The 2018 Mazda MX-5 is immune to feature bloat and the increase in mass that comes along with it. It’s still a momentum car, with just 155 horsepower, and an unabashed driving tool, lacking active safety this and adaptive protection that. This is as pure a driver’s car as is on sale today.
But while Mazda has resisted the urge to add oodles of extra oomph and 124-way power seats, the 2018 MX-5 received one big tweak that makes it even more enjoyable to drive. The new Recaro bucket seats have a surprising impact on the MX-5 driving experience, doing a better job of tuning the driver into the road, giving the cabin a racier vibe, and generally being a better option for owners.
The 2018 model year version of the MX-5 remains a bargain, with the cheapest examples ringing up at $25,295. Our test car, an MX-5 Club, starts at $30,045. That price compares favorably to the convertibles most consumers might cross shop the MX-5 with – both the turbocharged Ford Mustang ($31,180) and Chevrolet Camaro ($32,900) convertibles cost more to start.
For not much more money, though, we got the mid-range Club trim, Machine Gray paint ($300), and the must-have, new-for-2018 Brembo/BBS/Recaro Package.
As the name suggests, this $4,470 option adds meaty Brembo-branded brakes, black multi-spoke BBS wheels, and a fantastic set of heated Recaro sport seats. Thanks to that stuff and a couple of items from the accessory catalog, the total as-tested price for our car is $35,240.
The MX-5’s exterior is largely unchanged since its last big redesign, and that’s a good thing. This is a very pretty car, particularly kitted out as our tester is. The Machine Gray paint looks spectacular on every Mazda, but it’s best on a car with accents like the MX-5.
The black BBS wheels and the red Brembo brake calipers complement the shade well, but they can’t hold a candle to another new-for-2018 feature, a deep red fabric roof. The result is refined, sporty, and a premium style that Mazda is capturing with increasing frequency.
The MX-5 is a tiny, two-seat roadster, so it’s no surprise that space is at a premium. Taller drivers may find the tilt-only steering wheel and limited adjustability of the manually operated Recaro chairs difficult to manage. This is also a loud place to spend time, whether the top is up or down. On the upside, what little dash there is appears attractive and feels like it’s made of high-quality materials. Mazda’s material game has been on point for years, and that hasn’t changed with the 2018 MX-5.
The new Recaro seats are fantastic, aside from their limited adjustability – this is not a very big cabin, so it’s not all that surprising that putting the backrest at a more comfortable angle comes at the expense of legroom (and vice versa). Immensely supportive and willing to hug the driver, these chairs are for track work. But thankfully, their support doesn’t make getting in or out any more difficult – the ample bolsters do have some give, despite their ability to keep the driver in place.
The MX-5 is not a car for tech snobs. Neither Android Auto nor Apple CarPlay are available, which means living with Mazda’s convoluted infotainment system. Combining a touchscreen display with a control knob sounds good on paper, but the MX-5’s infotainment system – shared with the greater Mazda family – is still too difficult to use, requiring multiple inputs for something as simple as changing the radio station.
The Mazda MX-5 is the definitive roadster, a lightweight car with a firm-enough chassis, and a delightful transmission. The engine is a relative weak point in the package, offering up just 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. It’s willing to rev, but as is tradition with small, affordable roadsters, momentum is an ally of necessity if you want to drive quickly.
But exploiting that momentum is easy. The MX-5’s steering and suspension are perfectly tuned, providing plenty of feedback to the driver. The steering feels natural, with just enough weight off center. The on-center dead zone is only big enough to keep the MX-5 from feeling jittery on the highway.
The suspension is charming for both everyday use as well as the occasional winding road jaunt or autocross. The MX-5 loads up predictably in turns and feels balanced even when faced with mid-corner imperfections.
Our test car wears Brembo-branded brakes that provide more than enough stopping power for the svelte 2,332-pound Mazda. Pedal feel is sure and modulation is easy.
The same is true when working the clutch pedal for the six-speed manual. This is a simple manual gearbox to learn, with a wide catch point and shift gates on the 6-speed manual that accept the shifter without complaint after each short throw.
While our MX-5 Club tester gets basic safety features like blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, more advanced gear like lane departure warning, active front headlights, and automatic high beams are limited to the range-topping Grand Touring trim. And modern active safety systems, like adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking, simply aren’t available on the MX-5. Not to mention, you’ll likely be driving this tiny car in a sea of towering SUVs; physics will not be on your side in a collision. Good thing then that visibility is excellent, provided the top is stowed.
The 2018 MX-5 returns an EPA-estimated 26 miles per gallon city, 33 highway, and 29 combined with the 6-speed manual. The 6-speed automatic is slightly better on the highway, at 35 mpg. And while Mazda recommends Premium fuel, filling up with a tank of old 87-octane is just fine.
For comparison, the more powerful, turbocharged, more expensive, and much heavier Mustang EcoBoost Convertible nets 21 mpg city, 32 highway, and 25 combined with its new 10-speed automatic. The 2.0-liter, turbocharged Camaro performs similarly, at 22 city, 31 highway, and 25 combined. If ever there was a case for low curb weight, the MX-5 is it.
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