Car Reviews

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF GT Review

Dan DeGasperi’s 2019 Mazda MX-5 RF GT Review with Price, Specs, Performance, Ride and Handling, Ownership, Safety, Verdict and Score.

In a nutshell: Does a more powerful, higher revving 2.0-litre MX-5 make sense in a heavier, more luxury-focused RF GT flagship, or do the competing priorities cancel each other out?

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF GT Specifications

Price $46,960+ORC Warranty five-years, unlimited km Safety 5 stars Engine 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder Power 135kW at 7000rpm Torque 205Nm at 4000rpm Transmission six-speed manual Drive rear-wheel drive Dimensions 3915mm (L) 1735mm (W) 1235mm (H) 2310mm (WB) Kerb Weight 1087kg Fuel Tank 45L Spare inflation kit Thirst 6.9L/100km claimed

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THE Mazda MX-5 has never taken a ‘more is more’ approach to sports car ownership. What do we mean by that? Well, with some sports cars they are big on the outside but cramped on the inside, leading many to think why you would bother with two doors over a four-door.

Other sports cars add luxury features and sound deadening, which adds weight, and then engineers need to deliver a larger engine and beefier suspension to cope, which in a defeatist cycle then adds even more weight. Not the MX-5 though; never the MX-5.

This current ND-generation is small, very small, and it keeps excesses to a minimum. By contrast, however, this MX-5 Retractable Fastback (RF) GT model grade is the flagship of the range and is expected to account for 63 per cent of sales. And what does it do over the $12K-cheaper base model? Add a bigger engine, a heavier electrically foldable hardtop roof, and more convenience and safety technology, seemingly at odds with the MX-5 philosophy.

What’s The Price And What Do You Get?

This MX-5 RF GT comes with only a single option, a black roof, asking $46,960 plus on-road costs with a six-speed manual as-tested, and which is expected to nab 57 per cent of sales, while the $48,960+ORC six-speed automatic takes the remainder.

If you don’t want a black roof, in each case it’s $1000 cheaper. Whatever colour your tin-lid, only the RF GT gets no-cost Chroma Brown Nappa leather trim, in addition to Black Nappa and Tan Nappa available on the more affordable Roadster GT. Speaking of which, the ‘Roadster’ tag denotes a fabric, manually foldable roof in lieu of the hard, electric one here.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Roadster Review by Practical Motoring

Working our way down the range, the Roadster GT costs $4000 less, at $41,960+ORC manual/$43,960+ORC auto, using the same engine and otherwise scoring the same equipment. This includes 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights with adaptive-automatic high-beam, foglights, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, the aforementioned leather trim, a premium Bose audio system, auto-dimming rear-view mirror plus extra safety gear.

One rung down and there’s a base RF costing $2560 less than the Roadster GT, at $39,400+ORC manual/$41,400+ORC auto, but you lose all of the above except for 17s. One rung down again, and the base Roadster swaps out this 2.0-litre for a baby 1.5-litre petrol engine, and the 17s for 16s, for $34,190+ORC manual/$36,190+ORC auto. It’s cheap, but which is better: top of the range or bottom of the range? Let’s find out.

What’s The Interior And Practicality Like?

Where the Roadster and RF can feel a bit cheap inside, with bland grey cloth trim and hard upper door trims, upgrading to the GT brings sharp relief. The body colour upper door trim looks really cool, especially with the RF GT’s brown leather inserts. Likewise, the leather itself feels rich enough, and the newly added colour trip computer screen appears premium – although the lack of a digital speedometer still grates.

There’s still no electric adjustment for the front seats, too, but that’s no major problem. The bigger issue is the front seats themselves, which are too narrow and flat for a genuine driver’s car, and it’s this that is probably the biggest flaw of the whole cabin, quite frankly.

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF GT review

At least headroom is good, especially for such a tiny car, though we’d argue the manual-fold soft-top (you unlatch with one button and then pull back) is easier than this electric-fold hard-top where you must flick a button and wait 12 seconds. But it can only be used up to 10km/h and not via the remote.

The steering wheel is a delight to hold, as is the gearshifter, the controls are brilliantly straightforward, and even storage is decent – there’s a big lockable glovebox between and behind the front seats, smartphone storage under the climate controls, and a lidded keybox beside the handbrake. Okay, the boot is tiny and the opening small, but that’s expected – two large weekend bags will fit, or one medium suitcase, but no more.

What Are The Controls And Infotainment Like?

Mazda’s infotainment system – dubbed MZD-Connect – is still the class benchmark for usability, and although the graphics of the satellite navigation are dated and the voice control is average at best, the recent addition of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto helps; being able to ‘mirror’ your smartphone onto the screen gives access to Google Maps/Waze.

