Mazda is adamant it builds only the purest sports cars, for only the purest of purists. The company takes a hard line on that attitude any time questions are raised of the MX-5.
Questions on more power are met with a stern ‘that would dilute the purity’, and any mention of greater comfort is rebuked with a simple reminder of ‘maintaining purity’.
It’s pretty clear the evolution of the world’s best selling two-seat sports car is only ever going to be slow and steady.
Hold onto your seats, then, sports car fans – the 2019 Mazda MX-5 arrives with ground-breaking news: More power and more comfort.
Headlining the changes to the MX-5 range (the second low-key update this year) are a revised, more powerful, higher-revving 2.0 litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder SkyActiv engine and, for the first time in MX-5 history, a steering column that adjusts for reach as well as angle.
Power, comfort… Who are you and what did you do with the real MX-5?
The engine change means the more powerful variant matches the rev-happy, effervescent character of the 1.5 version but with a bigger punch when you put your foot down. Both engines are still available, but in a trimmed down range.
If you’d like the 1.5-litre ‘purist’s choice’ you can only have it in the base Roadster trim. The 2.0-litre joins the range for the up-spec Roadster GT or the powered hardtop RF and RF GT.
Engine outputs for the 1.5-litre have risen by 1kW and 2Nm to 97kW at 7000rpm and 152Nm at 4500 rpm (300rpm lower) while the 2.0-litre engine now claims 135kW at 7000rpm (previously 118Kw at 6000rpm) and 205Nm at 4000rpm (up from 200Nm at 4600rpm), with peak revs lifted by 700rpm for a 7500rpm redline.
Trivia buffs, in case you were wondering, this is the most powerful factory MX-5 ever, outgunning the 121kW turbocharged SE of the mid 2000s (though still 1Nm short). That said, it doesn’t match the Aussie skunkworks MX-5 SP and its more powerful 157kW/289Nm turbo mill. (Not a production-line special, though, so out of the running in this particular contest.)
As is typical for Mazda, the changes aren’t just a higher rev ceiling. To get there, Mazda has revised conrods and pistons of the 2.0-litre engine, making them lighter. Piston rings generate less friction, intakes have been flow-optimised, the throttle body and exhaust ports enlarged, and more. Much more.
A new dual-mass flywheel improves engine response, throttle calibrations have been tweaked, aural signatures honed, and auto and manual versions have both come in for work. No detail has been overlooked, it seems, and Mazda went to great lengths at the launch of the MY19 MX-5 to explain just how detail-driven it is.
In layman’s terms, though, the result is far easier to explain. The old 2.0-litre MX-5 was good enough to put a smile on your face, but the new 2.0-litre ‘advanced’ version will have you grinning like a fool. It's that simple.
Allow me to explain: The pick of the range, to me at least, was previously the 1.5-litre engine.
It loved a rev, in fact it begged for you to hold gears longer, commit to corners fully with earlier wide-open throttle, and really master the art of driving – but as a commuter car it struggled a little, lacking torque when you wanted to relax the most.
On the other hand, the 2.0-litre car was a fine thing with the same hallmark handling balance and delightful dynamics, but not the same charming, cheeky involvement. You might not think stretching peak power out by 1000 rpm at the top end could make much of a difference, but it absolutely does.
With the more thoroughly revised of the two engines being the focus of launch activity, the 1.5 wasn’t along for the ride, but the 2.0-litre Roadster GT and RF GT were, both with six-speed manuals – though, should you wish to pair your MX-5 with an auto, you can.
Pricing now starts from $34,190 for the 1.5 Roadster, $39,400 for the 2.0 RF, $41,960 for the 2.0 Roadster GT and $45,960 for the RF GT. Add another $2000 and a six-speed automatic is available on any variant.
We’ll get to driving the 1.5 and the auto at a later date.
Though it still isn’t a mind-bending powerhouse, the 2.0-litre MX-5 is just the engine this car needs. It doesn’t surge with low-down torque like the MX-5-based but turbocharged Abarth 124 Spider, nor does it need to.
Although Mazda throws it around like a buzzword, purity really is an apt way to describe the involving nature of the MX-5.
The engine builds pace quickly and cleanly. Power and torque have a delightfully linear relationship as revs climb, and the frustrating mid-range torque dip the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ twins simply isn’t there to spoil the fun.
The steering is charmingly light, communicating every possible detail of the road beneath to the driver. The suspension doesn’t fall back on firmness to create a sense of speed, but rather tilts through corners using lean to relay the car’s limits.
