By Shari Prymak

It would be terribly cliché to begin a review of a new Mazda MX-5 Miata by describing it as one of the most visceral, engaging, and fun to drive sports cars money can buy, so I’ll start by saying this: the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata is one of the most visceral, engaging, and fun to drive sports cars money can buy. Its back-to-basics approach and devotion to the simple joy of driving have remained constants throughout its roughly 30 year run. And even though this is a car that is not about the numbers, a handful of numbers are indeed what have caused a stir over the model’s 2019 update.

Thanks to a few old-school tuning tricks and lightweight engine internals, the naturally-aspirated 2.0L 4-cylinder now produces 181 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque, up from 155 and 145 in the previous model. It would take a back-to-back comparison to tell whether the power increase is really noticeable, but there’s no question that the engine produces plenty of power for a tiny sports car with a curb weight of only 1065kg. The real joy though is listening to the engine rev all the way to a 7500 rpm redline while flicking the sweet-feeling short-throw shifter into the next gear. You can even hit redline in three of the six gears without breaking the speed limit.

2019 Mazda MX-5

Again though, what’s important to remember here is that the MX-5 is not at all concerned about the numbers. Horsepower, 0-60 runs, and lap times don’t tell the story of how wonderfully entertaining the MX-5 is to drive. Most modern sports cars don’t move your pulse until you’ve hit illegal speeds. The MX-5, however, thrills you at just about any speed. The steering is light and communicative. The brakes have a nice consistent bite. And the chassis responds eagerly to inputs with amazing agility and accessible limits. You don’t have to drive it like a hooligan to get a thrill out it, and that’s really what differentiates it from just about every other sports car on the market.

Of course, the fun-to-drive nature of the MX-5 is nothing new. Every generation stretching back to the roadster’s introduction in 1989 has earned the same high level of praise. To confirm this, I briefly test drove a well-preserved 1990 model from Mazda Canada’s heritage fleet right before picking up my 2019 tester. Despite having nearly three decades under its belt, Mazda’s classic roadster hasn’t lost a bit of its charm. It may be light on features and frills, but the same basic qualities remain the same: a nimble lightweight chassis, crisp-feeling shifter, and endless smiles per mile. If anything, the lack of features and comforts just puts more emphasis on the basic visceral qualities that make the MX-5 so great.

2019 Mazda MX-5

It would be just about impossible to sell a new car without a few comforts, and the latest model has more than its fair share. Standard features include a navigation-ready 7 inch touchscreen with internet radio, a backup camera, and active safety technology including low-speed emergency braking, lane departure warning, and high-beam control. A tilt and telescoping steering wheel combined with supportive sport seats mean that a comfortable seating position is easy to find. Equally easy is the lightweight manual soft-top, which can be folded up or down in two seconds with little effort. For those who prefer the looks and added security of a hardtop, the MX-5 RF is available as well.

Three decades worth of technology may separate the 2019 Mazda MX-5 from its 1990 ancestor, but the similarities far outstrip any differences. Thanks to the careful preservation of its lightweight, perfectly balanced, rear-wheel drive formula, the MX-5’s soul has largely remained intact through the passage of time. That’s something that can’t be said of other long-running icons. The MX-5 is a perfect version of what it is, a tiny little roadster time capsule, and let’s hope it always stays that way.