2018 Mazda MX-5 Review: Back to Basics Roadster Fun


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TrackWorthy - 2018 Mazda MX-5 - 072


Which car is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the bestselling two-seater convertible sports car of all time?


The Mazda MX-5 (formerly and affectionately known as the Miata), with more than 940,000 as of April 2014.

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  • On April 22, 2016, the one-millionth MX-5 rolled off the Mazda assembly line in Hiroshima, Japan.

“From the first generation through to today’s fourth-generation model, the reason we have been able to continue selling the MX-5 all these years is due to the strong support of fans around the world,” said Masamichi Kogai, Representative Director, President and CEO.

Since its debut in April 1989, the MX-5 has won more than 200 international awards including the 2015-2016 Car of the Year Japan, World Car of the Year, and World Car Design of the Year 2016.

A Winning Formula

The MX-5 has a simple, lightweight winning formula: a naturally aspirated 2.0 litre four-cylinder engine up front; a six-speed manual transmission in the middle; and rear-wheel drive behind the driver. With such a low weight, Mazda engineers can power the with a 155-horsepower engine that only has to motivate 2,348 pounds, which is evenly distributed 50/50 front and rear, creating a nicely balanced, neutral-handling car.

Colin Chapman, the legendary founder of Lotus Cars, once said that adding power makes a race car faster on the straights, but subtracting weight makes the car faster everywhere. Mazda has taken this mantra to heart and has reduced the weight of the fourth degeneration car by using lightweight materials like aluminum and ultra-high-tensile steel.

Four Generations of the Mazda MX-5

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Mazda or Fiat?

If you are considering buying a Mazda MX-5, then you might also be considering a Fiat 124 Spider. Both cars roll off the same Mazda assembly line in Hiroshima, Japan. But, there are differences between the two cars beyond just the badging and body modifications.

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The entry level 124 Spider is powered by a Fiat-sourced 1.4 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which delivers 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, which is sent to the rear wheels via either a prior generation six-speed manual transmission, or the 6-speed automatic transmission. Fiat has also tuned the suspension to its liking. According to Fiat, the 124 Spider is the most affordable turbocharged convertible available with a starting price of $31,490.

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Which one is better? That is up to each driver’s preference. Test drive them both and determine which is best for you. With more than one million built, it is not uncommon to see an MX-5 during summer driving months. The new incarnation of the 124 Spider (the original was built from 1966 to 1982) has only been available since 2016 and is sold in very small quantities, so you won’t see many of them on the road.

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Soft-top vs. Hard-top

If choosing between the Mazda MX-5 soft top and Fiat 124 Spider soft top wasn’t hard enough, Mazda decided to add one more model to the mix with the launch of the all-new Mazda MX-5 RF (Retractable Fastback) in 2017. The base MX-5 RF has a starting price of $39,100 with either the six-speed manual or the automatic transmission.

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As is always the case, there are pluses and minuses with each of these two-seaters. For true top-down driving fun, the MX-5 soft top and 124 Spider win. For coupe-like protection from the outside elements, and for a much quieter driving experience, a top-closed MX-5 RF is the better choice. Test driving and experiencing each of these cars in real-world driving will help buyers determine which car is best for them.

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TrackWorthy - 2018 Mazda MX-5 - 009

More Horsepower for 2019 Mazda MX-5

The argument has always been that the MX-5 is lightweight, perfectly balanced and doesn’t require more than 155 horsepower and 148- lb-ft of torque from the four-cylinder engine. But, over the decades, enthusiasts and tuners have invented all sorts of solutions to pack more power into the engine bays of these little cars. MX-5 owners have turbocharged, supercharged and, in many cases, even replaced their engines with six and eight-cylinder versions with in excess of 500 hp.

Mazda is going to help the cause starting with the 2019 model by increasing the car’s horsepower from 155 to 181 and increasing the torque from 148 to 151 lb-ft.  Will increasing the torque and horsepower in the 2019 model make it a better car and more fun to drive? Probably. But there aren’t many occasions when the 2018 MX-5 feels underpowered. A seventeen percent increase in horsepower sounds good, and we look forward to experiencing it firsthand.

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Our Test Car

Standard Equipment (2018 Mazda MX-5 GT):

– SKYACTIV-G 2.0L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine
– SKYACTIV-MT 6-speed manual transmission
– 17″ alloy wheels
– sport suspension with Bilstein shocks
– limited slip differential
– strut tower bar
– Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring
– Rear Cross Traffic Alert
– High Beam Control System
– LED headlights with LED signature lighting
– LED rear combination lights
– auto headlight levelling
– auto on/off headlights
– 7″ colour touchscreen display with Mazda Connect
– HMI Commander
– Navigation
– Bose premium audio system with 9 speakers (including driver and passenger headrest speakers and subwoofer)
– USB (2) and auxiliary inputs
– push button start
– advanced keyless entry system
– air conditioning with automatic controls
– rain-sensing wipers

Optional Equipment (2018 Mazda MX-5 GT):

– Dark Cherry convertible roof ($400)
– Snowflake White Pearl ($200)

2018 Mazda MX-5 GT base price: $39,300

Price as tested: $39,900 Plus freight, PDI, taxes and fees

Fuel Economy

City:                 8.9 l/100 kms

Highway:          7.1 l/100 kms

Our Take

Our immediate initial impression of driving the 2018 Mazda MX-5 was that it was very small and didn’t appear as though it would be a great daily driver. After spending some time with this car, however, our opinion changed completely. In very short order we realized that its small size and agility are what make this car great.

For those living in climates that include snowy, wintery months, this is a very useable three-season car. Driving the MX-5 on a rain-soaked sixteen lane highway looking up at a never-ending horizon of eighteen-wheel tractor trailers is less than ideal and may result in sweaty palms. Driving this car on open roads with the top down, the sun on your face and wind in your hair, conversely, makes it easy to understand why this car is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the bestselling two-seater convertible sports car of all time. It is a winning formula that Mazda has improved and refined with each generation.

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