2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Review: 911 Targa-Lite

by Roger Biermann

The Mazda Miata may be known as an iconic soft-top roadster, but over the years the moniker has adorned the tails of more than just rag-top roadsters. Back in 2003, Japan saw a limited run of coupe MX-5s, which meant that every year since, the rest of the world has craved something similar. Fortunately, Mazda has somewhat obliged, and in the case of the MX-5 Miata RF, you get coupe styling on one hand, and seconds later your world transforms to an open-air experience that shares more than just a vague hint of Porsche's 911 Targa.

The body may have changed in the pursuit of style, but fortunately, Mazda's kept everything we love about the Miata in place - the 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine up front, a pair of driven wheels at the rear, and in the middle, a six-speed manual gearbox, although an automatic is also available. Has Mazda's pursuit of stylistic appeal dulled the MX-5 Miata experience? We don't think so; they've simply broadened the appeal of one of the best-selling sports cars of all time.

Read in this review:

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Changes: What’s the difference vs 2018 MX-5 Miata RF?

A healthy helping of upgrades has been dealt to Mazda's coupe-cum-convertible for the new model year, the most important of which are more power and torque. 26 horsepower and three lb-ft of torque are gained, while the engine's redline has been lifted to 7,500 rpm for more rev-happy fun. The MX-5 RF also gets a new GT-S Package on manual-equipped Grand Touring models, which adds a limited-slip rear differential, Bilstein dampers, and a shock tower brace for better handling, and a black roof for the sake of style. The range benefits from improved comfort and safety, too, with a tilt and telescopic steering wheel now included for comfort, while safety is bolstered by a standard rearview camera, and the availability of Smart City Brake and traffic sign recognition for the Grand Touring trim and an i-ACTIVSENSE Package for the Club trim. The base trim also gets new Metallic Black wheels. There's a new addition to the line-up as well, with a special 30th Edition trim added, featuring Brembo brakes, Bilstein shocks, 17-inch Rays alloy wheels, a 30th Anniversary badge, and a Racing Orange paint job.

Pros and Cons

  • Targa-top styling looks amazing
  • Coupe refinement with the roof closed
  • Still the quintessential sports coupe
  • Mazda still services the purists with a manual gearbox
  • Pliant ride quality mixed with playful handling dynamics
  • Well-appointed interior
  • More power, more noise, more fun for 2019
  • Cabin is tight with the roof closed
  • Hard-top operation speed is too slow
  • Wind noise is pertinent inside the cabin with the roof open
  • Taller drivers don't have much space behind the wheel

MX-5 Miata RF Exterior

The 'RF' addendum to the MX-5 Miata nameplate denotes its key differentiating factor from the standard Miata Roadster. It stands for 'retractable fastback', alluding to the sloping fastback design leading up to a power-retractable hard-top roof. Aside from that, it's the same Miata we've come to know and love over the last few years, with Mazda's Kodo: Soul of Motion design at the heart of it all. There are standard LED headlights and taillights, dual-exit tailpipes, and within the arches on both trims, you'll find a set of 17-inch alloy wheels, now with a Metallic Black finish for the new year on the Club trim and a Dark Silver finish on the Grand Touring. The 30th Anniversary swaps out the standard wheels for a set of Rays forged alloys.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Front Angle View Mazda
2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Front Angle View 1 Mazda
2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Rear Angle View Mazda
See All 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Exterior Photos

Dimensions

Key to the MX-5 Miata's exceptional handling dynamics is its compact dimensions. A 90.9-inch wheelbase is housed beneath bodywork measuring 154.1 inches long and 68.3 inches wide. 5.32 inches of space separates the underside of the body from the asphalt, and the highest point stands just 49 inches from ground level. Manual-equipped models are the lightest with a curb weight of 2,453 lbs, but even the automatic variants are featherweights at just 2,493 lbs. With the mechanical hard-top of the RF, it gains just more than 110 lbs over a regular manual transmission MX-5 Miata.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Exterior Colors

  • Soul Red Crystal Metallic
  • Jet Black Mica
  • Ceramic Metallic
  • Arctic White
  • Machine Gray Metallic
  • Eternal Blue Mica
  • Snowflake White Pearl Mica
  • Racing Orange

MX-5 Miata RF Performance

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Front View Driving Mazda
2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Rear View Driving Mazda
2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Taillights Mazda

Engine and Transmission

Despite the MX-5 Miata having a turbocharged engine in its back catalog, the 2019 model retains natural aspiration in favor of purer throttle responses. But the engine has been massaged for more power this year. Efforts involving reducing the internal mass of the pistons and con-rods, adjusted valve timing and spacing, reconfigured intake ports, a new exhaust, and a dual-mass flywheel have yielded gains of 26 hp and three lb-ft, taking total outputs to 181 hp and 151 lb-ft. The rev-ceiling has been lifted, too, with redline now found at 7,500 rpm - an increase of 700 rpm over the 2018 model. A choice of transmissions is available - a six-speed manual for the purists and a six-speed automatic for those who like to take things easy - but if you're buying into the MX-5 Miata family, you'd be doing yourself a disservice to opt for anything but the sweet-shifting manual.

