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2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review
The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata is the quintessential modern sports car.

The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata is the most traditional sports car available today. With its nimble handling, frisky feel, Italian-inspired design, and reasonable fuel economy, its only compromises are those expected from a sports car in the vein of MGBs and Triumphs: utility and relatively limited safety features.


Entering its third model year since its last redesign, the MX-5 Miata gains a new red soft top option and is available with pricey, body-hugging Recaro seats. Miatas are available in Sport, Club, and Grand Touring configurations in either full roadster or retractable roof RF configurations.

It’s worth noting that the MX-5 Miata provides the basis for the Fiat 124 Spider. That Italian-Japanese roadster has its own exterior styling and uses a smaller, but slightly more powerful turbo-4 engine. It’s a hoot to drive, but it lacks the Mazda’s precision and refinement.

Under the hood of all Miatas is a relatively pedestrian 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine rated at 155 horsepower. But with a curb weight of about 2,300 pounds to start, the Miata sprints to 60 mph in just 6 seconds. A choice of 6-speed automatic and manual transmissions lets buyers tailor their Miatas for touring or for track use. We prefer the stick, but the automatic works well in Sport mode.

The Miata’s dynamics are among the best you’ll find at any price and they’re a reminder that sports cars need not be punishing to be a joy on a curvy road. The Miata leans into a curve, takes a set, and then slices through predictably. Its ride is firm, but not unduly so.

Inside, the Miata has room for two and a trunk for a couple of overnight bags, but it’s hardly a practical car. The RF isn’t just stylish: it’s stiffer and it’s quieter than the soft top.

No longer is the Miata a back-to-basics droptop. Base models are hardly luxurious, but the automaker fits a 7.0-inch infotainment system as standard equipment this year that joins LED headlights, keyless ignition, cloth upholstery, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Optional on the Club model for 2018 is a package that pairs Brembo front brakes with BBS brakes. That package can be further upgraded with new heated Recaro sports seats.

Not surprisingly, the Miata’s fuel economy is impressive for a sports car at as much as 29 mpg combined.

Styling
The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata’s sleek lines, especially in RF form, belie its reasonable sticker price.

The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata hits all the sports car must-haves: a long hood, a short trunk, and minimal excess sheet metal. Inside, the 2018 Miata is simple without looking sparse, and it dresses up nicely with a few options.

Overall, we rate this eye-catching lineup at an 8 out of 10, buoyed by two points above average for its exterior and another point for its interior.

Especially in the extra-cost Soul Red paint Mazda offers, the MX-5 Miata has a sinewy, sleek look that channels sports cars of the past without dripping in nostalgia.  

The Miata RF is the looker of the group with its classic coupe shape and a retractable hardtop that deploys into the trunk in 13 seconds at the press of a button. The RF isn’t a convertible, per se, since it boasts targa proportions when the top is stowed away.

New this year is a Dark Cherry red soft top option that complements the standard black soft top.

While the interior is well-coordinated, its infotainment screen—newly standard on all trims for 2018—looks like an add-on rather than being fully integrated into the driver-focused dash. Hints of exterior color on the door panels provides a two-tone look in certain combinations. An optional extra—one of the few ways to personalize the Miata’s interior—is the attractive auburn-hue leather package.

Performance
Light weight and compact dimensions are the 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata’s performance assets.

Forget horsepower. It’s one figure that helps the 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata earn its 8 out of 10 score here for performance: a 2,331-pound curb weight.

That light weight makes the Miata feel perky despite just 155 horsepower from its 2.0-liter inline-4 and it helps this little two-seater relay polished, nimble handling. We reach our 8 out of 10 score by adding points for a slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission, light-on-its-feet handling, and terrific steering feel.

To tap into the little 4-cylinder’s power, you’ll have to push the tachometer needle past 3,000 rpm. That’s easy to do in this quick-revving sports car. Above its 4,800-rpm torque peak, the Miata’s responses bely its light power output. It feels like a much more powerful sports car, and it even sounds like one.
The 6-speed manual is a joy to row through the gears. It snicks smoothly between cogs and its progressive clutch pedal makes it just as easy to lope around town as it does to make the most out of a track day. The optional 6-speed automatic is not a bad choice, either. It keeps the engine in its most effective rev range in Sport mode, although it’s not as fast-shifting as dual-clutch automatics in some small, sporty cars.

On a curvy, canyon road, the Miata excels. It’s one of few sports cars that doesn’t egg on drivers to break the speed limit. It benefits from a low driving position and direct, quick steering, but there’s also a certain tuning to its double wishbone front suspension and multi-link setup at the rear that defies convention. The Miata’s not a spec-sheet braggart, but it’s more fun than most cars two or three times its price. Although the RF is nominally stiffer, we detect little difference in the way it handles except for a hint of extra rigidity noticeable over choppier pavement. It’s quieter with the top raised than the roadster, but neither is exactly silent.

