Hard Top Or Open Air Driving
Not many cars are offered as a soft top convertible and a hard top convertible. One of those is the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata, which comes with the traditional ragtop, made of fabric, and the RF, or Retractable Fastback that is made of fiberglass. The soft or hard top does not affect the beauty of this little car, or its performance, which remains one of the best on the market.
Clean Fleet Report is a big fan of the Miata, and has never been disappointed with it in any way. You can check out our previous sessions with the Miata here, here, here and here. Well maybe one disappoint—having to hand over the keys after what seems like a very a short week of driving fun doing “research” for our review. So, how do these two versions of this edition stack-up against each other?
Hard vs. Soft 1
Up to the point we climbed into the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF, we had only experienced this iconic sports car with the manually-operated soft top. With the release of two levers, the soft top lowers with one hand. Retrieving it to the closed position is just as easy. So why did Mazda design the retractable fastback hard top? A few reasons are obvious once you drive it.
The Miata RF, with the roof in the closed position, treats the occupants to a driving experience unlike the Miata soft top. While the soft top is insulated and fits snuggly, it is cloth. Therefore, exterior sounds and wind noise can be heard. But with the retractable fastback, the Miata RF becomes a sealed chamber where the thought of open air driving is forgotten. Vibration-free driving with the hard top up is a unique aspect of this two seat roadster. One thing we noticed at freeway speeds with the top down was that the C pillars can collect wind, causing some turbulence. This can be mitigated to some degree by adjusting the power windows up and down so the interior pressure neutralizes. It takes some experimenting, but such is the adventure of driving a convertible.
The power operated hardtop retracts and closes in a mere 13 seconds. Press one switch, and the two-piece top does a Transformers-type lift-slide-hide-close with choreographed precision. Want to draw a crowd, open it in a parking lot and shoppers will stop and watch like it is the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. You even will get a few people asking to “do it again” so they can observe the mechanism up close. Engineers love it.
Hard vs. Soft 2
From a styling standpoint, there are split opinions if the fastback adds or detracts from the historical shape of the Miata. What the fastback adds to the Miata is a sexy element, where the soft top never received that accolade. Over the years the Miata has been called cute, which is okay, but hardcore Miata racers would disagree. Then along comes the fastback and the “S” word enters the discussion.
What makes the fastback so much different falls to the sleek roof line and the unique rear window that is set-back behind the flying buttress C pillars. Clean Fleet Report’s test car was painted in the very attractive Ceramic Metallic, where influences of gray, brown and even green came through, depending on the lighting. If you really want to draw attention, go with the optional Soul Red Metallic, possibly Mazda’s best-looking color.
Hard vs. Soft 3
Another factor of which top interests you could be where you live. If in colder and wetter climates, the hard top would be an excellent choice. When in the raised position, the cockpit can be heated and cooled with the same efficiency as a fixed-roof car. You would still have the option for a quick top-down experience (remember, 13 seconds) if you wanted.
Here in Southern California, cold is not so much the concern as is scorching heat, so either top is fine. However, the hard top makes going between open and closed so easy that it makes driving on even the warmest days enjoyable. Regardless where you live, those warm summer nights just beg to be enjoyed top down.
The smiles begin before even climbing in. Getting behind the wheel of a MX-5 Miata is always greatly anticipated as the top-down feeling of this two-seater never gets old. It welcomes revving the engine high, aggressively shifting through the gears and pushing the rear-wheel drive handling to the limits. Albert Einstein is reputed to have said “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” We can thank Mazda’s engineers and designers for their creativity and intelligence to give us such a fun car to drive.
The rear-wheel drive 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring RF is powered by a smooth and responsive 2.0-liter, four-cylinder DOHC, 16-valve engine producing 181 horsepower and 151 pounds-feet of torque. Clean Fleet Report’s Miata had the stock six-speed manual transmission, which is near perfection, with short throws and a buttery smooth clutch. The EPA rates the miles per gallon at 26 city/34 highway/29 combined. In 308 miles driving throughout Southern California we averaged 32.1 mpg. Considering how we were driving, exceeding the EPA numbers was not expected. The optional automatic, with paddle shifters, is rated at two more miles per gallon on the highway.
Mazda’s Skyactiv technology is designed to maximize power, fuel economy and owner safety, or as they say, “providing the driver with a more connected, enjoyable experience.” No argument there, because when driving the Miata, you certainly feel connected to the road thanks to the balance of power, torque, and handling.
The Fun of It
The MX-5 Miata is known as an enthusiast’s car. It’s a true driver’s car that makes owners smile out on the road; don’t confuse it with a grocery-getter or kid-hauler.
Clean Fleet Report’s 2019 MX-5 Miata Grand Touring RF, with the manual transmission, weighed in at a lean 2,332 lbs. With a 53/47 percent front to rear weight distribution, the Miata was sporty, confident and nimble. The six-speed manual transmission is arguably the best on the market with short shift throws and a clutch that is absolutely seamless in its operation and feel. Pushing the engine high in the rev band, even to redline with quick up and down shifts, was a joy that made for a driving experience that everyone needs to try at least once.
