► New 2.0-litre engine with lightweight components
► Power up to 181bhp, 0-62mph down to 6.5sec
► Reach-adjustable steering at last to seal the deal
If – as some parts of the internet have it – an MX-5 is always the answer, up until the introduction of this 2019 model year, you were still left to decide which MX-5.
Should you go for the zingy, 1.5-litre engine with its 7500rpm redline and live with being slaughtered by turbodiesels whenever the fancy takes them, or choose the torquey 2.0-litre motor that actually feels fast but suffers with a lack of free-revving headroom, calling time at 6800rpm?
Now for the 2019 model year – on sale from September 2018 – a new version of the 2.0-litre MX-5 is here, and that decision just got way easier.
The 2019 MX-5 doesn’t look much different…
Games of spot the difference must be hard work round at Mazda’s – either that, or it hasn’t quite entirely grasped the concept of a ‘mid-life facelift’. If you’re looking for a variance in exterior looks between this new 2019 MX-5 and previous examples of the 2015-onwards mk4 then you’re going to be staring for a long time. Because there aren’t any. Updated alloy wheel colours excluded.
To be fair to Mazda, at no point has it actually described this car as a facelift, instead calling it an evolution. But you can’t help thinking that given the engineering trouble it’s gone to – especially under the bonnet – a little hint or two to the casual observer wouldn’t have gone amiss. After all, if you’re driving The New Hotness, don’t you want the world to know about it?
‘Course, if Mazda had messed with World Car Design of the Year 2016 and made a pig’s ear of it, we’d all have been screaming bloody murder. So maybe discretion really is the better part of valour here. It’s not as if that sharky visage was looking dated, after all.
What's new for the 2019 Mazda MX-5?
There are four areas of significant interest, in ascending order of interest.
Firstly, Mazda’s slapped a whole load of new tech into the car. We’re hard-pressed to get too excited about this, as it’s either safety or emissions related. Commendable, but hardly core to a sports car that continues to place the emphasis firmly on its fun driving experience.
Besides, only particularly high-spec cars get the all new safety kit as standard (which includes AEB front and rear, lane departure warning, blindspot monitors, traffic sign recognition and driver fatigue monitor), and these days we’re frankly surprised stop-start wasn’t already fitted. It’s still only included on the 2.0-litre cars, and kerbweight goes up 30kg as a result.
Secondly, there’s a new top trim level: GT Sport Nav+. Bit of a mouthful, but if you want all the bells and whistles this is the one for you. Personally, we’d stick to the previously top-spec Sport Nav+ and avoid the Sand Leather interior, even if GT’s adaptive LED headlights sound appealing.
Thirdly – and now we’re getting to something we can all start to care about – Mazda has done that most wonderous thing and actually listened to feedback. And the result is that the MX-5 now has reach-adjustable steering.
At last a properly comfortable driving position is a realistic ambition for taller drivers. Telescopic steering wasn’t fitted at launch in 2015 in an effort to minimise weight, but Mazda says it’s found a solution with no more heft than the original fixed steering column. Hurrah.
Elsewhere in the cabin the seat adjustment and the door opening mechanisms have been made smoother, apparently, while the cupholders are supposedly more substantial. There’s a new dealer-fit box to add Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, too.
Fourthly, as if keeping the naturally-aspirated flame alive wasn’t enough when nearly every other manufacturer has given up and gone to turbochargers, Mazda has put even more effort into its 2.0-litre Skyactive engine, and come up with another 700rpm and 23bhp.
This is the bit we really like.
What has Mazda done to the 2.0-litre engine?
You’re almost better asking what hasn’t it done, for the 2019 model receives lighter pistons and con-rods, a stiffer crankshaft, and revisions to camshafts, valves, ports, piston rings, fuel injection, throttle body, air intake and exhaust – plus a new dual-mass flywheel.
As a result it now redlines at 7500rpm rather than 6800, and produces 181bhp instead of 158.
This is enough to knock the soft-top version’s 0-62mph time down to 6.5 seconds – 0.8sec less than before – while the RF with the folding hardtop sheds 0.6sec in manual guise and 0.5sec if you’re balmy enough to pick the automatic transmission, meaning 6.8sec and 7.9sec, respectively.
See what we mean about the auto? And that’s with a reduced final drive ratio, too. But we haven’t driven the RF, so we’ll concentrate on the convertible here.
Note that despite the extra performance, the 2019 engine claims 40.9mpg under the new WLTP fuel economy testing standards, and thanks to the addition of stop-start, emits less CO2 than the old one.
What’s the new 181bhp Mazda MX-5 like to drive?
Well, Mazda hasn’t made any changes to the chassis set-up – so imagine the old one with a noticeably useful amount of extra shove. Especially in the higher reaches of the rev range, where the limit isn’t just extended but accompanied by substantially more torque; for although peak muscle has only gone up from 148lb ft to 151lb ft, the curve falls away much less suddenly towards the redline.
Wait. You haven’t driven a mk4 MX-5? Then here’s a bit of a refreseher.
This is a super-compact, lightweight sportscar that refuses to shy away from rear-wheel drive dynamics. Take liberties without care and you may find yourself praising the gods of electronic stability control, as the transition from bodyroll to oversteer can be rather abrupt – particularly on the softer standard suspension. But once you click with it, it’s utterly brilliant, as this also makes it sensationally engaging and superbly nimble, and means it doesn’t really drive like anything else a mainstream manufacturer has on sale.
The engine is buoyed along by a taut, precise, wrist-flick of a gearbox action. On roads you know you can make this car really dance. A limited slip differential continues to be fitted as standard on all 2.0-litre models.
Not content with that, Mazda equips any 2.0 with Sport in the title with uprated Bilstein suspension. If you’re buying an MX-5 to simply potter, you may want to think twice about this, as the resulting ride is rather firm – to the extent that passengers may find it difficult to tolerate.
As the driver, you won’t mind that so much, as the Billies also deliver much tighter body control – the car leans less in corners allowing you to lean more on the engine, and you’ll make faster progress as a result. Though perhaps without the satisfaction you get from learning to tame the slightly wayward nature of the regular setup.
Sounds good – anything you don’t like?
Mazda UK is still restricting the available options – which is only really an issue because it means the excellent Recaro seats are only ever fitted to special editions.
This is a shame, because the extra lateral support these provide genuinely make a difference to the driving experience. When cornering hard in the standard seats we kept banging our knees on a protruding hard plastic section of the door card – so Mazda either needs to make those Recaros more readily available, or fit some additional padding to the door…
Have there been no changes to the 1.5-litre MX-5 for 2019 at all?
Mazda’s playing the 1.5 down, as it’s only gained 1bhp and 1lb ft – taking totals to 130bhp and 112lb ft.
But this also gets new high-pressure multi-stage injectors, the same ‘edge-cut’ piston design and the same new asymmetrical piston rings for reduced friction. As with the 2.0-litre, there are additional vibration control measures, too.
We haven’t been able to drive it yet, but imagine it will remain a fun experience, if now substantially slower (0-62mph in 8.3sec).
Should I buy a 2.0-litre MX-5 then?
Yes. The jury is no longer deliberating. The 2.0-litre already outsold the 1.5-litre nearly two to one, and now we’re predicting the little engine’s popularity to fall off a cliff. This new 2019 2.0-litre motor really is the best of both worlds, combining way more power with its superior torque and the sparkling revvy character of the 1.5, the £1500 premium it costs seems a small price to pay for what is now clearly the best version of this car.
Fast, fun, frugal (yes – really) and fascinating. Long-live the Mazda MX-5.