The big news about the MX-5 is that it’s been subtly updated for 2019, but the MX-5 is one of those special vehicles that has been carefully developed by its creators and has thirty years of history behind it. Messing with a proven formula can be a recipe for disaster.
To undertake any improvements to the MX-5 required close examination because, well, no one wants to screw up this legendary sports car. And in Japan, making their successful roadster perform poorly would be a career-ender for the chief engineer.
Where most vehicle refreshes today result in improved creature comforts or fuel economy, the updates to the 2019 MX-5 are engineered to enhance one thing: driving enjoyment.
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine’s rev limit is bumped from 6,800 to 7,500 RPM and they’ve accomplished this by lightening the pistons and connecting rods. Mazda’s also reshaped the intake ports and improved the fuel injectors.
The net result is 181 horsepower at 7,000 RPM and 151 pounds-feet of torque at 4,000 RPM. That’s up 26 horsepower and just 3 pounds of torque from the 2018 model.
The real story is how the revised engine makes its newfound gains. From lower engine speeds to 6,000 RPM, the outputs of the old ND1 (model year 2015-2018 MX-5s) and the new ND2 (2019 and later) are nearly identical, with the earlier cars having a slight edge with lower end torque.
However, the magic really happens at 6,000 RPM. Where the ND1’s power drops off and runs out of steam, the ND2 keeps making more power well past 7,000 RPM. Never mind the driving experience, just by the dyno charts, the ND2’s engine updates are clearly transformative and this Mazda loves to rev now.
A dual mass flywheel has replaced the single mass unit and the engine revs just as freely as before, but the new flywheel dampens out some driveline vibration. The change is subtle, in line with the goal of the 2019 updates.
The final drive ratio’s been shortened by 4% for a hint of quicker acceleration. Since this car has the six-speed manual, there’s a limited slip diff in the back. Automatic cars have open differentials, but it should go without saying that MX-5s deserve to be driven with manual gearboxes.
Mazda’s engineers created a new exhaust system for one reason only – to provide better sound. They even swapped out the old steel steering column for a new aluminum unit.
Not that the size of the MX-5 demands it, but for 2019 Mazda has added a backup camera. Helpful? Yes. Necessary? No.
In total, the ND2 gains just 7 pounds over the ND1 and tips the scales at 1,060 kilograms. In 2019, the fact that there is a car this lightweight is simply mind blowing.
The MX-5 is still remarkably refined and the driving experience is about balance and harmony. One of the great things that Mazda engineers have done is they've always let the MX-5’s suspension do its work.
There are endless numbers of sporting cars that have overly firm suspension calibrations, but this isn't one of them. The suspension actually articulates with real travel and the car rolls a little bit, but what that ultimately means is that the tires are always in contact with the road surface. The net result is that the MX-5 possesses great road feel, fine chassis feedback, and sublime handling.Behind the wheel, the cockpit layout is near perfection. The shifter sits at arm’s length. The steering wheel is the right shape, diameter, and thickness. The pedals are perfectly laid out and make heel-and-toe as easy as pie.
The shifter has that wonderfully direct, mechanical feel, and the shift gates are perfectly defined. If you somehow miss a shift, that’s your mistake, not the Mazda’s fault.
The steering’s assist is electric, but feel is still high quality, and it’s as precise as any of it’s predecessors. The turning circle is so tiny that three-point turns never seem necessary.
Because it’s so light, so responsive, and has such great feedback, exploring the extremes of the Mazda’s handling is child’s play. It’s so approachable, that it’s a great tool to use to become a better driver. And if you’re already a skilled driver, the MX-5 is one of those cars you can dance with around it’s limits, and sometimes beyond. In terms of performance, it is the most fully resolved MX-5 to date.
When was the last time you saw a car that didn't have a sport mode? Correctly, the MX-5 has no sport mode button and perhaps that’s because it’s in sport mode all the time. Everything has been engineered, designed, and developed to make the roadster rewarding to drive, so there’s simply no need for a more overly aggressive throttle, for example.
Plus, the traction and stability control systems do let you have a little bit of freedom and it’s surprising how Mazda is able to build such a thoroughly focused, fun car in 2019.
With this model’s optional Brembos, brake feel is telepathic and I do love a good brake pedal. If you find yourself exploring the MX-5’s limits, you can use the brake to position this MX-5 in any given corner, which speaks to the high fidelity feedback this Mazda provides.
Drive this Mazda into a turn on the brakes, encourage a little trail-braking inspired oversteer, bleed pressure off the pedal, transition your foot onto the throttle and - POW - you’ve just aced the corner.
Although there is much to love about the MX-5, it’s not quite perfect. The antiquated infotainment unit is, well, dreadful. You can have your MX-5 retrofitted for Apple Car Play compatibility which would save the driver endless frustration with the OEM system, but it’ll cost you a few hundred dollars at your dealer.
Although the steering column now has some adjustment, there’s not quite enough reach for my liking. I’d like to get the wheel an inch or two closer to me and then it would be seating position perfection.
Still, the MX-5 always finds a way to delight its driver. I drove through an unexpected rainstorm and, thankfully, I was able to maintain highway speeds during the downpour. What’s interesting is that the aerodynamics are so good that I stayed dry and only a few drops of water made it inside the cockpit. That was the first and only time I’ve been caught in the rain in an MX-5 and the fact that I stayed dry gave me a greater appreciation for Mazda’s thoughtful engineering that goes into this car.
Across the modern automotive landscape, there’s nothing quite like the Mazda MX-5. It’s exceptionally light and now has the right amount of power for that perfect power-to-weight ratio. On the move, it’s the poster car for balance and poise. And you can exploit nearly 100% of this roadster’s performance without having to worry about attracting the attention of the police.
There are few new cars that can deliver on the promise of driving enjoyment and this MX-5 is one of them. Mazda’s succeeded in making the ND even better than before and, in terms of pure driving joy, it’s head and shoulders above anything else you can buy today.
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Brian Makse is a championship-winning racing driver, performance driving coach, and an auto writer and presenter. He holds multiple road racing track records, has raced off road trucks, and has driven many of the world’s famous circuits including the Nürburgring Nordschleife, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Road Atlanta, and Laguna Seca. As a life-long automobile enthusiast and accomplished racer, his stories are filtered through the lens of a highly experienced driver, giving his readers and viewers a unique perspective on the world of automobiles. You’ll find Brian’s work in automotive publications around the world and on his YouTube channel.