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Powerful and Responsive: This Mazda is a Winner

Executive wheels: If you need a mid-life boost – and can afford it – you’ll never get older driving the Miata MX-5.


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2019 MAZDA MX-5 RF (MX-5 MIATA GRAND TOURING RF)

I remember clearly when the MX-5, or the Miata roadster, as it was then known, came on the scene in 1989. And in the ensuing years it has become the hottest selling 2-seat roadster of all time, passing the 1 million production mark in 2016. All of us in the automotive press back then in 1989-90 couldn’t wait to get our hands on the car, and for the most part the reviews, mine included, were glowing.

What I don‘t remember was the car being called the MX-5. It was simply the Mazda Miata. It is now in its 4th generation of production. Sales of the car kind of waned between 2005 and 2010, and then Mazda made a new push to revive the brand and started calling it the MX-5. Only recently, in the last four years or so, have they brought back the name “Miata” in any big way. The sticker provided with this car reads: Mazda MX-5 RF, and then as a subtitle they call it “MX-5 Miata Grand Touring RF.”

Confusing? Yes. But MX-5 or Miata, this car is a winner. I haven’t driven a Miata or MX-5 for review purposes in quite a while, and I was pleasantly surprised when the car showed up. You see a few MX-5s on the street from time to time, mostly older models, and it doesn’t seem that the car has changed its look since the beginning.

The Miata over the years has been this roundish roadster, and some came with a rag-top convertible. About the only changes over time were the headlights and taillights; other than that a 2008 model was nearly indistinguishable from a 1992.

But this new 2019 model – the third year of the 4th generation – has been given a more aggressive design, one that gives it more of the look of an old Triumph TR6, a classic. The best feature of this new one is the retractable hardtop convertible. The RF in the name of this model refers to “retractable” and “fastback,” and Mazda has done something here that I would have thought impossible: the car is very nice looking, desirable even, with the top up or down. I can’t think of another convertible that can boast the same.

As a 2-seat roadster this is a specialty car, in that not too many people can afford to have one as their only car, and not too many people can afford to have a second “toy” car. It’s a rear-drive vehicle, and small of course, with little clearance, so it isn’t necessarily a good car for winter driving. But for those who can afford it, what a thrill.

The first few things I wrote in my notes were: “fun to drive,” “hugs the road,” “lots of power,” and, “easy, responsive shifting.” I haven’t had this much fun driving a car since my MG B nearly 50 years ago.  

The main reason is the guts. The old Miata was fun to drive, but I wouldn’t have called it powerful. This one is powerful and responsive. The aluminum engine is a 2.0-liter four putting out some 181 horsepower, and they beefed up the torque for the roar. The gear shifting and clutch are both very easy to use, but driver-responsive, and coupled with the engine it’s just fun to shift, downshift, punch it and just drive. Once on the highway I passed a guy in the more sober, older Miata and he gave me a plaintive “thumbs up” as I whizzed by.

The MX-5 has the perfect center of gravity, so it seems as if the cars is responding to brain waves as you drive it – on city street, on the highway or especially on curvy mountain roads (I just had to).

And, of course, this car is very small, and the already small trunk is compromised by making room for the retractable roof, so there is very little storage for anything. But who cares? This is about driving.

It also has the standard Mazda screen that gives you access to the radio, apps, climate and the like – and, the volume knob on the console, which once you get used to it, it is fine. The seating and the leather wrapped steering wheel and gear shift are very nice – everything is very easy to operate and not distracting (the better for a drive). Of course, it’s got all of the hi-tech gadgets and hookups, and it has adaptive headlights that turn 15 degrees around corners as you corner at night – a nice touch.

The base price on this model is $33,335. They added on the GT-S package for $760, which included a limited-slip differential, front shock tower brace, a sport-tuned suspension, Bilstein shock absorbers and a black roof (marching the body). For $425 they add the Interior package of alloy pedals, stainless door sill trim plates and a red engine oil car with the MX-5 logo. The look is very cool. Adding in destination charges, the bottom line is $35,405.

You can get the base model MX-5 Miata starting at around $25,000, and I realize I drove the top-of-the-line, but all of this pricing seems a little aggressive on this car. But then, what is a great deal of fun worth? If you need a mid-life boost – and can afford it – you’ll never get older driving the Miata MX-5.

RATING: THREE AND THREE-QUARTER WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR).      

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Jeff Rundles

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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