Mazda MX-5 2019 road test review

Moving Well | Author: Ernest Litera | Photos: Thomas Wielecki | Posted on 06 February 2019

RACV tests the 2019 update of the MX-5 roadster.

  • Thumbs up

    Race-car ergonomics and nimble dynamics expertly engineered for driving enjoyment.

  • Thumbs down

    Low-slung, pared back and a little claustrophobic, it’s not easy to live with every day.

  • Perfect for

    Weekend getaways with your partner, carrying just a well-stocked picnic basket and an overnight bag.

  • Verdict

    The MX-5 continues to stun with driver-focused mechanical precision and handling poise.

White 2019 Mazda MX-5

 

When Mazda launched the fourth generation of its iconic two-seater sports car, the MX-5, in late 2015, it returned to the fundamental thinking that made the original such an endearing classic.

Together with the ‘SkyActiv’ body architecture, which offered significantly improved occupant crash protection, came an unrelenting focus on saving weight. Power-to-weight ratio is, of course, the key to enhancing overall performance and handling dynamics in a compact sports car. The recent MY19 update further improves the ratio with the 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated petrol engine receiving a multitude of internal refinements, ultimately lifting the red-line to 7500rpm and boosting power from 118 to 135 kilowatts, and torque from 200Nm to 205Nm.

More power, less weight

The soft-top roadster weighs in at a mere 1061 kilograms, while our GT version with its power retractable hardtop is just 1112 kilograms. You might think Mazda could have retained a 12-volt power socket, or a glovebox, but no – in the pursuit of weight reduction two small storage boxes and two flimsy removeable cup-holders are the only non-essentials in its driver-focused cockpit.

Occupants sit so low that the driver could easily touch the tarmac while seated, so access can be tricky. Yet the seating position is comfortable, if wedged in by the substantial centre console that runs at waist level between the two snugly ensconced occupants. In true race-car style, the driver’s legs and arms are stretched in front of their torso. Yet it never feels restrictive, and everything is at the driver’s fingertips. 

Hard top or soft?

Mazda MX-5 parked on beach with boot open

A masterstroke for such an affordable sports car has been the development of a three-piece Retractable Fastback (RF) hard-top, mirroring the exotic profile of a Ferrari. The RF model now accounts for 70 per cent of all MX-5 sales (versus the soft-top). Superbly crafted and beautifully finished, it can be deployed in just 13 seconds without affecting the luggage space. 

New standard features include a rear-view camera and reach-adjustable steering.  

Both the six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmissions have been revised to deliver sharper response and more direct driving feel, with the auto’s electronics managing shift timing on turn-in and torque control at turn-out for greater dynamic precision. 

Manual v auto

Which brings us to the perennial sports-car question: manual or auto? You can performance-shift Mazda’s conventional auto in ‘sport’ mode, by simply tapping the shift lever forward or back like a V8 Supercar driver. Or, click the steering wheel paddles with your fingers as you would in a Le Mans sports car, enabling total focus on the corner without needing to take your hands off the wheel. In developing such a well-tuned and user-friendly auto transmission, Mazda’s engineers mount a convincing argument that a manual needn’t be the default option for an enthusiast driver. 

In isolation, measures such as paring grams from the kerb weight, fine-tuning greater output from an already impressive engine and honing a sharper driveline would count for little. The way Mazda’s engineers have expertly balanced those attributes in a finely tuned chassis is what makes its exceptional performance so accessible, engaging and entertaining. 

Zero to 100kmh in 7.2 seconds and on to 400 metres in 15.2? Almost unheard-of from a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre auto, while the fingertip feel through the steering and the handling precision and control on a twisting mountain road are what the MX-5 RF is all about. 

The verdict

Despite its featherweight credentials, it’s a superbly built machine that never feels fragile. It has the impressive level of body fit and trim finish we’ve come to expect from Mazda, combined with the pure joy of a sports car that can be a classic open roadster one minute, or svelte hard-top coupe the next.  

Close up of Mazda MX-5 rear
Close up of Mazda MX-5 interior dash
Close up of Mazda MX-5 wheel

Mazda MX-5 2019

PRICE

As tested: $48,960 plus $4884 estimated on-road costs.

Range: $41,960 to $48,960.

DRIVETRAIN

Engine capacity: 2.0-litre, 

Maximum power: 135kW@7500rpm. 

Maximum torque: 205Nm@4000rpm. 

Transmission/drive: Six-speed auto, RWD. 

Tyres: 205/45 R17 tyres, no spare wheel, inflator kit only.

FUEL

95-RON, 45-litre tank. 7.1 litres/100km (RACV test), 7.2 litres/100km (government test).

STANDARD SAFETY

Five-star ANCAP, autonomous emergency braking, driver-attention alert, blind-spot monitoring, rear camera and cross-traffic alert, tyre-pressure monitoring.

STANDARD FEATURES

Satellite navigation, heated seats, adaptive headlights, auto wipers, leather trim, Bose nine-speaker sound system, keyless entry/ start.

WARRANTY/SERVICES

60 months/unlimited kilometres.