2019 Mazda MX-5 Roadster Review
Dan DeGasperi’s 2019 Mazda MX-5 Roadster Review with Price, Specs, Performance, Ride and Handling, Practicality, Infotainment, Safety, Verdict and Score.
In a nutshell: The entry-level MX-5 Roadster has been updated with more active safety technology and extra convenience equipment, but has Mazda made it a better sports car?
2019 Mazda MX-5 Roadster Specifications
Price $34,190+ORC Warranty five-years, 100,000km Safety 5 stars Engine 1.5-litre petrol four-cylinder Power 97kW at 7000rpm Torque 152Nm at 4500rpm Transmission six-speed manual Drive rear-wheel drive Dimensions 3915mm (L) 1735mm (W) 1225mm (H) 2310mm (WB) Kerb Weight 1021kg Fuel Tank 45L Spare inflation kit Thirst 6.2L/100km claimed
MOTORING in a practical way doesn’t have to be all about baby seats in the back and golf clubs in the boot. Nor do sports cars have to be selfish, indulgent appendage extensions. For decades the Mazda MX-5 Roadster has best melded together pragmatism and panache.
This 2019 Mazda MX-5 Roadster represents the first decent facelift of then-new ND generation launched back in 2015. Nowadays, it continues to be a supremely affordable way of buying a two-door drop-top, complete with tiny dimensions perfect for parking, a light kerb weight that allows the little engine to shine, and yet deliver thrifty fuel consumption.
As-tested, this is the most affordable MX-5 Roadster, continuing with a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine, driving the rear wheels via a six-speed manual transmission. For the first time it now adds new active safety technology and infotainment features to its list of standard equipment, to expand its practical appeal.
But Mazda has also handed down a price rise to match…
What’s The Price And What Do You Get?
The 2019 Mazda MX-5 Roadster kicks off from $34,190 plus on-road costs, and the 1.5-litre can still be identified from its larger-engined 2.0-litre sibling by way of its smaller 16-inch alloy wheels, whereas its big brother nabs 17-inch items.
However, Mazda has deleted the base 2.0-litre MX-5 Roadster from the range, leaving only the 2.0-litre MX-5 Roadster GT with leather, heated seats and Bose audio priced from a steep $41,960+ORC. In both that case and the above, a six-speed automatic transmission adds $2000. Either way, it leaves a $7800 gap between smaller and larger engine nowadays, whereas previously you could get the bigger engine with basic specification from circa-$35K.
Conversely, you can no longer buy a 1.5-litre MX-5 Roadster GT with those leather/audio goodies, so instead the base model being tested here has had its equipment list improved.
There’s still no keyless auto-entry, as found in the GT, but a push-button start remains. Only very basic, and some would say too basic, black cloth trim continues as well.
But from there the going gets good, with both automatic on/off dusk-sensing headlights and rain-sensing wipers now standard, single-zone climate control replacing the previous manual air-conditioning, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with digital radio, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (still a $500 cost option) and reverse-view camera delivering a newfound onslaught. It’s not exactly lush with kit like the GT is, but nor is it as barren as it was before.
What’s The Interior And Practicality Like?
This is a two-seat roadster with very compact exterior dimensions, so best not expect surplus space. Having said that, the MX-5 Roadster doesn’t waste an inch, and what driver and passenger lose in sprawling space, they gain with parking and performance prowess. Anyway, how many cars do you see doing the morning commute with only driver on board?
The Mazda’s driver’s seat could be shapelier, though, and it certainly is narrow – so fuller figured bodies need not apply. The transmission tunnel protrudes a bit into leg space as well, so gym-toned calves might take issue as well. But the pedal placement is perfect, and the update introduces reach- as well as tilt-adjustable steering. You sit low and tight in this little drop-top, and that feels just about right for this mid-waisted, 178cm-tall tester.
Storage is surprisingly good as well, with bottle holders in each door, cupholders between the seats, a smartphone holder beneath the climate controls, lidded key storage next to the handbrake, plus a lockable and sizeable square console box behind the chairs. The only real downer is the loss of the GT’s colour-coded upper door trims, with bland black plastic trading in for it as before – as with the hard trim moldings, it’s a reminder of MX-5’s price.
