More than one century ago the earliest automobiles earned the nickname [or mockery] “Horseless carriages.”

In the years since, driving has developed into a less sensory, more automated human activity. Responding to the trend of motoring disconnect, in 1989 Japanese automaker Mazda arrived at the Chicago Auto Show responded with a roadster which embodied Jinba Ittai, where “Jin” = “rider”, “ba” = “steed” and Ittai = “unison.”

Between 1989 and 2016 three generations of MX-5 roadster  (series NA, NB, NC) found enough enthusiasm for an intimate driving car that 800,000 ended up leaving the Hiroshima plant. What has become affectionately known as the Miata also became the most competitively raced vehicle ever.

The rage at this year’s Chicago Auto Show Mazda display were tequila sunrise painted 30th Anniversary MX-5 soft-tops and retracting hard-tops commemorating the NA’s debut there.

Strapping on helmets, Roadblazing.com delved into the real story for the 2019 model year Miata:

MORE POWER!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

WHAT: 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata  folding soft-top 2-seat roadster ND = 4th generation = 172 lbs. lighter, 3.2″-inches shorter than previous NC MX-5 Miata.

  • STANDARD POWER: 2.0L DOHC 16V DI gas I-4 = 180 hp/ 155 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm + 6-speed close ratio shifter manual helical transaxle

This represents a horsepower / torque bump of 26 hp / 3 lb-ft due to valve lift height increase & port angle for improved air swirl. Lightened pistons & connecting rods enable 700 rpm redline increase to 7500 rpm.

  Optional: 6-speed torque converter planetary automatic w/ shift paddles

  • STANDARD CONFIGURATION: Manually retracting soft convertible top with defrosting glass backlight. MX-5 Grand Touring = extra sound insulating layer.

Retracting the light, durably framed soft-top is a one-handed / armed affair. Closing the roof is possible, though not at all suggested, at speeds up to 30 miles per hour.

  Optional: power Retractable Fastback hard roof = MX-5 RF

WHAT (A) STYLING DIFFERENCE:

Trying to Be TR-7 rather than Spitfire: chiseled face and corners oust a formerly ovoid self;

Cats Eyes: migration to wafer thin bi-LED headlamp DRL housings;

Simulated Contrast Corner Inlets/ Diffusers: yes the fake ones;

Deep Low Valley: adoption of a steep raked, sharp dual crease hood;

Shoulders and Haunches above all previous Miata’s: Ballooned muscular fenders, rear quarter panels hence larger wheel arches. Pedestrian directionals added aft of fenders;

Corporate Rear Brake & Blinkers: single round LED lens flanked by wafer thin wrap-around red boomerang outlined amber directionals;

  Rear License Plate Lowered: Trunk lid melds with rear bumper cover, flaring out at body color matched lower rear valances, with corner in-tilting slash;

  Honest Pipes: Single right-side twin exhaust pipes supplant former dual corner units.

WHY: What says unity of rider and steed better than a light roadster?

WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since Summer 2018

WHERE: Mazda new vehicle dealers

WHERE MADE: Hiroshima, Japan

HOW ROADWORTHY: New for 2019, improved intake air tumble bumps powerplant horsepower and torque by 26 horsepower, 3 lb-ft respectively. Mazda also lightened the naturally aspirated 2.0 liter inline-4 engine’s valvetrain to achieve a 7500 rpm redline. A good throttle flogging sends the tubular exhaust headers into subdued throaty un-enhanced tune. Short gearing latches onto a surprising well of torque in any gear. As is characteristic of high strung powertrains, lugging the MX-5 in a high gear will generate driveline judder. An always vibrating, but handsomely crafted shift lever requires some attention on the short shoves and pulls. The new dual mass clutch flywheel reduces sufficiently lightens pedal effort pairing with linear disengagement.

  • Grand Touring = extra soft top layer ≠ quiet top-up motorway cruising. While cabin buffeting is tempered, the noise above 60 miles per hour in the MX-5 ND ranks close to a cigarette boat’s cockpit under throttle. Might as well drop the top. The RF model’s retractable hard-top improves the wind noise situation ’til about 70 mph.

