Sporty new character in MX-5 update

31 May 2019
Colin Smith | Daily Post, Rotorua Bay of Plenty

When sports car enthusiasts have trouble deciding between a snug coupe or open top exhilaration, Mazda delivers both with the RF version of its fourth generation MX-5.

Quick-change choreography transforms the MX-5 RF (Retractable Fastback) from a fully enclosed hardtop to a roofless two-seater in a few seconds at the press of a button.

Pillars do remain behind the cabin with the RF configuration so it's not quite the same full convertible experience which the MX-5 Roadster delivers. But the RF is more of talented double act than it is a compromise.

For 2019 there's been an update for the MX-5. There are no visual changes but Mazda has sought to inject some of the free-revving enthusiasm of the base model 1.5-litre MX-5 GSX into the 2.0-litre models.

The 1998cc SkyActiv-G engine has received updates to the intake and exhaust systems along with revised piston shape and weight, a new crankshaft and new connecting rods. It breathes more freely with improved combustion speed and has reduced exhaust losses and lower mechanical friction.

The result is maximum engine speed increases to 7500rpm and there is a significant output boost to 135kW at 7000rpm (up from 118kW at 6000rpm) with a fraction more torque with 205Nm produced at 4000rpm (up from 200Nm).

It brings a sportier character to the 2.0-litre MX-5 without compromising the response at lower engine speeds. And - at least as far as the manual version tested here is concerned - it's a lively match to the gear ratios of the short-throw and accurate sixspeed.

The MX-5's enthusiastic response also comes in part from relatively short gearing. At 100km/ h on the highway it's using 2500rpm in sixth gear with downshifts equating to 3100rpm in fifth and 4000rpm in fourth.

It's not just a lively 2.0-litre engine in a lightweight car. The sports car appeal comes from quick ratio steering weighted to provide informative feel. The car carries pace and changes direction with small steering inputs and regardless of 1.5-litre or 2.0-litre urge, the MX-5s greatest strength is the way it carries pace along a twisty road to engage the driver with an involving experience.

Importantly it's sensibly tyred with Bridgestone Potenza S001 radials in 205/45 R17 size. They put a reasonable size footprint on the road but the MX-5 doesn't feel overshod in a way that would detract from its nimble handling and rear-wheel-drive poise.

Getting behind the wheel of an MX-5 provides a stark contrast to the accessibility of modern raised ride SUVs and crossovers. You feel very consciously close to ground level - which means you can think you're be travelling faster than the reality of the speedo readout.

The cabin is a snug place with slim-fit seats and the low seat position has your legs well out in front in a tight footwell that might require some careful choice of footwear for drivers with larger size feet.

But it's a supportive fit and the front seats have simple manual cushion slide, cushion front tilt and a limited amount of recline adjustment. There's now a bit more flexibility in the driving position because telescopic adjustment has been added to the steering column for MY19 models.

Also limited and the other skill demanded by the MX-5 is ability to travel lightly with a mere 127 litres of boot space to stow weekend luggage or groceries.

All MX-5 RF models are in Limited grade specification which features a nine-speaker Bose audio system, 7.0-inch MZD Connect display with satellite navigation, climate control air conditioning, rain sensor wipers, heated front seats and push button engine start.

The black leather seats have red stitch highlights.

Along with the more powerful engine and the telescopic steering wheel adjustment the other changes to the MY19 MX-5 are additions to the i-Activsense safety and drivers assist package.

All models are now equipped with the Advanced Smart City Brake Support Forward (SCBS-F) autonomous emergency braking function while Limited grade Roadster and RF versions have gained a reverse camera, Driver Attention Alert, Traffic Sign Recognition and the Reverse component of the SCBS system.

These features join the already standard array of Limited content that includes Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Hill Launch Assist and High Beam Control for the LED headlamps. With the 2019 upgrades the MX-5 RF Limited price has increased by $2250 to $53,745 (manual) and $55,245 (auto) plus Mazda's usual $250 surcharge for the Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint.

The driving appeal of the Mazda MX-5 didn't need a lot of improving but injecting a more punch with an engine that revs more like sports car expectations has boosted the personality and performance appeal.

The other 2019 changes are details designed to modernise the safety roster of the Mazda MX-5 and bring a welcome touch of increased adjustment for the driving position.

BT-50 commercialcare disclaimer

** is also available to new BT-50 owners where every scheduled service completed by Mazda specialist technicians for a 3 year/100,000km term (whichever wherever occurs first) will cost no more than $200 (incl. GST) per service for models built after 1 November 2012. *** 3,350kg applies to earlier models.

* whichever occurs first