It may be a living legend and still the world’s best-selling roadster, but not even the Mazda MX-5 can afford to rest on its laurels.
Despite becoming the first car to win the World Car of the Year and World Car Design of the Year double when it was launched in 2016, Mazda has given its dinky star a (mild) update to keep it at the front of the pack.
“We intend to keep refining the car, seeking out new ways to make it even more thrilling and satisfying to drive, so it can continue to offer customers unique excitement and cement its position as a cultural icon,” explained Masashi Nakayama, program manager and chief designer for the MX-5. “And that’s exactly what we’ve done with the 2019 MX-5.”
The “enhanced” fourth generation Mazda MX-5 looks no different to the outgoing version externally – the changes are inside the cabin, under the bonnet and on the safety equipment list.
The highlight of the upgrade is a more powerful (up from 158bhp to 181bhp) and higher-revving version of the 2.0-litre petrol engine. The 1.5-litre engine has been tweaked too, resulting in a tiny power boost and slightly more torque.
Inside, the steering wheel on both the convertible and RF (Retractable Fastback) versions can now be adjusted for reach as well as height (a gift for taller drivers), while the sliding operation of the seats is apparently slicker. The cup holders between the driver and passenger are now also sturdier.
Finally, safety equipment available has increased, though sadly these are not standard across the trim levels. The list of features now includes Front Smart City Brake Support (AEB), Lane Departure Warning System, Rear Smart City Brake Support, Traffic Sign Recognition, Driver Attention Alert, Blind Spot Monitoring System with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Adaptive LED headlights and a reversing camera.
When I originally reviewed the current MX-5 back in 2016, I concluded that the 1.5-litre version was the one to go for because it felt more agile and offered the best blend of performance and economy. It seemed that there was no need to pay the premium for the bigger unit.
I’m sure the smaller engine is still good, though I haven’t yet had the chance to try the updated version. However, here I’m concentrating on the more powerful 2.0-litre, which apparently features lighter pistons and con-rod, plus revisions to the camshafts and exhaust valves, fuel injectors, throttle valve and air intake.
This all sounds impressive, but how does it translate to the real world? Well, the redline rises from 6,800 to 7,500rpm, and as a result, the convertible’s 0-62mph performance improves by 0.8 of a second to 6.5 seconds, while manual and automatic RF models see a 0.6 and 0.5 second increase, respectively. Top speed is 136mph for the convertible, or 137mph for the RF manual.
What’s more, this extra power hasn’t come at the cost of efficiency, with CO2 emissions down to 156g/km (157g/km for the automatic), while average fuel economy remains unchanged at 40.9mpg.
Frankly, statistics are all very well, but what matters is whether the power boost has changed the car’s previously excellent driving characteristics.
Well, I’m pleased to report, that it has – for the better. The free-revving new engine is now closer in character to the 1.5-litre, allowing you to have more fun, especially when you wind it up on flowing country roads.
Once again matched with Mazda’s superb sweet-shifting six-speed gearbox, the sharp-throttle response now leaves you with an even bigger smile on your face. It used to feel fast, now it really is – and it sounds more vocal too.
As a package, the MX-5 is still right on the money. Everything is perfectly balanced with its optimum 50:50 weight distribution, lightweight, rear-driven chassis, sharp steering and low-slung driving position.
Nothing much has changed inside, so space is still at a premium, but there are plenty of modern comforts and tech, such as the 7-0-inch infotainment display and excellent sound system with DAB and full connectivity.
The MX-5 range starts at £18,995 for a 1.5-litre in SE+ trim, while the cheapest 2.0-litre is priced at £22,295 (SE-L Nav+), so for many the choice will come down to money. No matter which engine you choose, or the convertible or RF, the MX-5 is still splendidly rewarding to drive and remarkably affordable.
Verdict: The improvements made to the 2019 Mazda MX-5 2.0 make a great car better. More power means more fun, but it’s also safer and a little more comfortable.