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2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata: New Car Review

The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata is one of the last affordable 2-seat roadsters. It’s a car that has evolved in both style and sophistication, but still has a strong connection to the original Miata that debuted nearly 30 years ago. Offered with a choice of soft-top or a convenient retractable hardtop (dubbed the Miata RF), the MX-5 Miata features near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution, modest power flowing through a superb manual transmission and go-kart-like handling. Being a 2-seat, open-air roadster, the MX-5 isn’t big on frills, but it does provide a comfortable cockpit (provided you’re no taller than six feet), head-turning styling and a price tag that no other car in the class can match.

For all the praise heaped on the Miata, it still has a number of weak spots. The trunk remains rather tiny and the seating position is extremely low. But for the money, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better machine to soak up the sun and enjoy the long way home than the 2018 MX-5 Miata.

What’s New for 2018?

For 2018, the MX-5 gains some new paint colors and an available Dark Cherry colored soft top. The Club trim gains heated cloth seats, while all models are now equipped with Advanced Smart Keyless Entry. A 7-inch color touchscreen with Mazda Connect and multifunction Commander is also standard, as is a retuned rear suspension and revised power steering settings.

What We Like

Stunning design; 1-handed top operation; precise manual gearbox; excellent handling; modern interior; good on gas

What We Don’t

Snug seats; still not comfortable for anyone over six feet tall; tiny trunk; dash-mounted screen washes out in sunlight; awkwardly-shaped passenger footwell; no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto

How Much?

$26,170-$35,000

Fuel Economy

Mazda equips the MX-5 with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine good for 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. This might not seem like much power, but in a car that only weighs 2,381 pounds, it’s more than sufficient.

Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy estimates for the 6-speed manual are 26 miles per gallon in the city and 33 mpg on the highway, while the 6-speed automatic with manual paddle shift control comes in at 26 mpg city/35 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The 2018 MX-5 Miata comes in three distinct trims: Sport, Club and Grand Touring, with the latter two trims also available with a retractable hardtop. All come standard with a 6-speed manual but offer a 6-speed automatic with manual shift control as an option.

The MX-5 Sport ($26,170) brings 16-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned exhaust, front and rear stabilizer bars, dual power mirrors, a manual soft-top with a glass rear window and defroster, power windows/mirrors/door locks, Advanced Smart Keyless Entry, the Mazda Connect infotainment system, a 7-in color touchscreen, a console-mounted multifunction controller, HD Radio, AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers and a USB port, Bluetooth, cruise control, a tilt wheel, a leather shift knob, parking-brake boot and a trip computer.

The MX-5 Club ($30,030, soft top), ($32,800, RF hard top) with the manual transmission adds Bilstein shocks, a limited-slip differential, shock tower bracing and an induction sound enhancer. Opting for the automatic transmission deletes the above-listed equipment. Common standard equipment regardless of transmission includes 17-in dark gunmetal alloy wheels, a front air dam, a rear-lip spoiler, Bose 9-speaker audio, blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and upgraded interior seating with red stitching and heated seats.

Optional on the Club is the Brembo/BBS package that adds Brembo front brakes with red calipers, 17-in BBS wheels, an aero kit and leather seats. The Brembo/BBS Recaro packages adds Recaro sport seats.

The MX-5 Grand Touring ($31,070 soft top), ($33,640, RF hard top) deletes most of the Club’s performance upgrades and adds auto on/off headlights, an auto-dimming driver’s-side mirror, heated side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, leather seating, automatic climate control, navigation, heated front seats, adaptive front headlights with auto high-beam control and unique alloy wheels. Standard safety equipment includes a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-departure warning.

There are no other factory options for the MX-5, but numerous dealer add-ons are available to choose from.

Safety

The MX-5 comes standard with 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, electronic traction and stability control, and a tire-pressure monitor, plus front and side-impact airbags.

To date, neither the government nor the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has crash-tested the 2018 MX-5 Miata.

Behind the Wheel

The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata sits low, has a snug interior and doesn’t require a whole lot of power to deliver a whole lot of fun. Under the hood, there’s a 2.0-liter 16-valve 4-cylinder engine with variable valve timing that’s tuned to produce 155 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. In a new car market that’s mad about hp, those numbers don’t seem all that impressive. However, in the manual version, which weighs 2,332 pounds, or the automatic version (2,381 pounds), 155 hp feels just right. The MX-5 accelerates briskly and always seems to have power on tap when you need it. The 6-speed manual transmission and buttery clutch deliver precise, quick shifting. The available 6-speed automatic transmission comes with paddle shifters, and the top two cogs are overdriven.

The real strength of the MX-5 isn’t its engine or transmission — it’s the setup. Much of the weight of the MX-5’s engine is behind the front axles, with the goal of centralizing weight, which results in better balance. With mass and weight distributed equally from front to rear and from side to side, handling becomes much more precise and predictable. The MX-5 is very easy and fun to drive at any pace.

Although we understand everyone is moving to large, fixed touchscreen infotainment displays, we have mixed emotions regarding the setup in the MX-5. The screen is large and bright but sometimes gets washed out by the sun, and the touchscreen function only works when the car is still. Once in motion, you have to use the awkwardly placed controller to toggle through screens. We also noticed when in navigation mode, there is no sidebar to show what’s happening with the audio, meaning you have to toggle back and forth through screens to make song or station changes.

Other Cars to Consider

2018 Fiat 124 Spider Convertible — Although the Fiat 124 Spider is based off the MX-5 platform, it has a style and feel all its own, plus a turbocharged engine.

2018 Mini Cooper Convertible — The Mini Convertible also has a rear seat, three turbocharged engine options, and more technology and safety features. The Mini’s cloth top can also be partially opened to act like a targa roof.

2018 Nissan 370Z Roadster — This 2-seat sports car is larger and heavier than the MX-5, but it also has nearly twice the hp. However, the 370Z costs more than an MX-5 (by as much as $20,000, depending on the model).

Used Porsche Boxster — A 2012-2016 Porsche Boxster offers more power and better performance pedigree, plus a more comfortable (and quiet) cockpit.

Autotrader’s Advice

If you’re just looking for a fun, sporty convertible, the base Sport trim is really all the car you’ll need. As all three trims use the same engine/transmission, performance enhancements only come in the form of improved handling and braking with the Club trim’s Brembo package. Audio fanatics should note that the MX-5’s audio setup is not easy to upgrade with an aftermarket system, so if you want great sound, you’ll have to opt for the Bose system in either the Club or Grand Touring. Regradless, no trim offers Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

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