The actual ride and handling hasn’t been touched this time. Mazda made those changes earlier this year, so, for the moment, there was no pressing need to fettle further.
The reach adjustable steering finally allows driver to sit how they’d like, not how they’re told, and Mazda has improved the feel of seat recline levers, installed bigger sun visors instead of the old half-shell variety, and improved entry and exit with new door checks that stop in two stages, not three.
Natty little details, all of them and no doubt lovely to have, but quickly forgotten about the first time you sweep the tacho needle past 7000rpm and it keeps on going. Singing a clear mechanical symphony all the while.
Weight is still kept to a minimum (kerb weight starts at 1035kg for the 2.0 Roadster GT, up 2kg compared to the 2018 model) and that inherent lightness not only pays dividends for agile handling and rapid changes of direction, but helps keep acceleration brisk.
Dashing from a standing start still isn’t mind bending, but with your bum so close to the ground and nothing but open air above you, the MX-5 feels like a go-kart for the road – in a good way.
Other detail changes see Smart City Brake Support (SCBS), Mazda’s name for autonomous emergency braking, added across the range with reverse SCBS added to GT models. All models come standard with a reverse camera too – unfortunately mounted awkwardly in the centre of the rear bumper, but a surprisingly worthwhile addition all the same, particularly in the RF.
If refinement is a priority, the RF does a better job of behaving like a real coupe, but at the touch of a button the roof stows, leaving the rear frame in place. You’ll get plenty of open air and all the sunshine you could want (weather notwithstanding), but alas there is an impact in terms of wind buffeting from the rear frame with the top down.
On the other hand the Roadster tends to roar a little more on the open road with the top up, levelled out by being better behaved with the roof manually tucked behind the seats.
Make no mistake, neither one is approaching S-Class levels of quiet, but that’s not the point. You hear road, wind, engine, and exhaust – all a part of the roadster experience.
As this model-year enhancement isn’t the MX-5's full mid-life upgrade, styling is unchanged, but alloy wheels get new darker finishes (black on base models, 16-inch on 1.5 and 17-inch for all others). Base models again feature cloth trim, with leather on GTs.
Other standard spec covers things like single-zone climate control, LED head and tail lights, cruise control, new more stable cupholders (yes, really), leather-wrapped steering wheel, gear knob and handbrake lever, cruise control and auto wipers.
Infotainment includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen plus Mazda’s supplementary rotary controller, sat nav, Bluetooth, AM/FM radio and six speakers. Unlike the recently refreshed CX-9, the MX-5 doesn’t yet pick up Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but both will be retrofittable with smartphone mirroring once Mazda announces details of its upgrade package for existing models later this year.
Step up to a GT and extra kit includes heated seats, adaptive LED headlights, advanced keyless entry, auto-dimming rear view mirror, heated exterior mirrors, rear park sensors, lane departure warning, driver attention alert and nine-speaker Bose audio.
Although previously mooted additional red or caramel soft top roof options available overseas haven’t made it here, the RF GT can still be optioned with a black roof and Chroma Brown nappa leather trim. There’s no digital speedo yet either, which would have been very handy in speed-limit-obsessed states.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the boosted power output, fuel consumption drops ever so slightly. In Roadster GT manual trim the factory figure drops by 0.1 L/100km to 6.8 L/100km. On test, driving the pants off the poor little thing we saw a still respectable 7.5 L/100km
Mazda hasn’t torn up the MX-5 rulebook. All the elements that previously made the tiny roadster such a barrel of laughs remain.
A careful balance of more power, and fine adjustments to the delivery of it, make the 2019 MX-5 all the more desirable without needing to resort to extra weight or dilution of (wait for it) purity due to the addition of a turbocharger.
For punters concerned that the old MX-5 wasn’t powerful enough, there’s more power. Your wish has been granted, your excuses are invalid. It’s still not a high horsepower dragstrip destroyer and that’s really only good news.
In fact, the MX-5 2.0-litre is now all the car you need. Sensible enough to take care of your work commute while being thrilling enough to encourage you to get out of town and find new roads.
Often tipped as a perfect second car, there’s no reason why singles or couples couldn’t make an MX-5 their primary car. Need to move something big? Head to Bunnings and rent a ute for the day. Problem solved.
Sure, the interior isn’t exactly bursting with storage solutions and the boot means you’ll need to pack light on a weekend away, but don’t let fussy details like that stop you.
Hell, turn the tide against SUVs. You don’t want a CX-3, and you certainly don’t need one. You want one of these. You want Mazda to keep investing in light, affordable roadsters. You want to fall in love with driving with each new day.