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First UK Drive: Mazda MX-5 RF 2019MY. Image by Mazda.

First UK Drive: Mazda MX-5 RF 2019MY
Mazda's new 184hp 2.0-litre engine is the motor the MX-5 has always been waiting for.

   



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Mazda MX-5 RF 2019MY

5 5 5 5 5

A chance to sample the updated, 2019MY Mazda MX-5 RF on UK roads, after our first drive recently on the Transfagarasan highway, and we're convinced - this is the engine the MX-5 has always deserved. It's a peach of a powerplant in a gem of a car.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Mazda MX-5 RF 184 GT Sport Nav+
Pricing: MX-5 from 18,995; 184 GT Sport Nav+ from 27,795; car as tested 28,465
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: two-door, hard-top roadster
CO2 emissions: 156g/km (VED band 151-170: 515 first 12 months, then 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 40.9mpg
Top speed: 137mph
0-62mph: 6.8 seconds
Power: 184hp at 7,000rpm
Torque: 205Nm at 4,000rpm
Boot space: 127 litres

What's this?

Without going into this at great length, what you have here is the familiar shape of a fourth-generation Mazda MX-5. Since it launched three years ago, we've always felt that - while the 160hp 2.0-litre engine was excellent - it was the super-sweet 1.5-litre motor which felt like it was the powerplant Mazda had prioritised during development of the MX-5. That even held true in the slightly heavier RF model, too.

But the updates for the 2019MY, which brought in the rake and reach adjustable steering wheel (perhaps the single best thing about the lovely if cosy interior) plus extra tech and slightly revised looks, also saw the 2.0-litre engine overhauled. We won't go into full details here, as Shane covered them all on the international first drive, but essentially this is not just a remap - the internals and the intake/exhaust system have been significantly redeveloped. The net result is an additional 24hp of peak power, coming on stream at a higher rev point (now 7,000rpm), and a mere 5Nm extra torque for 205Nm overall. This, usefully, is delivered fully 600rpm earlier than it was on the old 160hp 2.0-litre motor. But surely, surely this small upswing in muscularity can't make that much of a difference to the already-wonderful MX-5? Can it...?

How does it drive?

It's all very well and good the MX-5 thrilling on the Romanian playground that is the squiggly Transfagarasan highway, regarded as one of the greatest driving roads on the face of the planet, but- more importantly - how would an RF GT Sport Nav+ (that little 'plus' symbol, by the way, means the Mazda in question has been WLTP-tested) cope with the autumnal roads surrounding Harrogate? Would it feel as special? Would we still find ourselves favouring the 1.5-litre engine?

No, is the short answer. The new 2.0-litre motor is a revelation. Never has a mere 15 per cent hike in power on a normally aspirated engine felt like such a startling shot in the arm. Everything you know and love about the Mazda MX-5 holds true - the steering's gorgeous, the damping exquisite, the feedback and fluidity of the chassis good enough to embarrass machines four times the price of the Japanese two-seater - but now it feels like the compact rear-driver has precisely the right amount of power. By this, we mean it would have been tremendously easy for Mazda to stick a light-pressure turbo motor in the nose of the MX-5 and give it 200hp and more, plus a great wodge of midrange torque... yet that would have been entirely missing the point.

Instead, this 184hp 2.0-litre engine is just sublime, the perfect solution to a problem we never knew the MX-5 2.0 possessed. The 184hp car sounds better than the old model, which we last sampled as a Z-Sport at Silverstone, as there's a harder-edged snarl to its induction and a richer exhaust note enhancing the open-top driving experience. But it's the way it hauls oh-so-cleanly and eagerly for 7,000rpm that will put the colossal smile on your face. Wring the MX-5 out through the first four gears and now you'll be doing big speeds, rather than acceptably above average ones, but it's more the responsiveness of the faster, lighter flywheel that sticks in your mind, or the never-ending let-up in power through a given ratio of the 'box as you tickle the redline (the MX-5 can actually rev to 7,500rpm, if you so wish, but you'll have lost a few horses by this point), or the way the 184hp model feels about 50-60hp stronger than the old 2.0-litre car, never mind 24hp. It's a marvellous update and the normal aspiration is totally in keeping with the MX-5 ethos.

Oh, and one last thing, as we're clear on this now: the RF is the superior road car to the Roadster. Its extra weight over the back axle just seems to settle the Mazda better in the wake of big compressions when the rear suspension is loaded up, meaning you feel more confident in pinning the throttle earlier in a corner and best utilising every single one of the 184 horses. Magnificent.

Verdict

Tiny little changes have never added up to so much before. We didn't think the old 160hp 2.0-litre MX-5 was a bad car, far from it; but the 1.5 engine was the indubitably the better companion for the Mazda's particularly delicate suite of dynamic abilities. Now, though, the choice is a no-brainer: you want the 184hp engine and, preferably, the RF body, and you'll have the one of the greatest sub-30,000 performance cars going.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

3 3 3 3 3 Passenger Space

3 3 3 3 3 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 21 Nov 2018



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