Boot space is less convincing, however. As before, the little 130-litre space is about half that of a light hatchback such as a Mazda2 or Toyota Yaris. It isn’t as bad is at sounds, given that it will fit two weekend bags in there, but also anything more may well be a squeeze.
What Are The Controls And Infotainment Like?
It’s the little things with this Roadster. You don’t get an electric-folding soft-top roof, for example, yet the mechanism is so easy that a quick button-press and throw-back (via the header rail) can be performed with one hand. It saves weight, and is just so light and easy.
Otherwise, Mazda build quality is flawlessly tight, while ergonomics are spot on and all switchgear presses and rotates with smooth slickness. A lack of complexity here makes for a happier, and safer, driver.
The touchscreen operates at standstill, while on the move a rotary dial on the centre console works with shortcut tabs around it, to still set the benchmark for infotainment usability in the mainstream class. Only BMW does it better, with an eerily similar system.
The addition of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring (still a $500 cost option but was fitted to our tester) only further adds to the intuitive operation of this infotainment system, backed by excellent voice control for navigation and topped by digital radio. Even the standard six-speaker audio sounds good.
What’s The Performance Like?
Even with a 1021kg kerb weight, the 1.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine is no powerhouse performer. Instantly reactive via the throttle, smoothly sweet, endearingly growly to its 7800rpm redline, and endlessly energetic it is – it’s just not fast.
In fact, with only 152Nm of torque, which arrives at a high 4500rpm, and 97kW of power at an even loftier 7000rpm, there are some occasions where the MX-5 Roadster has nothing more to give. On the one hand it creates better drivers, because thinking ahead and anticipating the next gearshift via one of the world’s most delightful manuals, is paramount.
On the other hand, though, with this base Mazda you’re cutting off half the fun by welding your right foot to the firewall uphill yet going nowhere fast. It really needs the now-updated 2.0-litre’s 135kW at 7000rpm and 205Nm at 4000rpm, ultimately and quite frankly.
On the flipside, performance isn’t a problem around town and on more than one occasion the base Roadster showed less than 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres on its trip computer. The claim of 6.2L/100km embarrasses almost every sports car, most of which don’t have this level of steering, ride and handling brilliance. Which brings us to the next section…
What’s It Like On The Road?
Rolling on modest Yokohama Advan tyres, the MX-5 Roadster delivers superb ride quality on its fixed-rate suspension. It feels so incredibly light, yet never tinny. Unlike a hot hatchback that is based on a standard shopping specification, this rear-wheel drive two-door runs a bespoke chassis. With exterior length of 3915mm, it is shorter than most little hatches, yet its 2310mm wheelbase ensures that front and rear axle are pushed right out to each end.
Therefore this Mazda is supple yet controlled, in a more impressive fashion than most big-name sports cars. The tyres don’t have unending grip, and in fact the Bridgestone Potenza tyres used on the 17-inch wheels of the Roadster GT deliver more progressive traits that better gel with the relatively compliant spring and damper settings.
Especially travelling downhill, however, the way this chassis revels in a driver being either smooth or aggressive is outstanding. It encourages fluent steering, with light and linear turn-in, sharp front-end response, and a poised back-end on exit, the combination of which suddenly leaves a driver going much faster than expected of the ‘underpowered’ 1.5-litre.
But it also revels being tossed around, with great lateral agility, and it encourages using the throttle to pivot the vehicle into a corner – although a Sport electronic stability control (ESC) mode, as used in the Toyota 86 coupe, would help here. Either way, whether around town or on a country road, the way this tiny drop-top can be placed perfectly and threaded delicately down laneways and backroads, is virtually unrivalled at this price.
Does It Have A Spare?
No, but there’s only a tyre-inflation or ‘goo’ kit. That isn’t helpful if your tyre is truly ripped apart, but it will help you limp along with smaller and slower leaks.
Can You Tow With It?
No, the little MX-5 is no towing chariot.
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, $444 for the second, $385 for the third and $444 for the fourth, which is about average for its type.
What about safety features?
There’s four airbags, and now autonomous emergency braking (AEB) joins a blind-spot monitor and rear-view camera on the standard equipment list. Active lane-keep assistance is missing, but otherwise it’s more fully featured than an aforementioned 86, or Subaru BRZ.