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2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata 30th Anniversary Edition quick drive review: Aging gracefully

Thirty years later, the Mazda Miata is as sweet as it's ever been.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata 30th Anniversary
Orange you glad I'm using this joke for another 30th Anniversary Miata photo caption?
Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The more things change, the more they stay the same. It's been three decades since Mazda launched the MX-5 Miata, yet after 30 years, this fourth-generation model feels just like the first one did: lightweight, perfectly balanced and incredibly easy to love.

To celebrate the Miata's 30th anniversary, Mazda created a special, limited-edition example, absolutely all of which are sold out (womp womp) -- yes, even the new allotment. The one you see here is technically a prototype -- its numbered plaque reads "0000/3000" -- and will live in Mazda's historical collection at its North American headquarters in Irvine, California.

The 30th Anniversary Edition is based on the mid-grade Miata Club model, and can be had in either soft-top or RF hard-top spec. (For what it's worth, much as I love the RF, it's still not the one I'd get. Miatas are roadsters; hard-tops add weight.) These special MX-5s wear Racing Orange paint on the body and brake calipers, and they have special 17-inch Rays wheels, Bilstein dampers (if you get the manual transmission, anyway, which you should) and Brembo front brakes. On the inside, orange accents are found on the Recaro seats, doors, shifter and dashboard.

The orange accents look great, and the Recaro seats are comfortable and supportive.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Aside from the orange paint and unique wheels, all of these options can be had on the standard Miata Club, and I think this is truly the best way to experience the fourth-generation MX-5. The slightly stiffer suspension keeps things a little bit flatter while cornering, and I absolutely love the Recaro seats -- they're comfortable and supportive, but don't hinder the motion of the driver. (Fun fact: Mazda says it specifically designed the Miata's seats to have less shoulder support, making it easy for drivers to turn around in order to easily raise/lower the manual roof.)

The 30th Anniversary car uses the same engine as other Miatas: a 2.0-liter, naturally aspirated inline-four, which makes 181 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. This engine was slightly reworked for the 2019 model year to have taller gearing, a higher redline and a teensy bit more power, and I think it better suits the character of the MX-5. I love being able to wind this car out in each gear, dancing near the 7,500-rpm redline while shuffling through switchbacks. Put your foot down and the Miata responds instantly. And when it's time to upshift, the light clutch pedal and short-throw gearbox deserve a chef's kiss for how perfectly they're tuned.

This car doesn't drive any differently than a standard Miata, and that's not a complaint, it's a compliment. The more time I spend behind the wheel of the MX-5, the more I appreciate the facets that others might label as shortcomings. The car leans in turns. It's a little underpowered. To me, though, this means I can truly exploit every ounce of this roadster's potential on public roads without fear of breaking the law or sending myself careening off a cliff. I can't think of another new car that's this fun to drive below 50 mph.

30th Anniversary Edition or not, the Miata is such a sweetheart.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Of course, this has always been the Miata's best trait. Drive any of the NA, NB or NC versions that came before this fourth-generation ND, and you'll enjoy a similar experience. Even the NC, the largest of all four Miatas, feels tiny and nimble and endlessly tossable. I've driven an NA and a ND back to back and the best thing I can say is that the experience is so, so similar. That Mazda managed to keep the ND's weight so close to the original Miata's is another testament to this back-to-basics, keep-it-simple approach.

A long drive along my favorite canyon roads in the 30th Anniversary Miata reminds me that, after all this time, Mazda hasn't forgotten what makes this car great. The company has never tried to rethink it, or reinvent it. But at the same time, the Miata never feels like it's long in the tooth, or growing stale. This car could be exactly the same for another three decades, and I guarantee we'll still sing its praises. The Miata is all about the bond between the driver, the car and the road. And as we head toward an increasingly automated automotive future, it's extremely refreshing to have something so simple and honest available -- and for under $30,000, too.

Here's to the next 30 years.

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