There is balance in lightness afoot. The ND MX-5’s dramatic weight loss and from high tensile steels to aluminum doors and hoods. The front midship layout with powerplant well aft of steered wheels, claims an ideal 51:49% mass allocation.  Roadblazing.com can attest to brisk hot-laps at Road America in Elkart Lake, Wisconsin, with checked undesteer courtesy of the optional GT-S package’s limited slip differential.

  • Quick electric assisted reactive steering complements throttle manageable oversteer coming out of the bends.
  • Civilized spring rates for the street dishing up perfectly addressable lean in hard turns and a bit of high-speed lift, as Bilstein monotube dampers compress brilliantly rapid and rebound without brittleness.
  • Single piston floating disc binders, solid at rear, doesn’t dissuade fade-free perfectly linear slowing as 45 series Bridgestone Potenza S-001 gumballs go about their grippy business without any gripes.

HOW FAR: 31 combined miles per gallon fuel economy; 408 miles per tank of premium unleaded fuel.

HOW BIG/ LITTLE: Compact roadster = cabin space challenged; New for 2019 telescoping to supplement tilt steering wheel allows sufficiently generous seat pitch travel for 6′ footers; +1 Friend of tight parking spaces; -1 Passenger’s footwell stingy; -1 Ingress / egress = exercise in straight-arm support;

HOW USEFUL: Taller and deeper former seatback flanking storage bin is now the sole glovebox: access implies contortional cross body arm reach; Bottom of center stack wireless device shelf w/ dual USB ports; Trunk claims 1- 20″ roll-aboard carry on and [possibly] 2 personal bags; Snap-in cup holders slot aft on center console or passenger side lower center stack; -1 Trunk smaller than NC generation and somehow less accommodating than in FIAT 124 Spider sibling; -1 No door pockets; –1 Forward visibility from low seat position / -1 Outward side and rear visibility compromised by seat headrest roll hoops; Tow Rating: Not Rated.

HOW SAFE: 4 airbags; Rear camera with predictive grid; Integrated occupant roll hoop protection, i-ActiveSense: Blind spot, rear cross traffic  & lane departure warning, SmartCity brake support; Adaptive lighting; Auto high beams  (all incl. on Grand Touring)

HOW PEOPLE FRIENDLY:

Particularly in Grand Touring trim, the ND Mazda MX-5 is the proud beneficiary of plenty of premium Mazda sedan / crossover finish bits. The cockpit delivers on the twin cowl theme. The tiered dash-top is soft layered. Anything other than analog gauges would have been out of place, so the only digitization happens at the TFT color trip multi-function display. Switch gear is comprehensively simple, sized for ease of dexterity.

Expectedly tight of breadth,  leather heated bucket seats are slightly short of the Club’s Recaro torso support; 2 power windows express down; Tilt and [new for 2019] telescoping leather wrapped sport steering wheel; Dual vanity sun-visors; Aluminum pedal covers.

Cool Gizmo(s): Red “MX-5” engine oil fill cap.

Details Done Right: Gloss, body matching upper door panels; Matte metallic bezels and accents; Tiered soft dash top, mid door panels; +1 Fuel filler door releases from exterior rather than from inside center glovebox as in ND MX-5.

Nearly Non-Descript: Short seat cushions;

HOW “APP” -LICABLE: Dash top 7″ flat-panel capacitive touch LCD infotainment screen w/ remote rotary toggle Commander dial; Native HDD GPS Navigation; Traffic sign recognition; Voice command hands-free communications;  SMS with stored contacts photos; 265 W, 8-speaker Bose Centerpoint audio punchy without boom; USB x 2, -1 Non-zooming real time traffic app = pretty useless; -1 Navigation voice guidance too quiet top down.

-1 No Android Auto, Apple CarPlay

HOW MUCH: $32,875 = as tested 2019 Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring suggested price.

WHAT’S MISSING: Bigger trunk, door pockets.

ANY COMPETITION:  Audi TT Cabrio: Power, cabin & cargo space, refinement   BMW Z4: +1 Ditto Audi TT.

BOTTOM LINE: The only way to zoom zoom Al-Fresco, without dropping luxury marque coin.

(Contributing Editor: Tomasz Paluch)