Car Reviews

2019 Mazda MX-5 Review

Isaac Bober’s 2019 Mazda MX-5 Review with price, specs, performance, ride and handling, ownership, safety, verdict and score.

In a nutshell: Latest update for the MX-5 sees a bump in power for the 2.0L engine and a coming together of active safety, NVH and handling improvements earlier in the year.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Specifications

Price From $34,190+ORC Warranty five years, unlimited kilometres Service Intervals 12 months or 10,000km Safety five star ANCAP Engine 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol, 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol Power 97kW at 7000rpm, 135kW at 7000rpm Torque 152Nm at 4500rpm, 205Nm at 4000rpm Transmission six-speed automatic, six-speed manual Drive rear-wheel drive Dimensions 3915mm long, 1735mm wide, 1225mm high, 2310mm wheelbase Turning Circle 9.4m Boot Space 127 – 130L Weight 1033 – 1057kg Fuel Tank 45L Thirst 6.2 – 7.2L/100km depending on variant

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The Mazda MX-5 and I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye or, rather, the hype surrounding it hasn’t always made a lot of sense to me. Don’t get me wrong, the theory behind the MX-5 is sound and the first two version of the thing were awesome but I reckon it kind of lost its way after that, becoming heavier and softer.

Not everyone will agree, of course, but I felt the same way when the MX-5 RF was launched a little while back. The roof was a work of art but the car still felt sluggish and soft and was a step or two behind the Abarth version. Not anymore.

This is the second update for the MX-5 this year, earlier in the year the update dealt with some styling tweaks, active safety updates and suspension improvements while this one has covered the powertrain. And, giving the game away early, it’s fair to say the MX-5 as it stands now is finally the descendent those early generations deserved.

What’s the price and what’s in the range?

There’s been a price increase across the range of $750 but Mazda argues that every variant now has increased value too, with the Roadster adding $1100 in extra features, the RF an extra $1400 in value and $1100 for the RF GT, not to mention a more powerful 2.0-litre petrol engine, which we’ll come to shortly.

Pricing runs from $34,190+ORC for the 1.5L Roadster, jumps to $41,960+ORC for the 2.0L Roadster GT, $45,960+ORC for the RF GT and $46,960+ORC for the RF GT with Black Roof. This is pricing for vehicles with a manual transmission, an automatic adds a $2k premium to the price.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Review

In terms of key features, the entry-level Roadster, considered by many as the spiritual successor to the original MX-5, gets 16-inch alloys, a cloth soft-top, LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, cloth interior and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with MZD Connect infotainment and native sat-nav, as well as traffic sign recognition (standard across the range), blind-spot monitoring, reversing camera and more.

Step up to the GT, and beyond a 2.0L engine, you get 17-inch alloys, adaptive LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, powered mirrors, Bose hi-fi sound system, keyless entry, leather interior with heated seats and active safety features including forward collision mitigation, smart city brake (reverse) and rear parking sensors.

The 2.0L RF adds a folding hardtop, 17-inch alloys and daytime running lights (compared with the 1.5L Roadster. The GT RF adds heated powered mirrors, driver attention alert, body coloured or black powered hardtop roof, and a choice of several leather interior colours, and more.

The current update dealt with tweaks to both the 1.5L and 2.0L engines and will come to them shortly too. These updates follow the updates to the MX-5 back in March which saw improvements to the NVH and tweaks to the rear suspension and the addition of active safety features across the range. The current change in pricing follows the increase in pricing at the update in March.

Mazda is expecting the bulk of sales to be for the top-spec RF GT (63%) and that, overall, a staggering 95% of cars will be powered by the 2.0L engine. The split is in favour of the manual transmission at 57%.

What’s the interior and practicality like?

Being a two-seater the interior is snug but nicely appointed. Our time at the launch was spent in the top-spec GT RF and so there’s plenty of leather and soft touch materials in the cabin. Our test car had the optional chocolate-coloured Chroma brown nappa leather and it both looks and feels good and is carried over onto the door cards.

Climb into the front seat which is comfortable and offers plenty of adjustment so that drivers of all shapes and sizes can get comfortable behind the wheel. Even with the roof up my six-foot frame didn’t feel cramped or as if I my hair was brushing the roof. The steering wheel offers height adjustment and now finally offers reach adjustment making it even easier to get into a comfortable position behind the wheel.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Review

The dashboard is dominated by the tablet-style infotainment screen with air vents below it, there’s a mix of rectangular and circular vents and the circular vents look great and seem wholly fitting for this type of vehicle. There are analogue dials positioned ahead of the driver and I’m glad Mazda hasn’t gone for a digital display; the analogue dials seem somehow more suited to a chuckable roadster.

Our test car was a manual vehicle and the gear shifter falls easily to hand and while there’s no foot rest for your left foot there’s plenty of room in the foot-well that you won’t get fidgety on longer drives.

Storage inside the cabin is okay. There’s a deep lockable storage bin behind the front seats and there’s enough room in the centre console storage to stash your phone and leave the chord connected to USB outlet at the base of the dashboard, if you’re not keen on connecting your phone via Bluetooth and just want to stream music from your phone. There are small bins in the door and a small glovebox. There’s a small cubby hole at the base of the dashboard and I made the mistake of placing my phone in it; the first time I hit the brakes my phone flew across the car. Not sure what you’d put in here…I tried the keys and they too flew out when I jumped on the brakes. First-world problems.

Nothing has changed inside the MX-5 beyond tweaks to the removable bottle holders. You used to place a water bottle in here before and the thing would rattle around and occasionally even fall out when cornering or under brakes. Not anymore. I stored a 500ml water bottle in the holder and flung the thing around corners and jammed on the brakes from 80km/h and the bottle stayed put. Impressive because they still look flimsy.

