Test Drive: 2018 Mazda MX-5

A funny thing happened to the 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata earlier this year: its parent company announced that the ’19 model would squeeze 26 more horses from its 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, thanks in part to a higher redline and a shuffled powerband.

The end result is complete confidence […] through the kinds of corners that would leave larger, heavier, and more powerful options scrambling for a wider tire.

It’s the Miata announcement that casual sports car fans have been waiting for since the current ND-generation roadster was released in late 2014. Everyone knows that this perfectly balanced, carefully engineered ode to top-down driving joy has always needed more grunt so it can keep up with the Corvettes and 370Zs of the world, right?

Wrong. The existence of a better-endowed MX-5 does not render the previous iteration of the ND obsolete. If anything, it’s a blessing – now that 2019 promises more power, discounts on remaining 2018 editions should provide an even more compelling reason to get behind the wheel of one of the best automobiles on the modern market.

Doing the Math

The Miata formula has never counted power as one of its key ingredients. Witness the 90s-era NA cars, which had less than 130 ponies from a 1.8-litre four, yet have become the de facto uniform for amateur racers across the continent. Past attempts to beef up the MX-5, as with the Mazdaspeed turbo model, failed to light a fire among enthusiasts, further underscoring the fact that the core group of buyers weren’t dazzled by spec sheets.

It’s refreshing that Mazda has kept this outlook alive with the current car. The 2018 Miata delivers 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque, which is quite sufficient to motivate a curb weight of just over 1,000 kilos. The vehicle’s six-speed manual transmission (a six-speed auto is also available) walks the line perfectly between providing just enough ratio to keep driver and powerband completely engaged, without over-stimulating either the car or the pilot.

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The end result is complete confidence when pitching the well-balanced convertible through the kinds of corners that would leave larger, heavier, and more powerful options scrambling for a wider tire. The joy of Miata driving is its ability to connect point A to point B with one single, continuous ribbon of kinetic motion, maintaining its momentum like a set of pendulum beads tap-tap-tapping their way to enlighten on the desk of your therapist. This is especially true of the sport-shock-equipped 50th Anniversary Limited Edition car I drove, (which is based on the GS trim and thus also includes a limited-slip rear differential when ordered with a manual transmission).

If I had any complaints about the MX-5’s dynamics, it would be in the steering department. The electric assist is still more numb than it needs to be, especially as compared to the delightfully talkative hydraulic Mazda racks of old.

Commuter-Friendly

As a daily driver, too, the Mazda MX-5 Miata remains a surprisingly reasonable choice. Given its small size and two-seat design, interior storage space remains a liability, as there simply aren’t all that many nooks to store your bags, sunglasses, cables, and other devices. In terms of comfort, however, the Miata is good even on longer trips. I took the car on a rainy jaunt from Montreal to Vermont, and even with the top down on a cool evening, the heated seats and climate system kept me warm enough to enjoy the stars.

The 50th Anniversary Limited Edition trim adds niceties such as a louder Bose stereo system and 17-inch BBS rims on top of the features found in the mid-tier MX-5 GS (such as Mazda’s hybrid touch/dial interface for its infotainment system, navigation, and rain-sensing wipers). I’m going to be honest – the speakers in the headrests really didn’t do much to improve the quality on what is a fairly forgettable audio setup, but the rims were quite fetching. Whether you want to spend the extra $1,000 or so to step up to the 50th Ann. car is probably going to be a decision centered around how much those BBS spinners are worth to you.

Compelling Savings

Although base prices are only about $1K higher, trim for trim, when considering the 2019 Miata versus the 2018 model, you have to factor in the clearance-level discounts on existing Miata inventory that you’ll be able to haggle over with your local dealer in order to get a true feel for the actual out-the-door price for a base (just under $34K) or fully loaded GT ($41K). Currently, they’re sitting at around $4,000 off, a figure which will only improve as the year draws to an end.

Whether it’s worth paying several thousand dollars more for the extra output offered by the revised Miata drivetrain is up to you. From my perspective, however, a deal on the current car is more compelling than sticker on the new for the majority of buyers, particularly those who don’t plan on entering their ragtop in autocross or road course competition. That being said, if your commute includes enough room to regularly wind out to redline, then you’ve most likely already made the decision to wait.

Competitors:

Fiat 124 Spider
2018 Mazda MX-5 50th Anniversary Limited Edition
Engine Displacement: 2.0L
Engine Cylinders: I4
Peak Horsepower: 155 hp
Peak Torque: 148 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 8.9/7.1/8.1 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 470 L
2018 Mazda MX-5 50th Anniversary Limited Edition
Base Price $37,600
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,907
Price as Tested $39,607
Optional Equipment None
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.3
8 Styling
8 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
6 Practicality
8 Drivability
6 Usability/Ergonomics
7 Fuel Economy
7 Features
7 Value