2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club RF - The Last Hope

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2.0-liter inline four, DOHC (181 hp @ 7000 rpm, 151 lb/ft. @ 4000 rpm)

Six-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive
26 city / 34 highway / 29 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
30.7 (observed mileage, MPG)
9.0 city / 7.0 highway / 8.1 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price: $33,265 US / $41,822 CAD
As Tested: $38,955 US/ $46,672 CAD
Prices include $920 destination charge in the United States and $1922 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.

They’re coming for our cars, people. “Alternative mobility solutions” are all the rage at many big automakers attempting to virtue signal (and electric-scooter) their way into social acceptability. I’m pretty certain that I heard a sweaty politician say something like, “Hell yes, we are going to take your crossover!” Even some automotive journalists have called for outright bans of private cars.

I suppose this is where I photoshop a Momo Prototipo into the infamous “from my cold, dead hands” Charlton Heston photo.

Do me a favor, friends. Let’s stem the tide. Take these car-haters for a ride in a proper sports car, like this 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF. Better yet, let them drive. All other worries of the world wipe away like raindrops on the windscreen as the right hand slots the shift lever into third, all while the corners of the mouth gently turn upward. The Miata is our last hope for motoring freedom.

I first drove both the soft top and retractable roof versions of the 2019 MX-5 Miata last summer, where I proclaimed both my undying love for the ragtop and a grudging acceptance of the fastback. Much of my dislike for the RF comes from relative discomfort, as I’m not a small person. For reference — and since it was asked in the comments last year — I’m six feet, four inches tall, with a short (for my height) 32-inch inseam. I’m all torso.

In this respect, the RF is less than ideal for me as my noggin tends to press against the hard top, rather than against a malleable canvas cover in the roadster. With a week to get more comfortable, however, I found that I could maneuver my rear forward a touch, bringing my head down into range. I’d still drive with the top retracted as often as possible, but rainstorms and worse can still be managed.

Again, this is simply a caveat for those toward the extremes of human body dimensions. Anyone even slightly shorter than me will have plenty of room to drive the Miata RF — especially as the 2019 model finally has a telescoping wheel, offering a touch more leg room.

The cupholders are just short of useless. They can be moved around throughout the cabin into 3 places — two slots between the inboard shoulders of the driver and passenger, and a slot where the passenger’s left knee should go. Don’t bother with a large Coke from McDonalds or anything beyond a “tall” at Starbucks, as driving with verve will topple your cups. Choose a resealable bottle for any liquid refreshment.

This isn’t a car in which to eat a meal, either. Ideally, the top is retracted as often as possible, so any attempts at tucking into a burger will be met with shrapnel of shredded lettuce.

No matter. You buy a Miata to drive a Miata. The retractable fastback on this RF model civilizes the car just enough to make it a reasonable year-round car north of the Mason-Dixon, or in urban areas where the car needs to be street parked. That’s why I think this is the best car to introduce someone to the joy of driving — because it addresses the typical objections toward a roadster without dumbing down the driving experience.

It even looks great. The confused cat look to the fascia is growing on me, and the fastback styling makes me wonder why Mazda didn’t offer something like this all along – it’s genuinely stunning. It’s hard to go wrong with the black BBS alloys fitted to this Club package car, as well.

The driving experience is sublime. The suspension is compliant, leaning into corners without giving up grip. It’s easy to slide if you’re trying to be an idiot, and even easier to catch that slide. But that supple suspension keeps the ride pleasurable on pockmarked roads or the ever-present interstate expansion joints. Driving in the city is simple, as visibility is quite good to all but the immediate over-shoulder view — the one drawback to the RF model are the sail panels for the C-pillar that do obstruct views a bit.

Spotify gave me a serendipitous tune one afternoon as I thumbed the starter, lowered the roof, and pulled away from another long day at the office. “Get in your car and cruise the land of the brave and free,” sang Ween. So I did. I picked my wife up, left the kids to their own digital devices, and we chased the sun for a couple of hours.

There’s a lot of this land to see. It’s best to get out and do it behind the wheel of a sports car like the Mazda Miata RF, so when that road turns a bit twisty, you can slot the lever into gear, put on a grin, and explore.

[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn]

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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2 of 47 comments
  • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on Oct 30, 2019

    I'm a long-torso'd 6'2" with a 29" inseam and I EXACTLY fit in my Fiata. That softtop isn't actually all that soft... If my legs were any longer I would not be able to drive it, and if my torso was any longer I would not fit with the top up - not like I can tilt the seat back any farther - to do that I have to slide the seat base forward, and then my legs don't fit. They REALLY should have figured out a way to have the cabin be a couple inches longer. But it is a heck of a car in relatively short doses. I did drive mine 6hrs to Key West though, and I survived. I test drove a 2019 Miata with the telescoping wheel and didn't think it made much difference - it didn't seem to go much of any closer to the dash, and I sure don't need it any closer to ME! Ultimately, I liked the way the Fiat drove a little better - it's slightly softer and less nervous, and I love the way the Fiat 1.4T sounds with an open exhaust - former very happy owner of a 500 Abarth. But you really can't go wrong either way. I figure in FL I now hav e the perfect pair of cars for the practical car nut middle aged duffer - a Fiata and a GTI Sport.

  • MorrisGray MorrisGray on Aug 11, 2020

    Is the Miata a lot more enjoyable to drive than a Mazda3 hatchback? Talking manual transmission only.... And does the Miata have a spare tire?

  • Eric No, I just share my opinions. I have no use nor time for rhetoric from any side.
  • Redapple2 Jeez. This is simple. I 75 and 696 area. 1 nobody -NOBODY wants to work in downtown Detritus. 2 close to the tech ctr. Design and Engineering HQ. 20 miles closer to Milford.3 lower taxes for the employees. Lower taxes for Evil GM Vampire.4 2 major expressways give users more options to suburbs. Faster transport.Jeez.
  • Clark The Ring (Nürburgring) is the only race track I've driven on. That was 1985 or 1986 with my '73 Fiat Spider (and my not-so-happy girlfriend). So I made the Karussell (today: Caracciola Karussell, which I believe the author meant; there is another one: Kleines Karussell).
  • AZFelix This article takes me back to racing electric slot cars with friends on tracks laid out in the basement. Periodically your car would stop due to lost connections or from flying off the track and you would have to dash over to it and set it right. In the mean time your competitor would race ahead until faced with a similar problem. It seemed like you were struggling harder to keep from losing than trying to win. Fun times.“History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.” Mark Twain
  • MaintenanceCosts What Americans get told (a) vs. actual EV ownership experience (b)(and, yes, I am an actual EV owner)a. You'll be waiting indefinitely for slow chargersb. Nearly all of your charging happens while you're at your housea. EVs are prohibitively expensive toys for the richb. Fuel cost is 1/4 that of gas and maintenance about the same, with purchase price differences falling quicklya. EVs catch fire all the timeb. Rates of ICE vehicles catching fire are much higher, although the few EV fires can be harder to extinguisha. You can't take a road tripb. Road trips are a bit slower, but entirely possible as an occasional thinga. iTz A gOlF cArT!!1b. Like a normal car, but with nicer power delivery and less noise