With a low center of gravity, the quickness and accuracy of the handling response is excellent. The sport-tuned suspension pieces on our test Miata were upgraded by the GT-S Package to include Bilstein shock absorbers, a shock tower brace for stiffness, and a double wishbone front, multi-link rear, electric power-assisted rack & pinion steering and stabilizer bars at both ends. TheBridgestone Potenza 205/45 high-performance summer tires, on 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, didn’t lose grip after repeated fast cornering on a warm day. Add in the torque-sensing limited-slip differential, dynamic stability and traction controls, and the urge/need/requirement to find an open stretch of long drawn-out sweepers or tight corners to fling it from side-to-side, will bring-out that smile again.
Stopping was predictable and consistent with front vented and rear solid discs, and four-wheel ABS with electronic brake distribution.
This classic sports car has a long hood and a short trunk (both made of aluminum for weight reduction), short overhangs, a cropped cabin pushed far back on the body and large wheels pushed as far as feasible towards all four corners.
Standing only 4.9-inches off the ground, you get an instant go-kart feel of seeing the road and world from a far different perspective. The clean front end starts with LED headlights that allowed the designers to take up as little real estate as possible and a small grille.
Coming off the nose is a low, sloping hood and a laid-back A-pillar. The sides are smooth, ending at the short trunk deck with a shark fin antenna, dual exhaust with bright tips and round LED taillights. Badging is kept to the absolute minimum on what is a great-looking sports car. The retractable hard top in the raised position gives the Miata a sleek look and, with the top down, it is classic Mazda roadster all the way.
With an interior designed with driver-centric ergonomics in mind, Mazda says it will allow for “an even greater number of drivers to be able to experience the MX-5 Miata.” Translation: America is the top market for the Miata, and the interior needed to expand a bit to accommodate the expanded size of Americans. I am 5’9” and fit easily in the Miata, but so did friends who were six-foot tall.
The MX-5 Miata Grand Touring RF comes with leather-trimmed, heated sport seats. Ours were in black with red top stitching. There is some travel in the seats and they recline a bit, but the bottom cushion padding could be increased. There was no lumbar adjustment.
The dash layout is simple and clean with a 7.0-inch, color touch-screen display erupting from the dashboard. With the top down, everything is pretty bright so the three, deep-set round gauges are protected from glare by a hood. Because performance is always top-of-mind with the MX-5 Miata, the tachometer is in the center of the three gauges and is the largest of the three.
The excellent nine-speaker (including one in each of the seat headrests) Bose sound system delivers deep bass and crisp treble for the AM/FM/CD/MP3/AUX HD radio, two USB inputs, SiriusXM (four-month subscription), Aha, Pandora and Stitcher internet radio integration. The Mazda Connect connectivity system includes navigation.
Mazda has worked hard on reducing noise inside the cabin when the top is lowered. While driving 70 mph on the freeway I received an incoming call, which I took using the Bluetooth hands-free feature accessed by the steering wheel mounted controls. Taking a call at this speed with an open top was an experiment, as I was positive the caller would hear nothing but a roar of wind and road, and not my voice. To my surprise not only was the call crystal clear with no wind noise, but the caller said it was as good quality of a call they could remember being on. Also of note is the caller’s voice was sent through the speakers in the seat headrests, which kept me from thinking I had to shout. So, three cheers to Mazda’s sound engineers for a great job on reducing interior noise levels.
Convenience comes your way with cruise control, remote keyless door locks, power windows with one-touch down, power door locks, rain-sensing windshield wipers, power and heated side mirrors, push button ignition, A/C, carpeted floor mats, glass rear window with defogger, and small but appreciated storage areas.
One last thing is the trunk, which intuitively would seem to be diminutive and a second thought. This is far from the case, as it can hold everything needed comfortably for a long weekend. Obviously, you will not be bringing golf clubs, visiting wineries and lugging home cases of wine, nor will you be doing any antiquing. But if we are getting real here, why would you be buying a MX-5 Miata if you wanted to do any of those things in the first place? Managing expectations is the key when driving a two-place roadster.
The 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata comes with an extensive list of standard and optional safety features including four airbags, dynamic stability control, traction control, a tire pressure monitoring system, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, an anti-theft alarm and engine immobilizer.
Pricing and Warranties
Clean Fleet Report’s 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring RF, with $1,175 in optional equipment, had a MSRP of $34,510. Add $895 for delivery, processing and handling.
The 2019 MX-5 Miata comes with these warranties:
- Basic – Three years/36,000 miles
- Powertrain – Five years/60,000 miles
- Roadside Assistance – Three years/36,000 miles
- Perforation – Five years/Unlimited miles
Observations: 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring RF
On Mazda’s website they tell us that “Driving Matters: Mazda Is the Joy of Driving”, and then go on to say that “On the street or on the track, Mazda provides the joy of driving. Freedom. Happiness.” No argument here.
The 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring RF has superior performance and is a blast to drive. You will enjoy tossing around this lightweight convertible sports car, knowing it is by far the lowest-priced two-seat, rear-wheel drive convertible on the market, therefore offering the most topless fun for the money. There is that smile again.
Mazda dealers will have a MX-5 Miata enthusiast on staff, whether it be in parts, service or sales. Ask for them on your visit as they will be eager to answer all your questions about owning one of these wonderful cars.
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Whatever you end up buying, Happy Driving!
Photos: Lex Adams
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