which was engineered to give taller drivers an easier reach to the wheel while adding a minimum of weight. Despite its more complex mechanism, the new function adds only about half a pound to the waifish Miata’s curb weight. A backup camera is also newly standard in accordance with federal regulations. These new features, along with some extra weight in the engine, add up to a claimed weight gain of just seven pounds overall. We measured the 2019 car at 2345 pounds—21 pounds heavier than our long-term Club—with much of that disparity attributable to the extra weight of the Recaro seats that are newly available as part of the pricey Brembo/BBS package that can drive the softtop’s price to a rather dear $35,000-plus (exact pricing is forthcoming), while the 2019 RF can approach $40,000. Expect a bare-bones 2019 Miata softtop to start around $26,500.

From a big-picture perspective, though, the Miata remains a unique proposition: a lightweight, simple sports car that succeeds in placing driving pleasure above all other considerations. It has changed so little over the years that we almost wonder if Mazda is being too faithful to the MX-5 ideal for its own good. And yet, that such a small automaker has taken such painstaking care to maintain the ethos of a car that today presents such a difficult business case is telling. The Miata is hardly for everyone, but everyone should be able to appreciate that it not only still exists but that it keeps getting better.