Words: Don Cheng
Photography: Don Cheng
Published: October 6, 2019
For 30 years, the iconic Mazda Miata has delivered a no frills driving experience that has charmed the automotive world. Engineered with a laser focus on driving dynamics, lightweighting, and reliability, the Miata provided what few other roadsters of the day could, and the world’s reception has been immeasurable, becoming the best selling roadster of all time. It’s easy to see why too. The Miata formula tosses complex powertrain options and practicality out the door, and the fourth-generation ND2 doubles down on what made it so good to begin with - simplicity.
Starting with the interior, a reverse camera (finally) comes standard in all 2019 models, which isn’t bad considering it took the company thirty years to bring a telescoping steering wheel to better accommodate short-medium height individuals. If you thought I was going to say tall people, ha! As if a telescoping wheel will be your ticket to cram your extra long limbs into a tiny clown car. Otherwise, the cabin carries over largely unchanged from the outgoing model. Mazda says they’ve optimized the cup holders to be more rigid, probably because engineering a better fitting solution would’ve been impossible. Instead they’ve decided to maximize the hurt when your passenger smashes their knee into it during hard right handers. And with the changes Mazda’s brought to the powertrain, you’ll be sadistically hunting for twisty roads to punish your co-pilot anyways.
Mazda has reworked the internals of the 2.0L SkyActiv-G engine, wringing out every ounce of power it can from the 4-cylinder. Blindly throwing more power into the engine bay isn’t the Miata way however, as changes made had to maintain engine responsiveness. Therefore, lighter connecting rods and lighter piston skirts were utilized. The crankshaft has been rebalanced with eight new counterweights allowing the motor to better adapt to its lighter internals. The exhaust ports have also seen revisions to reduce restrictions. The cumulative effect of these changes allow the 2.0L to spin all the way up to 7,500 rpm, 700 rpm higher than before, with an additional 26 hp and 3 lb-ft of torque to boot.
On the road and under normal driving scenarios, the extra boost in horsepower is all but imperceptible. Punting around town at civilian speeds, the ND2 feels identical to the outgoing ND1. The featherweight clutch facilitates each gear change and the short, slick-shifting six-speed transmission is particularly effervescent. Lay down the hammer however, and the alterations to the ND2’s drivetrain are night and day. The previous 6,800 rpm redline felt like a cop busting party at the stroke of midnight - the magic had started, and you knew it was going to get better, but suddenly you’ve got to shift gears and experience the wind up all over again. Seeing the tach tick well past 7,000 is like partying late into the morning, but not only that, the extra bandwidth gives you plenty of freedom to juice out the 2.0L and enjoy the drive.
As always, the steering and suspension feel spot on with the MX-5, soaking up the bumps without knocking your teeth out, yet providing enough feel to let you know what’s going on at all four corners. The electric steering rack maintains a telepathic connection to the driver, and it does so without feeling artificially heavy for the sake of sportiness. It’s light, playful, and weighted exactly as you would expect for a car of this stature.
Top up, or top down, the targa-top MX-5 RF trim looks the part - sleek and sexy, but driving noise hardly feels different from the soft-top. It’s just as noisy cruising on the highway, and even noisier with the top down. Where the RF stands out is in its ability to insulate from the elements. No matter how you shake it, the soft-top is still a fabric top and won’t come close to the RF’s cabin isolation from temperature extremities. That is probably a feather in the RF’s hat. You will have to ask yourself if that’s worth the $7,000 difference in base MSRP. That said, the MX-5 takes all pretences of practicality and civility and discards it in favour of delivering where it counts: in driving feel and pleasure. The updated ND2 model adds to that with more power, a higher RPM redline, and is unapologetic about offering anything else. The Miata owes us nothing.
Model: 2019 Mazda MX-5 RF GS-P
Paint Type: Machine Grey Metallic
Base Price: $39,900
Price as Tested: $40,200
Length/Width/Height (mm): 3,914 / 1,918 / 1,245
Curb weight (kg): 1,118
Engine: 2.0-litre inline-four
Horsepower: 181 hp @ 7,000 rpm
Torque: 151 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, RWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 9.0 / 7.0