In terms of unadulterated driving pleasure, it’s hard to match the 2019 Mazda MX-5.
It’s as nimble as Jack, just as quick and seemingly able to drive circles around candlesticks.
In terms of practical drivability… well, more on that in a bit.
The MX-5, Mazda’s term for what we still like to call Miata, is as close to a go-kart as cars get. You ride inches off the ground, you feel everything and its steering is point and shoot. It goes where you point it. The responsiveness of the handling will surprise you the first time you drive it, but you quickly get the hang of it.
The top, in the soft-top version, drops manually, and while the cabrios of the powered variety are still waiting for the top to stow, they’re watching your taillights from a distance. It’s quick, light, spring-loaded and very easy to raise and lower.
The MX-5 comes with a choice of six-speed stick or a no-charge, optional six-speed auto, but really, why? If you’re going to get a car this fun, you owe it to yourself to get the only fun option. Besides, the shifter and clutch make this a very easy car to drive as a stick.
The pedal placement is such that even newbies will be snicking off heel-and-toe downshifts like Mario Andretti in no time.
The only complaint is the return springs, the ones that make the stick naturally settle between third and fourth when in neutral, are strong enough they make it very easy to shift into fourth when you’re trying to upshift from fifth.
About that practicality: Everything that makes the Miata so much fun to drive are also the same things that will make it quite annoying.
It’s tiny. Really tiny.
That helps keep down the weight, which is the enemy of good handling, and makes it very nimble and agile, but also means you don’t get very much room at all. The only space for cupholders is behind the armrest (there’s a slot to insert one of the cupholders within easy reach, but it’s on the right side of the centre console and would be jutting into the leg of a passenger), the trunk is barely big enough for a pair of overnight bags and it sits so low, you better have good knees.
If you’re just taking it out for a rip and don’t need to carry anything with you, the Miata is deliriously fun. As soon as you have any kind of cargo, it becomes an exercise in planning. You probably couldn’t take it to the golf course, unless that’s also where your clubs are stored, or you didn’t have a passenger.
On that note, I took my bow to our local archery range for practice, but of course it doesn’t fit in the trunk. So, into the passenger seat it went.
If there’s one area the MX-5 achieves perfection, it’s the seats. The tester had the leather seats, which are grippy, comfortable and heated. Great for an autumn rip through the colours. Still, even the base model, with cloth seats, has superb seating. The seats are built a bit like a hammock, with the seating material slung between the well-padded frame edges. Sounds uncomfortable but it works, if you’re average-sized. Get a bit bigger and you might feel the edges.
Perfection also describes the powertrain. The four-cylinder engine delivers just the right amount of kick and does it with a glorious exhaust note. The transmission has the perfect combination of gear ratios and final-drive ratio, such that if you want to kick out the back end on a corner, you can.
Power-to-weight ratio is more important than pure power, and while some drivers would never say no to more power, it’s really not all that necessary in the MX-5. The weight that’s the enemy of handling is also the enemy of both acceleration and braking. It’s more than quick enough at stoplights and easy to chirp the rear wheels, too, so it’s hard to say what more you could gain.
What makes the MX-5 a pure indulgence, however, is the size. You are the epitome of compact living if you could make this your daily driver. Doesn’t mean I don’t want one, though.
2019 Mazda MX-5 Soft Top
Engine: 2.0-litre Skyactiv inline four-cylinder
Power: 181 hp @ 7,000 rpm
Torque: 151 lb-ft. @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual, six-speed automatic (opt.)
Steering: rack-and-pinion with engine speed-sensing variable power assist
Brakes: four wheel discs with dual diagonal hydraulic circuits
Suspension: independent double wishbone with coil springs and stabilizer bar (front); independent multi-link with coil springs and stabilizer bar (rear)
Fuel economy (l/100 km, city/highway/): 8.9/7.1 (manual); 9.1/6.8 (auto.)
Price: $31,900.00 – $39,700.00
- Deliriously fun to drive, handles like a slot car
- Exceptionally fuel-efficient without any stop-start trickery
- Easiest manual drop-top ever
- Diminutive size means a cramped cockpit and very little in-cab storage
- Trunk that only a pair of tube socks would love