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2019 Mazda MX-5 RF automatic performance review

By Chris Thompson, 17 Jan 2019 Reviews

2019 Mazda MX-5 RF automatic review

Mazda’s six-speed slushbox not quite the right fit for the roadster

It feels wrong to sit in the driver’s seat of an MX-5 and find yourself faced with a paddle-equipped wheel, and only two pedals. And that’s before setting off.

There’s nothing objectively wrong with the six-speed automatic gearbox Mazda has made available for its roadster, it works smoothly in other models. But it doesn’t suit the MX-5’s character particularly well.

Using the car as a more sporting commute than a standard city car makes sense for the auto MX-5, but its lack of LSD (a manual-only feature) and involvement make it harder to vibe with when the Sunday drive comes around.

While you can still find the right rhythm on a lively drive, the gearbox is sometimes slow to change and can throw the car off balance if you’re not prepared for the small lurch as acceleration dips for a moment.

Celebrating Driver's Cars: 2018 MX-5 1.5

If left to its own devices in its Sport setting, it will generally sit you in the sweet spot (high in the rev range) for acceleration, but holds it there for too long when you don’t need it. Even when you’re getting stuck in, it feels slower than the manual.

If Mazda’s MX-5 philosophy of jinba ittai – horse and rider as one – is to hold up with its roadster, you need the manual gearbox to create a more fluid connection between human and machine.

The manual is also $2000 cheaper, which is nice.

Tested and rated on MOTOR reviews

Engine: 1998cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v
Power: 135kW @ 7000rpm
Torque: 205Nm @ 4000rpm
Weight: 1112kg
Drive: rear-wheel
Suspension: A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r)
L/W/h: 3915/1735/1235mm