Mazda's MX-5 Miata was never in the cards for me. I grew up in Seattle, a state where it rains more than the sun shines, and where you'll find more Subaru Outbacks than sports cars, so owning a two-seat, rear-wheel drive convertible just didn't seem very sensible— especially for a kid in college. At the time, I could only afford one daily driver and needed something with back seats and a trunk, hence the reason I picked up a turbocharged VW Golf hatchback. It wasn't until I moved to Los Angeles and started my job at Super Street that I finally began to appreciate Mazda's iconic roadster.
I learned there are several different categories of Miata fans and owners: the older baby boomer types who see the MX-5 as something they can use to escape the wife and kids for a few hours and go for a spirited drive; the women who love it for its cute size and styling; the die-hard fanatics who've owned at least two or three MX-5s and hit the track every chance they get; and, lastly, the casual Miata enthusiast. If you haven't owned one yet and you're still reading this article, you probably fall into the latter group; it's where I place myself. I've always given props to the hard-core folks I've seen at grassroots drift and time-attack events, and I also find myself checking out every Miata on the road, usually lowered on wheels with a rollbar and bucket seats. They've always been cool cars, but owning one myself was never on the horizon, that is, until I had the opportunity to test out the updated '19 MX-5 last summer...
You can follow my California adventure through the pictures here, but here are some key points you should know about the Miata, first:
• Since going on sale in 1989, the MX-5 is the best-selling two-seat roadster of all time. In fact, in 2016, the millionth Miata was sold!
• Affordability was always an attractive attribute of the Miata. By some magical math formula that calculates inflation, the latest ND MX-5, which starts around $26,500, is less expensive than the one launched in 1989 for $13,800.
• Another key element of the Miata was its light weight. The '19 MX-5 weighs 2,339 pounds. To put that into perspective, the original NA weighed 2,186 pounds, and if you really wanna get weird, the average car in the U.S. weighs 4,000 pounds today!
• Think Miatas are just for teenage girls driving to the mall? During any given weekend, Miatas are one of the most raced vehicles in the world. There's already been more than 170 ND Global MX-5 Cup cars sold as well.
• After 30 years, the recipe has stayed the same: front-engine, rear-wheel drive, convertible while keeping the weight down and the price affordable.
ND Highlights and the 2019 Update
If you're a Miata maniac, then you've probably already read six articles and watched eight videos reviewing the latest MX-5. But if you fall into the "casual Miata enthusiast" category like myself, then I've compiled a CliffNotes version of all the most important info you need to know about the fourth-gen ND and its '19 update:
• The ND uses a 2.0L four-cylinder. When the '16 model launched, it was rated at 155 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. For the '19 model, it's been beefed up by 26 hp and 3 lb-ft of torque to 181 hp and 151 lb-ft. Most of the noticeable power increase is in the midrange, while redline was raised from 6,800 rpm to 7,500 rpm. All this good stuff was accomplished by some old-fashioned tuning methods, such as increased fuel pressure, a larger throttle body, bigger intake ports, shorter intake manifold, larger intake valves, higher lift cams, this list goes on and on...
• Despite gains in performance across the board, the improvements didn't sacrifice fuel economy. The manual-equipped Miata achieves 26/34/29 mpg (city/highway/combined), while the automatic gets 26/35/29 mpg.
• I mentioned an automatic, but it's the six-speed you really care about. The shifter throw is amazingly natural and solid. Mazda also added a lightweight dual-mass flywheel to make the gearbox quieter but also quicken throttle response. About 60 percent of NDs sold are manuals.
• The driver is everything. When I say that, I mean the steering wheel and shifter along with the brake, clutch and gas pedals are at their most ideal position for driving. Everything feels intuitive, from basic heel-toe techniques to downshifting to third gear on the highway.
• Common complaints about the '16- to '18 ND include its weird cupholder locations (behind the center armrest and by the passenger knee), as well as a fixed steering wheel position. For the '19 model, Mazda heard the cries and engineered a telescoping steering wheel that only added .45 pounds to the car. It's the first Miata with a telescoping wheel. Unfortunately, the cupholders remain unchanged, but if you're driving a Miata, you ought to be worried about where you're going—not your drink.
• The ND at launch didn't have a rearview camera, however, Mazda listened again to complaints and added one, so there's no reason anyone should be tapping any bumpers out there.
• There are seven different models of the '19 MX-5...that's right, seven! Meaning there's a model for everyone. My personal favorite is the hard-top RF Club with the optional BBS, Brembo, and Recaro package. Hard tops are quieter and look sleeker in my opinion, and the performance and looks of the nicer wheels, brakes, and seats are a given.
Would I Own One?
My biggest issue is the same one I have with all roadsters: practicality. I can't drive it every day, because I can't fit my suitcase in the trunk, nor a set of golf clubs. It doesn't help that I don't have back seats to have more than one friend join me. But if I already had a daily driver and just needed a fun weekend car, this is definitely on the list. The model I'd want is the RF edition with the fancy Brembo, BBS, and Recaro package; however, that's upward of $38K. For that money, I could hop into a Civic Type R, STI, or 2 Series coupe. A more sensible Sam would pick up a bare-bones Sport model around $26K, then go to town with aftermarket parts to make it my own. Overall, the ND honestly offers a great package. It does drive a lot more refined and balanced than my 86 at home (which now starts at $26K, by the way). Is there a place in my garage for a Miata? It's a tough answer, but if the scenario was right, where I had other voids in my life filled with other project cars and a more practical daily driver, then yes. The MX-5 is a simple car with an identity that hasn't changed for 30 years. Thousands of aspiring drivers have raced the car for years, and with this new-and-improved ND, it's going to make more believers of the driving spirit of the MX-5 Miata—myself included.