  • Engine
    2.0-liter Inline-4 Gas
  • Transmissions
    6-Speed Automatic, 6-Speed Manual
  • Drivetrain
    RWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

Jinba Ittai - the spirit of horse and rider as one. It's the ethos at the heart of every MX-5 and the RF is no different. One of the reasons we urge buyers to get the manual, is that the manual-equipped versions gain access to the GT-S Package, equipping Bilstein dampers, a shock tower brace and a limited-slip rear differential. They have no negative effect on the MX-5 RF's exemplary ride quality, but the fitment of such items means there's less heaving around corners, more composure, and the ability to put those extra 26 ponies down a little smoother on corner exit. With that equipment applied, it makes the most of the MX-5's light but precise steering and balanced chassis, which have a way of combining with the driver to turn any drive into more than just a commute but a joyride every time, teaching you the art of balance on corner entry and exit and allowing for equal amounts of over- and understeer depending on inputs. It might be cheap, it might be underpowered, but the MX-5 remains one of the purest driving experiences around.

MX-5 Miata RF Gas Mileage

A low curb weight benefits more than just handling dynamics; it has a knock-on effect of great gas mileage, too. The best numbers are achieved by the six-speed automatic transmission with EPA-rated estimates of 26/35/30 mpg - besting the Fiat 124 Spider by a point overall and the Toyota 86 by three. The stick-shift RF sacrifices almost nothing for the extra enjoyment it affords, with a payoff of 26/34/29 mpg well worth the additional smiles per mile. An 11.9-gallon gas tank seems paltry, but it still affords the MX-5 RF a theoretical range of 357 miles, with real-world tests showing the figures are easy to achieve.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    11.9 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 26/34 mpg
* 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Club Manual

MX-5 Miata RF Interior

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Dashboard Mazda
2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Dashboard 1 Mazda
2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Steering Wheel Mazda
See All 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Interior Photos

Seating and Interior Space

With a mere 90.9 inches between the axles, the cabin of the MX-5 Miata RF was never going to be cavernous, but even for this segment, it's a tight fit. Only two seats can be found inside, and occupants taller than six-foot-two won't be able to fit at all - a standard six-footer will find the position awkward at best. You're sat low in the cabin on heated manually adjustable bucket seats that offer decent levels of support, but if you want proper figure-hugging lateral support you'll need to opt for the Recaro buckets - optional on the Club and standard on the 30th Anniversary.

  • Seating capacity
    2-seater

MX-5 Miata RF Trunk and Cargo Space

Don't let the Grand Touring denomination of the MX-5 Miata RF's uppermost trim fool you, you're not going to be able to tour cross-country with a partner and luggage in a Miata - you never have been, and never will. Just 4.48 cubic feet of trunk space is all you're given in a relatively square, but ultimately shallow, cargo bay that can hold a single piece of carry-on luggage or squeeze in a few duffel bags. It's marginally less than the 4.59 cubic feet offered in the standard Miata Roadster. Internal space is similarly limited - a glovebox, the odd small storage nook, and two removable, and infuriatingly cheap cupholders make up the bulk of your personal item storage options.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Trunk Space Mazda
2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Rear Angle View 1 Mazda
2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Rear Angle View 2 Mazda
  • Trunk Volume
    4.5 ft³

MX-5 Miata RF Infotainment and Features

Features

A budget price doesn't necessarily mean the MX-5 RF is lacking in features. Despite Mazda's gram strategy for weight saving, they've added in some nice novelties to hide any sense of cheapness. LED lighting, manual air conditioning, cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a rearview camera, keyless entry, push-button start, and standard three-stage heating for the seats - along with a new feature for 2019, a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, are standard from the base model. The Grand Touring, meanwhile, gets the lion's share of the pleasantries, including auto-dimming rearview mirrors, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, automatic high beams, traffic sign recognition, lane departure warning, and Smart City Brake, with the latter pair offered as optional on the base Club model.

Infotainment

What hasn't already been said about Mazda's latest-gen infotainment system? It's more than just a little reminiscent of BMW's iDrive, with the seven-inch color touchscreen controlled primarily by a rotary controller on the center console. It might not have the most contemporary graphics, but it boasts decent functionality, with AM/FM radio, HD radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, two USB ports, an auxiliary input, Bluetooth, and a standard nine-speaker Bose sound system with a subwoofer. Navigation becomes standard from the Grand Touring trim. But if it's Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality you're looking for, the Club and Grand Touring models can't get them, as only the 30th Anniversary trim boasts this functionality.

MX-5 Miata RF Problems and Reliability

Further proof that you should buy a manual Miata comes from the fact that the only recall issued for the last three years has affected the six-speed automatic models in which a fault in the transmission software can cause the gearbox to downshift and the car to decelerate unexpectedly. Mazda covers all MX-5 Miatas with a three-year/36,000-mile limited warranty, matching roadside assistance program, and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.

