2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata review: Club life isn't for everyone, and that's OK
Do the Club’s sharper reflexes make it the must-have Miata?
Roadshow editors love the Miata, and for good reason. Mazda's plucky little roadster is one of the greatest sports cars ever. Four of our editors own MX-5s, and every time I get behind the wheel of one, I'm tempted to become the fifth.
The Miata got a number of updates for the 2019 model year, including more power and torque. Reviews editor Antuan Goodwin recently tested a loaded GT-S model, but for the sake of this review, I'm curious to see how the Miata's oomph matches up with the Club model's slightly quicker reflexes.
The Miata is powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine sending 181 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. The 2019 model has 26 more horsepower and 3 more pound-feet of torque than last year's car, and Antuan's review goes into great detail about all the cool stuff Mazda engineers did to achieve that power and torque bump. Unlike the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 , which could use some more low-end power, the Miata, with its newfound vigor, feels just right.
Rowing through the slick-shifting, six-speed manual transmission is a visceral experience. As I approach the 7,500-rpm redline, the shifter vibrates slightly -- but rather than being an annoying bit of NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) oversight, this buzz helps me feel more connected to the car. (Pro tip: While cruising, let off the throttle in a higher gear between 2,500 and 3,000 rpm to provoke a resonant susurration from the exhaust.)
The Miata Club comes with a set of Brembo front brakes, which provide plenty of stopping power and are a breeze to modulate through the pedal. The Miata also boasts some of the best steering of any car you can buy today. The weighting is just about perfect, and the front tires might as well be whispering into my ears with the way they speak to me through the steering wheel.
The biggest difference between the Club model and the other MX-5s is the suspension. The Club features Bilstein dampers that firm things up and reduce body roll, and this sportier setup improves the Miata's limit handling. The downside about the sportier dampers is that they make the ride less comfortable for everyday driving. Even just a quick trip to the supermarket is a too-harsh affair, and saps a little bit of fun from the otherwise-lovely Miata experience.
Another feature that separates the Club from other Miata variants is a front shock tower brace, but from the driver's seat, you can't really sense the structural stiffness it adds. The Club also features a limited-slip differential, which helps with on-road poise during spirited driving.
When equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission, the Miata is estimated to get 26 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg highway. When sporting the manual transmission like my tester, the Miata is EPA-rated at 26/34 city/highway mpg. After a week of enjoyable evaluation, I averaged 32.7 mpg. That's another Miata win: It's still relatively efficient even when you're driving it with gusto.
The MX-5 Miata comes standard with a 7-inch touchscreen, a six-speaker stereo with headrest speakers on the driver's side and HD radio. Optional tech features include embedded navigation, a nine-speaker Bose premium audio system (with headrest speakers for both occupants) and satellite radio . Want Apple CarPlay or Android Auto ? Cue the losing horn from The Price Is Right, because you're out of luck. The lack of smartphone mirroring means you're stuck with just using the aged Mazda Connect infotainment interface that requires too much fumbling through menus to execute simple commands.
No advanced driver-assistance features come standard on the base Miata Sport, but for a little roadster, the MX-5 isn't a slouch with its available driver-safety tech. Step up to the Miata Club, and you'll get standard blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, though you can add automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning as part of a $450 package. The top Grand Touring trim features automatic emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, lane-departure warning, adaptive headlights, automatic high-beams and rain-sensing wipers.
Skip the sporty seats
My Club tester's optional Recaro seats -- part of a $4,470 package that also adds the aforementioned Brembo brakes and cool-looking BBS wheels -- are uncomfortable. For short drives, they're fine, but their lack of padding makes me less inclined to take this Miata on an extended Sunday drive. The standard seats are much better suited for long distances, and you can still option the Brembo/BBS kit without adding the sportier chairs. Thankfully, the Recaros are heated, which helps me stay warm with the top down, even with ambient temperatures dropping to 41 degrees in the mountains outside San Diego.
A new telescoping steering column adds another boost to the Miata's cabin comfort. The additional means of adjustability doesn't make much difference for me, at 5-feet, 9-inches tall, but it will for people who lie on the edges of stature.
No matter your size, you'll appreciate the looks of the cabin -- after three years on the market, the fourth-generation Miata's interior remains as fetching as its exterior. It's a small cockpit, though, so storage space is in seriously short supply. Out back, there's only 4.6 cubic feet of trunk space, which sounds pathetic, but it's enough for a carry-on suitcase and a backpack.
Softer is better
The base Mazda MX-5 Miata Sport starts at $26,650, including $920 for destination. The Club model starts at $30,510. As tested, my Miata Club comes in at $36,800 because of expensive options like the $4,470 Brembo/BBS/Recaro package, the $425 interior package (alloy pedals, oil cap and door sill trim plates) and the $800 appearance package (side sill extensions, black rear bumper skirt).
I'd skip all of that and simply add the $595 Soul Red Crystal paint (perhaps the most striking hue in production today), the $450 I-Activsense Club Package that adds automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning, and call it a day at a much more reasonable $31,555.
If you want the benefits of the Club with a bit more luxury, you can add a $550 GT-S package to the top Grand Touring trim. In addition to the Grand Touring niceties, this pack gets you the limited-slip diff, Bilstein dampers and shock tower brace from the Club.
The Miata Club isn't the MX-5 I'd buy, but it's still the greatest-handling Miata I've ever driven. Ultimately, though, I'd leave a lot of its sportier hardware on the table. The Miata Club is amazing, I can assure you, but the more comfortable versions are downright narcotic.