2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF – Improving on a good thing
By Christopher A. Randazzo
To just about anyone that loves driving, the Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster is a favorite. It’s small, light, affordable, cute, and most importantly, fun to drive. The Miata first came out in 1989, and since then has gone through many revisions. But that simple recipe of being fun first has always remained.
The fourth and current generation Miata is available in two forms, the typical roadster, and the subject of this week’s review – the coupe-like RF.
RF stands for “Retractable Fastback” as the roof panel is retractable and the RF gives the Miata the look of a fastback coupe. If you like the styling of the current Miata soft-top, the RF shouldn’t rub you wrong. On the other hand, those that have never been a fan of the little pop-top Mazda, may have a liking for the RF, as it really gives the Miata a different vibe.
Like all Miata’s, the RF uses a 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine that sends power to the rear wheels. Big news for the 2019 model year is that all Miata’s get a boost in engine output from 155 to 181 horsepower. That’s a nice amount of power in a car that that tips the scale just under 2500 pounds. In case you’re curious, the RF weights 113 pounds more than a similarly equipped Miata. And if you’re into tracking the car, that extra weight is situated aft of the driver, moving the Miata more towards a 50/50 front/rear weight distribution.
The increase in horsepower makes the Miata RF hit 60 mph in about 6 seconds when equipped with the manual transmission. You can expect the automatic version to be about a half-second slower.
Inside the RF it’s typical Miata with a snug and cozy cabin that is really quite comfortable. The main gauges are the conventional analog style and are easy to read. The control layout is similar to that found in other Mazdas and works well. Cupholders continue to be the install-them-yourself type – and they take up arm space on the center console. I tossed them in the trunk. Speaking of the trunk – the RF’s is .1 cubic smaller than the regular Miata, but the opening hasn’t changed. Past experiences have taught me that there is room for a few bags of groceries or a tote bag or two – just not both at the same time. The thing to remember is that the Miata is a car to have fun in, not one to tackle a days full of errands in.
While I think it’s sacrilegious to own a car like a Miata with an automatic transmission, I had no say in how the test car was equipped, and sure enough, it came with the 6-speed slushbox. After driving it for a week and traveling more than 300 miles in it, I have to say, my attitude towards an automatic-equipped Miata has changed.
Don’t get me wrong, I still prefer three-pedals and a stick to navigate through the gear box but going with an automatic Miata doesn’t necessarily turn the car into mere transportation. Mazda’s automatic isn’t bad at all. Unlike most automatics that try to get to the highest gear as quickly as possible, in the Miata, it holds the gears a little longer, which makes things a little more exciting, especially through corners. Flip the center console mounted switch to Sport and the longer shifts are amplified. Shift paddles are provided, and their response time was quick. But I’m still convinced paddle shifters are best used with dual-clutch transmission which the Miata would greatly benefit from.
Just like with the soft-top, it’s super easy to transform the RF from coupe to an open-roof car. Push and hold the console-mounted roof button and watch as the sail panels lift and raise back while the rear glass and two roof panels fold up into a little compartment behind the seats. The sail panels then return into place and you’re left with a roofless Miata. It’s quite an event to witness.
While the RF is all about smiles per mile, it does give up some things. First, there are some serious blind spots thanks to the RFs fastback design. And while the car is tighter and quieter than its soft-top counterpart, with the top retracted, there is a lot of turbulence in the cabin. Minor items considering the fun the RF delivers.
In the end, at the top of my Miata wish-list would be a soft top that requires me to do my own shifting. But the RF provides a different look to the Miata as well as coupe-like conveniences. And going with the automatic transmission surely doesn’t mean you’re leaving the fun behind. No matter how you pick it, you can’t go wrong with any 2019 Miata.
By The Numbers:
2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Grand Touring
Base Price: $34,410.00
Price as Tested: $37,900.00
Layout: front-engine / rear-wheel drive
Engine: 2.0 liter 16-valve DOHC 4-cylinder
Transmission: 6 – speed manual
Horsepower: 181 hp
Torque: 151 ft-lbs
EPA Fuel Economy: 26 mpg city / 35 mpg highway
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