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Automatically Charming: 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club Test Drive

Don’t let the decreasing availability of new manual-transmission cars fool you. There are a lot of people who love driving stick. They’ll say that no dual-clutch automatic can offer the same level of engagement and connection to a car that you get from working three pedals and shifting your own gears. I’m one of them.

Learning how to use a manual gearbox was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as an automotive enthusiast. In fact, it’s made me a better driver in general because I have to pay attention to every little thing the car’s doing, watch the road ahead, and plan my next pedal sequence and gearchange.

But there are some people out there who are physically unable or refuse to drive stick. Certain disabilities make doing that too difficult. Other drivers may know how to use a three-pedal setup, but choose to let an automatic sort everything out for them because they always have a long commute to work in heavy traffic.

That’s the great thing about the Mazda MX-5 Miata. If you insist on rowing your own, you can get the Miata with a six-speed manual. If you absolutely need an automatic or just really want one, the Miata is available with it.

Each of the last three Miata press vehicles I reviewed had a clutch pedal. They were all attractive, well-equipped sports cars with great dynamics and a gearbox that was not only easy to use, but fun. When I learned that I had the chance to review a 2019 Miata Club roadster with the available 6-speed automatic ($32,105 as tested), I took it. I had to find out what it was like.

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2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club Exterior

Like the 2019 Miata RF I tested earlier this year, my Club roadster press car benefited from Mazda’s 2019 model year refresh. That changed a lot of things under the hood and inside the cabin (you can read about some of those further down in this review). Exterior updates include the option of a new brown cloth top and new Metallic Black wheels (16-inch diameter for Sport and 17-inch diameter for Club). On the Miata Club, those are wrapped in 205/45R17 rubber.

You’ll recognize the rest of the exterior from previous model years. In addition to black wheels, my Club tester had a sporty black front air dam, black mirror caps, a black fabric manual roof, and a slim black trunk-mounted spoiler – all of which made the Miata’s rich Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint even more eye catching.

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2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club Interior

The last time I had a Miata roadster, my pal Dan Wolff, a talented comic artist from Cincinnati, Ohio, and I made a roughly three-hour trip just so he could get a taste of home. Dan loves the sandwiches from Penn Station East Coast Subs, but the location closest to Austin is in Plano, Texas. We made the trip again in the 2019 Miata Club roadster. On the way up north, I reacquainted myself with the Miata’s interior. The most significant change Mazda made it to it was installing a tilting/telescoping steering column. That helped make the cockpit’s snug fit a little more precise. Mazda dressed the cabin up a little by adding the optional Interior Package, which includes a pair of stainless steel door sill trim plates and alloy pedal covers.

Heavy rains on the way to Penn Station and back kept me from undoing a latch in the middle of the windshield header and pushing the top back and down until it locked into place. I had no problem with that. Dan and I stayed nice and dry while we cracked jokes, made terrible puns, followed the navigation system’s directions on the seven-inch touchscreen, and listened to Patton Oswalt’s standup comedy coming out of the Bose audio system’s headrest-mounted speakers.

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2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club Performance

The folks at Mazda made several changes under the 2019 Miata’s hood, too. By lightening the pistons and connecting rods, they took more than half a pound out of the naturally aspirated SKYACTIV-G 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. They enlarged its throttle diameter. Mazda’s engineers also equipped the I4 with a different exhaust camshaft and increased the size of its valves and exhaust ports to make it smoother and more efficient. The SKYACTIVE-G now has a higher redline of 7,500 rpm – an increase of 700 rpm compared to the 2018 Miata’s power plant. Total output is up as well; the 2019 Miata has 26 more horsepower and three more lb-ft of torque than its predecessor, generating respective figures of 181 and 151.

I love manual Miatas, but it was nice to have an automatic for a change. A couple of days after Dan and I got back to Austin, I took the Miata out on some dry roads. Although it wasn’t quite as engaging as the manual cars I had driven in the past, it was still a pleasure to rack up fast miles in. I didn’t have to worry about timing my shifts and nailing my pedal box choreography. The six-speed automatic allowed me to press the gas and go. With my mind less focused on my hand- and footwork, I was able to pay more attention to the Miata’s nicely weighted and well-tuned Double-Pinion Electric Power Assist Steering. When the wide-open road ahead turned into a series of stop lights, the progressive and predictable brakes allowed me to reduce my speed smoothly and confidently.

A quick glance at the small screen to the left of the prominent tachometer showed me I was averaging 33.8 mpg. That was especially impressive considering the EPA gave the 2019 Miata with the automatic transmission fuel economy ratings of 26 highway, 35 highway, and 30 combined mpg.*

If I wanted to liven things up a little, all I had to do was flip a switch in front of the shifter to activate Sport mode. Doing that sharpened the Miata’s throttle response and made snapping off shifts with the paddles behind the steering wheel more fun.

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2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club Safety

My test vehicle was equipped with front and side-impact airbags, traction and stability control, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and several other safety features. It also had a rearview camera, which is now standard across the model range.

Mazda offers a few different safety bundles on the 2019 Miata that add features such as Lane Departure Warning and Smart City Brake Support. My Club tester didn’t have any of those, but I was fine with that. My water-logged journey to Dan’s sandwich Mecca showed me that it had the two things that I needed the most: fast wipers and tires that perform well in the rain.

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2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club Overall

The Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster is a car for both types of drivers: those who drive stick and those who don’t, for whatever reason. Whichever category you fall into, you can enjoy its attractive styling, athletic performance, and – starting with the 2019 model year – increased power for a starting price of $25,730.** And you can get it an AutoNation Mazda dealership

*Based on 2019 EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending on specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.

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

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