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2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Grand Touring Test Drive Review

The fourth-generation MX-5 Miata just gets better with age. In March of 2015, Mazda started producing the all-new smaller, lighter, and quicker “ND” replacement for the outgoing “NC” Miata. Its more aggressive styling marked the next stage in the evolution of Mazda’s KODO – Soul of Motion design language. By focusing on a “Gram Strategy,” engineers made the 2016 Miata approximately 150 pounds lighter than its predecessor. They also equipped it with a new SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that gave models equipped with the available six-speed manual transmission 25 percent better fuel economy than their 2015 MY ancestors.

I got the keys to a 2016 Miata in late 2015. After a short drive with the top down to pick up lunch, I was hooked. It made an otherwise mundane trip into a pleasant, open-air reminder of why I loved driving so much. Once I got home and parked, I couldn’t stop looking at the Miata’s perfect proportions and beautiful curves. A glance at its window sticker proved that the well-equipped and affordable Grand Touring model was just as appealing on paper as it was on pavement.

My love for the Miata was still going strong when I tested a 2017 Club model. With its black wheels and trim, it was even more attractive than the 2016 model I drove. It also taught me just how well Mazda tuned its steering, handling, and brakes.

That was the same year Mazda introduced the Miata RF, a fastback take on the popular sports car with a power-retractable roof panel.

2019 is another big year for the Miata. By making thoughtful improvements under the hood, Mazda has significantly increased the SKYACTIV-G engine’s power. I recently got the chance to experience that increased output behind the wheel of a Miata RF Grand Touring model.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

2019 Mazda Miata RF Exterior

The Miata is just as beautiful as ever. It’s a rolling showcase of ideal proportions. The front and rear overhangs bookend simple 17-inch wheels wrapped in P205/45 tires that perfectly fill in the wheel wells. The windshield frame leans back to meet the retractable roof panel.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

It only takes 13 seconds to store that below a pair of eye-catching buttresses that naturally flow into the top of the Miata’s rear end and flank the lid to the 4.48-cubic-foot trunk. Despite its diminutive size, my girlfriend and I found it held a surprising amount of clothing that we donated to a local charity.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

2019 Mazda Miata RF Interior

When I opened the driver’s door for the first time, I was immediately drawn to the beauty of the two-tone interior. The same serene Snowflake White Pearl paint on the exterior also covered the tops of the door panels. The rich earth tone of the Nappa Auburn leather seats and matching trim found throughout the cabin provided a stunning contrast. Mazda dressed my press loaner up even more with a package that added stainless steel door sill trim plates and alloy pedals (as well as a red engine oil cap under the hood).

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

I was just as pleased with the features Mazda packed into my test vehicle. The new standard tilt/telescoping wheel made getting the ideal driving position even easier. The heated seats kept me warm whenever I decided to stow the top, crank up Christmas music on the nine-speaker Bose audio system, and blast down curvy back roads. I didn’t need to enter an address into the navigation system or check the map on the seven-inch display. The destination didn’t matter. All I cared about was driving the Miata RF more.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

2019 Mazda Miata RF Performance

Instead of enlarging the engine or adding a turbocharger to it, Mazda concentrated on improving the components inside of it. Engineers increased the size of the SKYACTIV-G’s throttle body and shaved weight from the pistons and connecting rods. They made adjustments to the exhaust camshaft and increased the diameters of the valves and exhaust ports to improve the engine’s breathing. By replacing the single-mass flywheel with a low-inertia, dual-mass unit, they not only reduced drivetrain noise, but they also made the SKYACTIV-G more responsive. Output is up 26 horsepower and 3 lb-ft to 181 and 151, respectively. Redline is at 7,500 rpm now – 700 revs higher than it was in the 2018 Miata.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

Thanks to the GT-S package, my test vehicle was equipped with a sport-tuned suspension, Bilstein shocks, a front shock tower brace, and a limited-slip differential. Most importantly, my media loaner had a six-speed manual gearbox. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was one of the best row-your-own transmissions I’ve ever experienced. The clutch pedal had just the right amount of resistance in it and made driving the Miata RF smoothly an effortless reflex.

During one particular drive out in the country, it dawned on me that I had never enjoyed the fourth-generation Miata more than I did right then. Every curve revealed the finely tuned weight of the double-pinion electronic power-assist steering. I could feel the wind in my hair, but there was no buffeting in the cabin. Every chance I got, I rev-matched and downshifted just so I could feel even more connected to the Miata RF. I squeezed every rpm and ounce of performance that I could out of its engine without having to worry about flying off into the weeds or the back of a squad car. I wouldn’t call the Miata RF a fast car, but I’ll definitely call it a fun car with accessible performance that you can fully enjoy on public roads.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

2019 Mazda Miata RF Safety

In addition to the expected front and side airbags, and stability and traction control systems, the Miata RF Grand Touring featured a reassuring assortment of safety technologies. Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and a Lane Departure Warning System kept me from bumping into other vehicles. Rain-sensing wipers automatically cleared the windshield once the weather turned from cold and dry to cold and wet. Automatic high beams and headlights that steered into turns allowed me to fully focus on the road ahead while driving at night.

New standard safety features for the 2019 Miata RF Grand Touring include Traffic Sign Recognition, Smart City Brake Support that can automatically apply emergency braking at low speeds, and a rearview camera.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

2019 Mazda Miata RF Overall

The ND Mazda MX-5 Miata started life as a wonderful machine. Over the past few years, it’s only gotten better. The 2019 RF model has the same great dynamics as its predecessors, but even more power. You owe it to yourself to test drive one at an AutoNation Mazda dealership. Prices for the 2019 Miata RF start at $32,345.* My generously equipped RF Grand Touring test vehicle had a final price of $35,905.

*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.

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