2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Grand Touring Review

From excellent to superb in 26 horses


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: The right amount of power, better seats, totally tractable handling, exotic looks with the retractable fastback, excellent manual tranny, great infotainment controls, solid build quality, balletic but simple hardtop deployment
Negatives: Rearview mirror frame takes up too much windshield space, poor accessibility on already small cabin storage.
Bottom Line: The regular flavored Miata is a great convertible, but the RF takes it up a couple of notches from a functionality and styling perspective. Even with a modest weight gain due to the hardtop mechanism, it's still the same recipe for top-down driving fun thanks to the great chassis, steering and handling. The hardtop gives the Miata an exotic look that rivals some of the best sports cars out there and costs a mere pittance by comparison. No one buys this car for practical reasons because of the size and space, but there's no question this would make a superb daily driver because it seeks to thrill.
How do you improve on an already great formula that provides driving fun, affordability, great design, ease-of-use, and good fuel economy? You make the superb Miata RF more powerful by giving it 26 more horsepower to the tune of 181. It's not a boatload of power, but since the Miata is already very light and scintillating to drive, more power is, well, better. We drove the new car with more power and amenities than the 2018 model to find out if it's possible to love it even more. Read on for the full review.
 

Driving Experience

9.8

 

When Mazda outfitted the U.S. version of the Miata with its 2.0-liter 4-cylinder from the Mazda3, it made no modifications to it, but they've tweaked it fully now for more oomph. The result is 26 more horses and peak torque reached earlier, in what amounts to a great match for the rest of the car.

Ride Quality: Firm and sporty but well dampered enought to handle bumps and gaps well. It never feels jarring, in spite of the short wheelbase.

Acceleration: 0-60 now comes in just under 6 seconds, but the result is that you feel the power and torque as the RF pushes your back into the seat. The shifter is smoother and even more precise, as well. Last year, we asked for 25 more horses. Mazda gave us 26. Wahoo!

Braking: Great progressive brakes that work well under hard driving. The RF's brakes are upgraded from the soft top model in the form of better feel thanks to a new booster. The pedal feel is very good, and it never feels mushy or grabby. Our tester didn't have the upgraded Brembo brake package, which aren't really necessary here.

Steering: The Miata's steering is one of our favorites, and the RF is even better thanks to increase assist when turning. It leans towards being light, but it's always sharp, and you can place the car exactly where you want it.

Handling: Miata engineers built in some body lean into the Miata, and though the RF has more weight up top, Mazda increased shock pressure and beefed up the front stabilizer bar and rear springs to balance things out. You can toss this thing all day and bring the rear end around like a pro.

Technology

8.5

 

Mazda Connect does pretty much what you need it to do. It looks good and works easily because of the control knob. There are better systems out there, but this one keeps your eyes and your mind on the driving.

Infotainment System: The 7-inch screen is easy to read, unless the top is down on a sunny day. Icons are big and simple, and menus are intuitive.

Controls: The Mazda Commander Control system is one of the best. The knob actuation is one of the better ones in the industry.

Styling

9.9

 

We dare you to find a roadster for this price that looks this good. There isn't one (okay, so the competition isn't exactly stiff). With the addition of the hard top, the Miata becomes almost exotic. Watch bystanders check out the car when you work the hardtop either up or down. It's sweet.

Front: The RF has the exact same front end with the slender cat-eye LED headlights and the simple and handsome low grille.

Rear: We love the RF's combo LED taillights that have round and ellipsoide sections that are joined together. The lower reflectors' downward slant match the front foglights, but we wish they were simple circles to mimic the taillights.

Profile: The fastback style of the hardtop looks great here, top down or up since the flying buttresses behind the headrests stays in place.

Cabin: The RF's cabin is improved over the previous Miata, but it's by no means opulent. That being said, it's not what Miata owners care about, anyway. The steering wheel and manual shift knob are just about perfect, and our tester's tan leather seats complement the red paint very well like a small, cheap Ferrari.

Comfort

8.3

 

This isn't a car for large people, though this author was able to fit his six-foot, 200 lb frame in with not too much trouble. And now the steering wheel telescopes, which makes a huge difference.

Front Seats: The Miata's seats are better than most, but at least there's a Recaro upgrade, though our tester didn't have them. The stock seats hold you in just fine in the twisties, but more seatback cushioning would be great.

Rear Seats: Not applicable. This is a two-seater only.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): There's minimal sound deadening in the RF (and the regular Miata, too). There's not much difference between this one and the soft top. Highway speeds and hard acceleration make it much more noticeable. At least it's well built, and there's really no cowl shake or vibration we noticed.

Visibility: The hardtop makes it more difficult to see when the top is down since the buttresses stay in place even with the top down. We also wish the rearview mirror was smaller because it takes up too much windshield space, especially for taller drivers.

Climate: The climate control system works well, but no one will expect it to keep you toasty when you drive in 50-degree weather with the top down. At least it has heated seats.

Safety

6.6

 

The current Miata soft top and RF have not been crash tested, but a good set of standard safety features are included on the roadster.

IIHS Rating: Not tested

NHTSA Rating: Not tested

Standard Tech: Our tester came outfitted with a tire pressure monitoring system, blind spot monitoring, ABS brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, rear cross traffic alert, rain sensing wipers, auto-dimming driver side mirror, adaptive front lighting, high beam control, and a lane departure warning system. No crash avoidance tech comes on the Miata.

Optional Tech: None

Storage/Cargo

5.5

 

If it's capacious storage you're looking for, you're not a Miata shopper. The car's first and foremost purpose is driving fun, and true practicality is sacrificed in pursuit of this. No one will care all that much, anyway because they'll be busy having the time of their lives behind the wheel.

Storage Space: The small, flast cubby at the base of the center stack is good for small items, but it can't hold a larger smartphone. We would've like to have seen the USB ports moved to the small center armrest, but cords would get in the way of the gearshift knob. There's also no conventional glovebox, only a locking compartment between the seatbacks.

Cargo Room: There's 4.48 cubic feet of trunk space in the RF, down from 4.59 cubic feet. We realize this is hair-splitting since you can really only carry a couple of small weekend bags or three grocery bags in it. Forget any Home Depot runs unless you're just getting a bag of potting soil and some light bulbs.

Fuel Economy

8.8

 

The Miata RF is the kind of car you want to drive hard all the time. It's that much fun, and it won't blow you into the weeds from being overpowered. That being said, it's surprising how good the gas mileage is.

Observed: 22.7 mpg

Distance Driven: 212 miles

Driving Factors: We flogged the Miata RF hard, exploiting the new engine and the handling capabilities of this little guy. We drove highway and local miles almost equally.

Audio

7.8

 

The Bose system is good, but we weren't blown away by it primarily because we hardly ever used it. Instead, we just put the top down and enjoyed the open air driving. It could use an upgrade, but honestly you won't care all that much.



Final Thoughts

For this price, there's literally nothing more fun to drive. Not the VW GTI, not the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ, nothing. It's not blazing fast, even with the upped horsepower, but it is absolutely more thrilling to helm and push hard since the engine now matches the chassis and the suspension. Yes, the RF is that good, and Mazda has an even bigger winner on its hands.

Check out our 1-Minute Video Review:

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