Our unofficial Auto123 Convertible Week continues with a look at the 2019 Mazda MX-5, an irresistible driver's car that doesn't need a ton of extra bells and whistles.
Still to come this week, our review of the 2020 BMW Z4 M40i
The automotive universe is currently in such flux that it’s easy to lose one’s bearings. Models that have been with us for decades are disappearing, making way for new vehicles that are often completely different in style and in substance.
For instance, how often we hear that the onslaught of SUVs means that cars are dying…
Fortunately, there are those beloved mainstays that stay by our side. I’m thinking of the Porsche 911, the Ford Mustang, the Chevrolet Corvette, etc., not to mention pickup trucks, those vehicles that really are utility models and that many people just couldn’t do without.
And what do these products have in common? Emotion. Well maybe for pickups, we’re talking about practicality as much as anything. But when it comes to cars, we’re talking about sporty vehicles that are designed to deliver exhilaration, to speak to the heart.
To which you might reply, there are also cars like the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic, decades old each. And that’s true. There’s room, still, for practicality in the automotive domain, for cars that speak to reason.
When it comes to the Mazda MX-5, though, it’s clear what it speaks to. This affair of the heart is already 30 years old. And for 2019, fans are finally getting what they’ve been clamouring for since seemingly forever with this model: more power.
More bark, more bite
Until last year, the MX-5’s 2.0L 4-cylinder engine offered 155 hp. A few ingenious mechanical adjustments have brought this total up to 181 hp. Torque, meanwhile, has edged up by 3 to 151 lb-ft. To get the maximum output from the engine now requires pushing the RPMs slightly higher, to 7,000 RPM instead of 6,000. Peak torque, meanwhile, is available sooner, at 4,000 RPM instead of 4,600.
These gains naturally give the car a faster 0-100 km/h time, though the difference is negligible. The difference is far more noticeable when it comes to passing. The outgoing MX-5 was actually pretty anemic, but it’s much more vigorous now.
Pleasure on the menu
The numbers are not what matter, in other words. You don’t drive a Mazda MX-5 with a stopwatch in hand. Rather, when at the wheel what you want are sensations, and since here they’re served up pretty much continually, it makes for a lot of perma-smiles.
Yes, driving this thing is that much fun.
More particularly, for the driving fan, the MX-5 offers a lot: perfect 50-50 weight balance, a 6-speed gearbox that’s a joy to use, super-effective brakes that deliver a lot of bite, and steering that makes you one with the road.
A street-legal go-kart, is what the Mazda MX-5 is.
By unanimous agreement, the MX-5 is a fun-to-drive little roadster. But of course it isn’t perfect, no car is. And those imperfections aren’t found in its mechanics or in its on-road behaviour. Rather, if there are nits to be picked, they concern what’s inside the car.
We won’t bother complaining about the lack of space. When you opt for a go-kart, you lose the right to moan about the lack of elbow room inside. No, the nits we want to pick are elsewhere.
Take the multimedia system that serves the MX-5, which is long past its best-by date. Navigating through its menus takes a number of steps before you get where you want to go. What’s more, when shifting gears too often you catch on the system because of its terrible position. As for the single cup-holder, located on the passenger side, it is terribly placed for anyone sitting over there, a total nuisance in fact.
At the wheel, some of the commands can be confusing. The switch for changing the driving data displayed on the dashboard is the same one used for changing the radio stations or tracks on the audio system. Push on the centre for the onboard computer, up and down for the stations/tracks. Predictably this leads to regularly doing the opposite of what you want to do.
Fortunately, there are brighter spots inside the 2019 MX-5. Everything is close enough at hand that you never have to pull your back off the seat. Speaking of which, our tester with the GS-P sport package had fantastic Recaro bucket seats, possibly the best in the business.
I also have a wish, and that is that Mazda promises it won’t ever change the design of the removable roof. It can be lowered or raised with one hand, and in under five seconds. Sometimes the simplest solution is the best…
The product offering
Mazda’s not exactly giving its 2019 MX-5 away, but the roadster is still relatively affordable in its base configuration. What’s really attractive in the case of this car is that its resale value is excellent. Worth keeping in mind for your “investment”.
So what is “relatively affordable”? The base model GS gets a starting price of $32,900. The GS-P package brings that to $36,900. With the Sport package, our tester came with a price tag of $41,300. This is the highest-price soft-top MX-5 version. That Sport package, by the way, adds Brembo brakes, 17-inch BBS wheels, red brake calipers and those Recaro seats.
As a buyer, it behooves you to evaluate your precise needs. In the MX-5, remember, the joy you experience lies in the drive itself, not in the bells and whistlers. A full list of options is as useful in this car as winter tires. Pick your battles.
The MX-5 delivers that joy in spades. Its drive is the cure for what ails, nothing less. Still, don’t even try to make this your everyday car. Comfort level is not so great, and the sound insulation is virtually non-existent with the roof up. Then there’s the absence of any real cargo or storage space, etc., etc.
The MX-5 is strictly a second car. For the cold season, you might already have an SUV or bigger sedan. If you’re on a tighter budget, you can also pick up on an older car to get you through winter until you can pull out your MX-5 in the spring.
To find a competing model that can be used year-round, you have to leave this particular niche and consider cars like the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Mini Cooper or Audi A5 convertible, for example.
Constant pleasure at the wheel
Finally, power that's up to snuff
Manual gearbox that's pretty near perfection
We like less
Outdated multimedia system
Limited storage space
Not the most comfortable on longer road trips
Fiat 124 Spider