2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring RF Review

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring RF - More-powerful 2019 Mazda is a blast

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More-powerful 2019 Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring RF is a blast.

Price: $33,335

Pros-Fun to drive. More power. Sinuous lines with fastback roofline and power retractable hard top.  Short-throw manual shifter. Efficient automatic transmission offered.  

Cons-Snug "drop in/climb out" cabin." Small trunk. Occasional bumpy ride. Not a long-distance cruiser.

Bottom Line-Classic-style genuine sports car.  

The Mazda MX-5 Miata set the auto world on its ear when it arrived as a 1990 model and pioneered the way for affordable, reliable genuine sports cars. More than a million Miatas have been sold worldwide.

Constant improvements have kept this small, rear-drive two-seater appealing, and the more-powerful 2019 version is the best Miata yet.

The original's pop-up headlights are long gone, and the Miata got a far more muscular look for 2016 with a wider, sleeker body, wider tracks, a more aggressive front fascia and smoother, sportier lines. The hood was made lower and windshield pillars were pulled back and made more upright for better visibility. Moreover, the car was made considerably lighter for better performance and handling.

Mazda also introduced its RF model with a power retractable hardtop that gives it a sexy fastback roof, although the standard versions continue with a conventional easily used manual top. The cleverly engineered hardtop opens and closes in just 13 seconds with the press of a switch.

The small, light MX-5 Miata comes as the entry Sport, Club and Grand Touring RF. List prices range from the $25,730 Sport with a conventional convertible top to the $33,335 top-line Grand Touring RF. I tested the Grand Touring RF and found that the Miata hasn't lost any of its fun-to-rive nature,

The big news for all 2019 Miatas is a new four-cylinder with 181 horsepower, up from 155, and additional torque. The tachometer redline  increases from 6,800 r.p.m. to 7,500 r.p.m. and the engine loves to quickly rev.

The 2019 Miata definitely has more punch, although horsepower isn't what the Miata has ever been all about. The first one was a reliable, solid, cleverly copied version of the 1960s-early 1970s unreliable British Lotus Elan sports car, right down to the look of its dual overhead-camshaft cylinder heads. Despite changes, the 2019 Miata is said to have gained only an additional seven pounds. It weighs 2,453 pounds with the manual transmission and 2,499 with the automatic.

Power flows thought a short-throw but somewhat stiff six-speed manual transmission, which was in my test Miata, or an available, efficient 6-speed automatic transmission. The  automatic makes the car easier to drive in heavy freeway traffic, but the shifter works so well with the clutch that I hardly noticed shifting gears. I found fourth the best gear for highway/freeway passing, but fifth was pretty good. Sixth is an overdrive gear. But if you're buzzing along at 70 m.p.h. or so on moderately traveled open roads, you can just leave the transmission in sixth gear for decent passing. Third gear is best for darting in and out of heavy urban traffic.

Estimated fuel economy of the RF with the manual is 26 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on highways.  With the automatic, it's nearly identical at 26 and 35.

New items for 2019 include a tilt/telescoping steering column, rearview camera and revised cupholders, which remain rather a chore to use.

My test MX-5 Miata handled much like a go-kart. It had rather stiff but very quick steering, 17-inch alloy wheels, high-performance tires, front/rear stabilizer bars,     dynamic stability control and a traction control system. Impressive handling was helped by an optional sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers, a front shock tower brace and a limited-slip differential. The anti-lock disc brakes had a brake-assist system.

The Miata's short 91-inch wheelbase and firm suspension-made stiffer by the sport-tuned suspension-cause occupants to noticeably feel freeway expansion strips and sharp bumps. While the front double-wishbone suspension and rear multi-link suspension allow a decent ride most of the time, this isn't a comfortable long-distance car.

My test car's safety items included a rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning system, smart city brake support, heated power outside mirrors and even sign recognition.

It helps if a Miata owner is nimble and not overly heavy because the snug cabin with its low seats call for a  person to  "fall in" and "climb out." The trunk has a high opening and isn't very big, although it's deep and nicely shaped and the lid uses struts to help create a little more room. But there are few decent cabin storage areas.

I appreciated my rest car's very supportive leather-trimmed heated front seats, generally upscale materials, automatic air conditioning, tilt/telescopic wheel, push-button start, Bose AM/FM 9-speaker sound system, power-windows with a one-touch-down feature, various leather-wrapped features including the steering wheel with audio and cruise controls and hand brake. Gauges could be quickly read, and the 7-inch color touch screen display wasn't difficult use, although I didn't spend much time with it.

Those looking for driving kicks should try out the Miata MX-5, especially in Grand Touring RF form with the manual transmission. The power retractable hard top makes it a racy looking sports car for all seasons.



Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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