For a little more performance, the Club trim level features a stiffer Bilstein-supplied suspension, a strut brace up front, and a limited-slip differential out back. It’s sharper and it leans a little less into the corner, albeit at the expense of some ride comfort.

Fortunately, every Miata rides well, with a high degree of compliance from a suspension that’s soft but capable thanks to the roadster’s low curb weight and its stiff structure. The Miata filters out potholes and broken pavement, although its short wheelbase means that it can react sharply to larger bumps and ruts.

Comfort & Quality
The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata is comfortable, but most of us will want a roomier companion car.

The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata’s two-seat proportions mean it’s not an ideal family car, but it is nicely finished for the price and its seats—which can be upgraded to grippy Recaros for 2018—are sublime.

We’ve given it an extra point for its comfortable seats, but have deducted one for its lousy utility.

Then again, you know what you’re getting into when you buy a Miata. Its 4.6 cubic feet of cargo space is roomy enough for a couple of little duffel bags, but not much more. A small, hinged compartment between the front seats can store a cellphone or two.

What Mazda nails is the Miata’s driver-centric ergonomics. The relationship between the seat, the steering wheel, the pedals, most controls, and the view out are perfect for a small sports car. Certainly, there are some quirks—like the rotary dial for the infotainment system that’s behind the shifter and hard to reach without some contortion and the cupholders that are in all the wrong spots.

Instead of foam and springs like most seats, the Miata’s lightweight base units feature suspended fabric. They’re not all-day comfortable, but they work exceptionally well for sports car duty and their bolstering is terrific. The newly optional Recaro seats are relegated to a single, pricey MX-5 Miata Club trim level, and while they look good on paper, we haven’t had seat time in them yet.

No Miata is quiet, but the RF blocks out enough of the outside world to make a Bluetooth conversation tolerable at highway speeds. That’s something we couldn’t say about the last Miata or the sports cars that inspired its design.

Safety
With no crash-test scores, we can’t assign the 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata a score for its safety.

Though its small size makes it nimble, the 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata comes up decidedly short on advanced safety gear.

It hasn’t been crash-tested by federal or independent evaluators, which is why we can’t assign it a score here. 

Standard equipment includes four airbags, anti-lock brakes, and stability control. The Miata Club trim includes blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alerts, while the range-topping Grand Touring also includes lane-departure warnings, adaptive headlights that curve into turns, and automatic high-beam headlights. You won’t find automatic emergency braking, however.

Amazingly, it’s also not available with a rearview camera (even though the nearly identical Fiat 124 Spider offers one). If we bought a Miata, our first stop would be at a car audio shop to have a camera installed.

Features
Though hardly luxurious, the 2018 Mazda MX-5’s feature set is sufficient for a lightweight sports car.

You won’t find much variety in the 2018 Mazda MX-5 lineup, although we welcome the addition of more standard equipment this year.

Overall, the Miata range rates a 4 out of 10; its base Sport equipment level is just a step above spartan, while even a loaded-up Grand Touring is hardly luxurious. However, Mazda’s infotainment system is cumbersome and thus loses a point here.

The equipment lineup is the same for either body style, meaning that once you’ve picked a price point, your only decision left to make is color.

The MX-5 Miata Sport now includes a 7.0-inch infotainment screen, albeit one that runs on software we find cumbersome. Unlike so many other new cars, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t on the options list at all. Otherwise, the Sport includes air conditioning, a six-speaker audio system with a USB input, power windows and locks, and keyless ignition.

The Miata Club has a firmer suspension (on 6-speed manual models) and it also includes a different body kit, 17-inch alloy wheels, and black exterior cues. Two option packages are available for 6-speed manual models. One adds BBS alloy wheels and Brembo front brakes, while the other stacks on Recaro seats. Choose wisely, though, as the packages run $3,770 and $4,470, respectively.

Topping the lineup is the Grand Touring with its leather upholstery, Bose audio, automatic climate control, and heated seats. Auburn nappa leather trim is optional for a reasonable $300.

Fuel Economy
With its light curb weight, the 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata is very thrifty.

The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata is tuned to run on pricey premium fuel, but at least it doesn’t use much of it.

The 6-speed automatic comes in at 26 mpg city, 35 highway, 29 combined, while the 6-speed manual is rated at 26/33/29 mpg. In real-world driving, we’ve found these figures easy to achieve—and even to exceed. In a week that included a hefty amount of highway driving, we averaged 31 mpg in a Miata RF.

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