Just opening the boot can be a brain teaser… the release is down at the base of the rear bumper; I kept pressing the reversing camera wondering why the boot wouldn’t open. There’s 127 litres of storage in the RF variants and 130 in the soft-top jobbies. This doesn’t sound like a whole lot of room but there’s enough space in there for the weekly shop or a couple of overnight duffle bags.

What are the infotainment and controls like?

As mentioned, all variants get a 7.0-inch infotainment screen running Mazda’s MZD Connect. There’s no Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, although this is coming and Mazda expect to make an announcement as to retro-fitting this functionality by the end of the month (September 2018). There is, however, native sat-nav and this system, as we’ve experienced in other Mazdas, is good.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Review

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the MZD Connect system. I find it can be fiddly to use with its combination of touch and rotary dial controller down on the centre console. On the launch, just about every time I went for a gear change I’d bump the controller causing it to change off whatever screen I was on, like music or sat-nav. And I also struggled connecting my phone a couple of times and streaming music; the connection kept dropping out to the phone causing it to jump back to the radio.

Beyond the infotainment screen and controls issues, the rest of the car’s controls are simple and easy to use. Everything falls easily to hand and even dropping the roof, whether you’ve got the retracting hardtop variant or a soft-top, is a cinch. The hardtop can be opened and closed with the press of a button while the soft-top can be dropped or raised with one hand.

What’s the performance like?

Well, this is where the engineers have earned their coin and what coupled with the suspension tweaks earlier in the year has made the MX-5 the vehicle it’s ancestors hoped its descendent(s) would become.

The biggest changes have been made to the 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine which now makes 135kW at 7000rpm and 205Nm of torque at 4000rpm. This is up from 118kW and 200Nm, respectively. The 1.5L engine was also fiddled with and power is up slightly to 97kW (from 96kW) and 152Nm (from 150Nm); there weren’t any vehicles at the launch with the 1.5L engine.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Review

Key improvements to the 2.0L engine include things like changes to the air flow intake and exhaust systems, piston shape and weight (27 grams lighter), crankshaft and connecting rods (also lighter by 41 grams). All of this adds up to an engine that feels more enthusiastic.

The launch route took in a mixture of suburban roads and twisty back country stuff and the MX-5 in all situations felt alert, if you get what I mean. Touch the throttle at 60km/h, even in sixth gear, and the MX-5 wouldn’t exactly surge ahead but the engine note would harden and the speed would begin to rise, showing the engineers have done a good job of making 205Nm of torque feel and act like more.

We’ll spend more time with the MX-5 shortly and put it across our own roads by my takeaway from my short stint at wheel of the thing is that the improved 2.0L engine has transformed (yep, big call) the thing into something that always feels more urgent and eager than it did before.

What’s the ride and handling like?

This was my first taste of the double updated MX-5, not having made it to the update earlier in the year. And I’m glad I got to sample it this way, meaning the suspension tweaks mated with the improved engine performance allowed me to taste-test the thing as a whole.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Review

My biggest gripe with the MX-5 has always been on turn-in where there was a moment of hesitation as the thing would settle on its springs and then hold its body from there. It would bobble as it rolled over and then settled, something the Abarth engineers managed to dial out of the 124…

And Mazda’s engineers have done it now too. Across poor surfaces the MX-5 feels more composed and comfortable than ever. There’s little thump-through even on harder hits and the NVH improvement in the update earlier this year has made the cabin much quieter.

Throw the MX-5 into a series of bends and there’s minimal roll with the front and rear of the car feeling more in-sync and stable, inspiring you to push the car harder than you (meaning me) would have dared push the old car. Even mid-corner bumps do little to upset the MX-5 from its course and there’s almost no impact on the steering either.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Review

In all, the changes to the suspension, the NVH and the engine have made the MX-5 feel much more energetic and composed when cornering. For me, the thing now feels just as enthusiastic into and punchy out of corners as an 86 without the fear the back-end will break loose. I’m very much looking forward to running the updated MX-5 across the PM road loop. Stay tuned.

What’s it like to park?

The MX-5 has a small turning circle of ?? metres and, particularly with the roof down, is a cinch to see out of and manoeuvre into tight spaces. The reversing camera offers a good field of view even if the quality of the image is relatively poor and the reversing sensors are handy.

Does it have a spare?

No, there’s a tyre repair kit only.

Can you tow with it?

We wouldn’t recommend it and neither does Mazda. It doesn’t even offer a braked towing capacity.

What about ownership?

Mazda recently switched to a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty which is a welcome move. It also offers capped price servicing mirroring the warranty period ranging from $304 to $347 regardless of the engine.

What about safety features?

The MX-5 has a five-star ANCAP safety rating. All variants get front and side airbags, traction and stability controls as well as rear cross traffic alert, as well as forwards smart city brake support (low-speed autonomous emergency braking), blind spot monitoring, reversing camera, tyre pressure monitoring, and traffic sign recognition (although this system can be tricked into thinking a school zone operates all the time, until it sees another speed limit sign showing a different speed). The GT variants add lane departure warning, reverse smart city brake support, and driver attention alert which reminds you to pull over and rest after you’ve been driving for more than an hour.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Review

Editor's Rating

How do we rate the interior and practicality?
How do we rate the infotainment and controls?
How do we rate the performance?
How do we rate the ride and handling?
How do we rate the safety?
Practical Motoring Says: Following the updates earlier this year, this powertrain-oriented update to the MX-5 has made the thing a complete package. Indeed, I reckon it’s the most convincing and exciting MX-5 since the original. The tweaked 2.0L engine isn’t overly powerful but there’s enough grunt now to make the MX-5 more enthusiastic when the mood takes you, and the improved handling makes it a more dynamic and complete ‘performance’ car. This is now the car its ancestors deserved.

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.