2019 Mazda MX-5 RF Review: More Horsepower Makes It More Fun

(Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images) /

Mazda decided to bump up the horsepower of its little sports car, and not change much else.

The Mazda MX-5 is almost universally regarded as one of the best affordable sports cars you can buy. It’s fun, easy to drive, and nearly endlessly customizable. It makes sense for a lot of car enthusiasts and track-day bros.

I’ve driven a few different trim levels of the MX-5 over the last few years. One thing I never found lacking, but many have is the amount of power coming from the MX-5’s four-cylinder. That changes for 2019. Mazda chose to stuff more power into its little engine.

More Horsepower Makes the MX-5 Fly

The old car made 155 hp. It’s a respectable number for a vehicle weighing roughly 2,400 lbs. For 2019, though, the little car comes with 181 hp. That’s a 26 hp jump with the same curb weight. That ups the fun factor considerably.

More from Art of Gears

The extra power is immediately evident. The car feels noticeably peppier, and you can stay in gears a little longer if you want to. In the old car, you rowed through the gears quickly. You still do that in the 2019 model, but you don’t have to shift quite as often. It’s nice in traffic and downright lovable in the twisties.

I took the MX-5 down to southern Indiana to find some seriously curvy roads around Brown County State Park and grinned my head off as I whipped through the never-ending esses.

The 2019 MX-5 retains all of its handling prowess and precise steering the previous model year had. It’s playful and fun on just about any road, and while there is more power, the car’s strong suit is still its handling capabilities. In short, Mazda didn’t ruin the car by stuffing a few more ponies under the hood.

The Retractable Hardtop Makes It More Usable

I’d never driven the RF version of the MX-5. RF stands for Retractable Fastback, and Mazda first came out with the thing in 2017. The car has a sleek hardtop roof that retracts out of the way at the flick of a switch. You have to be going very slowly or stopped to move the top, but otherwise, it’s easy and takes about 13 seconds to go from closed to open.

The top adds a little weight over the soft top version of the car, but it’s hardly noticeable thanks to retuned suspension. Wind buffeting isn’t quite as good as the regular soft top MX-5, but it’s still pretty good.

The car looks fantastic with the roof up or down. It doesn’t really go down. It more opens kind of like a powered Targa top. Mazda couldn’t call it a Targa top, though, because that’s Porsche’s thing. So, Retractable Fastback works.

The appeal of the RF model is that it’s a lot quieter and a bit more civilized no matter what the weather’s doing. The RF gives you the best of both worlds. You get a quiet coupe with the top up and a cool open-air experience when you want it.

Over the course of my week with the vehicle, I realized the model is probably the best MX-5 to get. You get everything you could want in a sporty two-seat car. With the extra power for 2019, it’s even hard to complain about speed. MX-5 naysayers will have a harder time coming up with reasons to dislike the car. It’s just darn good.

Next. Could the Mitsubishi Lancer Come Back as a Renault?. dark

I’d imagine the horsepower bump will only help Mazda sell more of these little sports cars, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m all for it.