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF GT review

The Bose audio system also cranks up nice and loud, and with a staggering nine speakers totaling 203 watts squeezed into such a little cabin, that’s probably no surprise. There’s a digital radio as well, rounding out a pretty comprehensive infotainment package.

What’s The Performance Like?

The pre-facelift MX-5’s 2.0L engine made 118kW and revved to 6800rpm, whereas this heavily updated version of the same petrol unit now makes 135kW and revs to 7500rpm. Torque only moves up by 5Nm to 205Nm, but it’s produced 600rpm lower, now at 4000rpm.

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF GT review

Although still light, the RF GT weighs 52kg more than the Roadster GT, at 1087kg. Even so, the update has made for a stronger, throatier engine, albeit not in the places you would expect. For example, on light throttle or overrun (when you lift the throttle after revving it) there is newfound bass to be heard and a few burbles from the exhaust when it’s warm.

But it still doesn’t sound great when extended, so merely extending the redline fails to deliver any additional sweetness. In fact, above 7000rpm it gets a bit harsh and intrusive, so much so that this tester kept upshifting early to enjoy the carry-over mid-range chunkiness.

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF GT review

Right there, plenty can be enjoyed. Owing to its featherweight, no doubt, there’s surplus response everywhere, meaning you can trickle the revs down to near idle and the MX-5 will pull strongly away. While the manual doesn’t have to be used often, then, you’ll want to do so because this is one of the sweetest shift actions in the business. And after a really hard drive in hot weather, the new ‘big block’ engine delivered just 8.0 litres per 100 kilometres.

What’s It Like On The Road?

From top to bottom, this flagship MX-5 RF GT 2.0L weighs 66kg more than the MX-5 Roadster 1.5L tested weeks earlier. We won’t pretend to feel the difference of that, but a combination of arriving at corners faster, thanks to the more powerful engine, and a heavier roof combining with a heavier engine to raise the centre of gravity, stresses the suspension.

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF GT review

Both ‘Mixxers’ ride beautifully around town, with the sort of lush absorption and tight body control expected of such a sophisticated, lightweight rear-wheel drive drop top. However, in the sort of sports car scenarios in which other hard-tops such as the Toyota 86 thrive, this RF GT started to just fray at the edges.

Its balance is still sublime. You can tip this car into corners with your fingertips and feel when to apply throttle as the rear of the vehicle starts to pivot around the front. With such a short wheelbase, you can drive this Mazda like a front-wheel drive hot hatchback, arriving quickly into bends and then coming off the throttle and feeling the back of it come around slightly. Only with rear-drive, you can then power on out of a corner with neutral steering.

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF GT review

All of this is five-star stuff. As much as this tester loves the soft suspension of the MX-5, though, additional 2.0L power ultimately highlights the need for additional firmness – something you don’t feel with the underpowered 1.5L. On the sort of zig-zag, left-right 90-degree corners in which a tiny roadster should thrive, the bodyroll can mean it struggles to regain composure between them, forcing the driver to exercise caution. On rough roads, meanwhile, the front suspension can run out of travel and panic the electronic stability control (ESC) that now desperately needs a Sport mode. It’s not bad, but hardly focused…

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF GT review

Does It Have A Spare?

No, there’s only a tyre-inflation or ‘goo’ kit. That isn’t helpful if your tyre is truly ripped apart, but it will fix smaller and slower leaks.

Can You Tow With It?

No, the little MX-5 is nt rated for towing.

What about ownership?

There’s a five-year warranty, while servicing is on a yearly or 10,000km basis – whichever comes first. The capped-price servicing cost is $307 for the first check-up, $350 for the second, $307 for the third and $350 for the fourth, which is about average for its type.

What about safety features?

On both RF models four airbags, forward autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitor, and a rear-view camera are standard, while this RF GT adds reverse AEB, driver attention alert, lane-departure warning (but not assistance) and rear parking sensors.

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF GT 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: Adding more power is smart, but raising the redline demands a sweeter sound especially necessary in a drop top. Meanwhile adding more power also highlights that the suspension could be fractionally firmer to enhance body control on rough roads, while the ESC really needs a Sport mode to allow the chassis to more finely flow down bumpy roads. These are relatively minor points within an updated MX-5 RF GT that is slick inside, quite quick, lush-riding around town and sharp to steer everywhere, all backed by brilliant balance. But Mazda is a master of mid-life updates, and now that the 2.0L has been updated, other areas are ripe for improvement next.

Dan DeGasperi

Dan DeGasperi