MX-5 Miata RF Safety

Neither the NHTSA nor IIHS has a safety rating for the Miata RF, but a relatively low-volume sports car is seldom crash tested and evaluated thoroughly. Still, the basics are covered by dual front and side-impact airbags (four in total), ABS brakes, stability control, blind-spot monitoring, a rearview camera, and rear cross-traffic alert as standard for the whole line-up, with the Grand Touring and 30th Anniversary models boasting automatic high beams, lane departure warning, Smart City Brake, and traffic sign recognition.

Verdict: Is 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF a good car?

The fact remains that the MX-5 Miata is still the best small sports car you can buy, offering the thrills of exotic machinery and the driving dynamics to match, even if power outputs and speeds are only a fraction of those found in said exotics. The same attributes that make us love the ragtop Miata are inherent in the RF, only now, there's an extra dose of style and the impression of it being a coupe, thanks to the retractable fastback design. However, it's the stunning design that also makes recommending the RF difficult, as the style comes at the expense of internal headroom, increased noise levels with the roof open, and the impractical aspect of the mechanism being inoperable at certain speeds and taking forever to open or close. It's still utterly brilliant, but is it better than the O.G. MX-5 Miata ragtop? Simply, no.

What's the Price of the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF?

Style and the impression of a coupe come at a cost, with the MX-5 Miata RF carrying a circa $2,900 price premium over the rag-top version. The two standard trims and 2019-only limited edition are still affordable though, with the Club starting off at an MSRP of $32,345 before options, taxes, licensing, and a $920 destination fee. Stepping up to the Grand Touring pushes that price to $33,335 while swapping the six-speed manual out for the self-shifting auto adds $600 to the price of the Club and $1,075 to the price of the Grand Touring. Should you be one of the fortunate 643 to get your hands on a 30th Anniversary model, expect to pay $34,995.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Models

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
Club
2.0-liter Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
6-Speed Manual
Rear-Wheel Drive
$32,345
Grand Touring
2.0-liter Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
6-Speed Manual
Rear-Wheel Drive
$33,335
30th Anniversary
2.0-liter Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
6-Speed Manual
Rear-Wheel Drive
$37,595
See All 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Trims and Specs

What Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Model Should I Buy?

We're still not convinced you should buy the MX-5 Miata RF, but if you have your heart set on the fastback coupe styling, then we'd say you're better off in the base Club model, and you better get it with a manual gearbox. The 30th Anniversary edition is already sold out, and the Grand Touring just makes the RF soft, despite adding extra niceties like automatic climate control and additional driver assists. But the Club is the sweet spot, not just because it's cheap, but because it comes standard with the contents of the GT-S Package - Bilstein dampers, a limited-slip differential, sport-tuned suspension, and a shock tower brace, making the RF the most sporting it can be. You can even add the Recaro seats from the 30th Anniversary, a set of BBS forged alloys, Brembo brakes, and the Smart City Brake and lane departure warning systems via the options list, meaning that for once in life, being cheap actually means getting more value for money.

Check out other Mazda MX-5 Miata Styles

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Comparisons

Mazda MX-5 Miata Mazda
Toyota 86 Toyota

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF vs Mazda MX-5 Miata

Original prankster or the new kid on the block: that's the question one has to ask when buying an MX-5 Miata. Both benefit from the same updates for 2019, so both get more power, higher revs, and increased specification, as well as the option of the 30th Anniversary model. But the regular Miata Roadster has a trick up its sleeve. Not only is it nearly $3,000 cheaper than the RF on a like-for-like basis, but it has the option of a cheaper Sport trim, which cuts out the frivolities and gives you a back-to-basics toy to enjoy for the price of a Toyota Corolla. That aside, the ragtop Miata is lighter, carries its weight lower, and is marginally more spacious with the roof closed. It's got a marginally larger trunk, and when the roof is open, there's less wind noise in the cabin. But on a hot day, the soft-top doesn't insulate heat as well, and the RF has beautiful coupe curves the roadster doesn't have. A lot comes down to personal taste, here, but the rag-top is the smart choice.

See Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF vs Toyota 86

For years, the MX-5 Miata stood unopposed in the small, rear-wheel-drive sports car segment, until Toyota and Subaru waded into the fray with the 86/BRZ twins. On paper, the 86 walks the comparison - 2+2 seating, a bigger trunk, a more spacious interior, and 24 hp more power from its own 2.0-liter Boxer engine. But the MX-5 RF is lighter, meaning it's just as quick, and you get the duality of having an open-top experience or closed roof coupe. You pay dearly for that, though, as a top-spec Miata is more than $2,000 dearer than the 86's top model. However, the MX-5 has a nicer interior, better infotainment, more safety features, and a more premium experience overall. It's also more fun to drive, and although the 86 feels like it's ready for more power, the MX-5 RF makes the most of the chassis it has. If you plan on keeping the car stock, buy the MX-5. But if the tuning bug's got you, buy the 86.

See Toyota 86 Review
$32,345 - $37,995
Price Range (MSRP)
Mazda MX-5 Miata RF
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