The Mazda MX-5 Miata has always been a somewhat moderately powered roadster that’s a ton of fun to drive. For 2019, Mazda plans to kick the power output from the 2.0-liter four-cylinder all the way up to 181 hp from 155 hp. It's going to do this by improving its current 2.0-liter engine. The car's weight will stay relatively the same thanks to lighter-weight materials. While we’re all for more power in the car, especially if the curb weight doesn't go up much, the surge in horsepower begs the question: is Mazda getting involved in the sports car horsepower war?
Why Wasn’t 155 Horsepower Enough?
The Mazda MX-5 Miata is a small roadster, and it doesn’t need a ton of horsepower. Hardly any critics have a problem with the MX-5’s 155 hp. Car and Driver called the engine a “spirited power plant” with “sufficient thrust.” The Car Connection noted that 155 hp isn’t much, but it also said that the low curb weight makes the car feel “perky”, and it noted, “it feels like a much more powerful sports car.” Consumer Reports also made mention the Miata’s favorable power-to-weight ratio as something that makes the car so charming.
We could go on. The MX-5 seems to have plenty of power for its small size and low curb weight. Almost all critics agree. There are plenty of other sports cars out there with high horsepower, and the Miata just didn’t seem to need it, so why the jump? One of the only reasons we can see is so that Mazda can draw in new buyers who wouldn’t consider a car with 155 hp.
Will This Really Bring New Buyers?
If you look at the new 181 hp figure as a way to pull some buyers from other sports cars, we wonder if the added 26 horses
We may be wrong, but anyone who didn’t want to buy the Miata because it didn’t have enough power will still scoff at 181 hp. The kinds of buyers that are after a high horsepower sports car are more likely to buy a Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, or maybe a Nissan 370Z. Even the base models of these cars have significantly more horsepower than the 2019 Miata will. These buyers aren't going to be wooed by a car with less than 200 hp.
That said, everyone always talks about how cool it would be to have a high powered MX-5. That’s why you get the guys at Flyin' Miata stuffing GM's LS V8s under the MX-5’s sculpted hood and every other tuner out there attaching a turbo to their MX-5. People love horsepower. Maybe Mazda is on the right track.
Regular Horsepower Upgrades are Not Uncommon
Regular increases in horsepower have always happened to the MX-5. When the model debuted in 1989, it had a wimpy 116 hp. Over the course of the first generation Miata, the power output increased steadily. The same could be said of the second and third generation. Mazda always managed to bump up the horsepower a little bit, whether it was through special editions, like the Mazdaspeed MX-5, or just in the regular model.
With that in mind, the significant bump to 181 hp isn’t all that surprising, but we still wonder if it will really help sell more MX-5s. It seems the kind of buyer who’s interested in purchasing an MX-5 would always have been interested in purchasing one. A power bump may be welcomed, but it probably won’t sway the minds of many buyers.
How Will This Impact Pricing?
Mazda has not yet announced pricing for the 2019 MX-5. It will be interesting to see how the power bump and all the new, lighter weight components increase the car’s bottom line. We hope that it won’t impact the price too much because that would alter what the MX-5 Miata really is: a truly affordable sports car.
According to Good Car Bad Car, Mazda sold 9,465 MX-5s in 2016 and 11,294 in 2017. Those are respectable numbers but they’re not massive. This year looks like it’s a little behind 2017 and 2016 so far. Maybe Mazda decided that in order to keep people’s interest, it had to do something like bump up the power of its little roadster. The corresponding price jump hopefully won't be too dramatic. If the jump is minor, many buyers probably won't be that bothered by it. On the other hand, if it is a significant rise in price, Mazda may sell fewer MX-5's than it hopes. It will be interesting to see where the 2019 MX-5 Miata lands.