Top Down Charm; a Smile-Inducing Machine
If Clean Fleet Report gave ratings on the cars we drive, the 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata would get five stars and a big thumbs up. The Club version we tested recently is as basic of a car you can get in 2018. Forgoing most of the advanced driver assistance technologies and coming with only a few convenience features, the MX-5 Miata Club is very close to the raw sports cars of the 1960s and 1970s from whence it got its inspiration.
Getting behind the wheel of a MX-5 Miata is always greatly anticipated and appreciated. The smiles begin before even getting behind the wheel. The top down feeling of this two-seater never gets old. It welcomes revving the engine high, aggressively shifting through the gears and pushing the handling to the limits. If Ina Garten was concocting a recipe for fun driving enjoyment, the first ingredient would be an MX-5 Miata.
The rear-wheel drive 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club is powered by a smooth and responsive 2.0-liter, four-cylinder DOHC, 16-valve engine producing 155 horsepower (hp) and 148 pound-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque. Clean Fleet Report’s MX-5 Club had the stock six-speed manual transmission (there is an optional automatic with paddle shifters). The EPA rates the MX-5 mpg at 26 city/33 highway/29 combined. The automatic is rated at two more miles per gallon on the highway. In 344 miles driving throughout Southern California we averaged 32.7 mpg. Exceeding the EPA numbers was not expected as spirited driving and fuel sipping are mutually exclusive of each other.
Mazda’s Skyactiv technology, introduced at the 2008 Tokyo Auto Show and now incorporated in all Mazda vehicles, includes the synergy of engine and transmission technology, vehicle design (chassis and body) and weight reduction. The marketing name is a head scratcher, so it is easier to look at it as Mazda designing all the individual elements of its vehicles to maximize power, fuel economy and owner safety. Or, as Mazda says, “providing the driver with a more connected, enjoyable experience.”
Driving Experience: On the Road
Introduced in 2016, the then all-new MX-5 Miata (compared to the 2015 model) had a weight reduction of 150 pounds, a 12-hp decline and an increase of eight lb.-ft. of torque. As part of the Skyactiv philosophy, Mazda’s obvious intent with less horsepower, more torque and less weight was to hit all the notes and balance the scales of power, torque and fuel economy.
But where enthusiasts will smile is getting the MX-5 Miata out on the road. This is a true driver’s car and not much use getting groceries or hauling the kids to the mall.
Clean Fleet Report’s 2018 MX-5 Miata Club, with the manual transmission, weighed in at a lean 2,332 lbs. With a 53/47 percent front-to-rear weight distribution, the MX-5 Miata was sporty, confident and nimble. The six-speed manual transmission is arguably the best on the market with short shift throws and a clutch that is absolutely seamless in its operation and feel. Pushing the engine high in the rev band, even to redline, and including quick up and down shifts, was a joy. It made the MX-5 Miata Club driving experience one that everyone needs to try at least once. The old saying–it’s more fun to go fast in a slow car than slow in a fast car–sums up the MX-5 Miata Club perfectly. The purists wanted something more powerful, but adding more horsepower and torque would not have improved the fun and thrill factor of this well-thought-out drivetrain and suspension combination.
The engine was lowered and mounted further back compared to the previous generation MX-5 Miata. With a lower center of gravity, the quickness and accuracy of the handling response has been improved. Next comes suspension pieces of a shock tower brace for stiffness, a double wishbone front, multi-link rear, electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering and stabilizer bars at both ends. Clean Fleet Report’s Club model had Bilstein monotube shock absorbers, and Bridgestone P205/45R high performance summer tires on 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels. The tires, even after repeated fast cornering on a warm day, did not reduce their handling grip. Add in the torque-sensing limited slip differential, dynamic stability and traction controls, and the 2018 MX-5 Miata Club dares you to find an open stretch of long drawn-out sweepers or tight corners to fling it from side-to-side. Oh, and there is that smile again.
Mazda knows that to take command of the twisties, the brakes have to be top notch. The Brembo front vented and rear solid discs and four-wheel ABS with electronic brake distribution, made it a blast finding the car’s balance point, where, between dropping down a gear to raise the revs combined with setting the brakes, made for exhilarating cornering. It was fun experimenting with trail braking to see how weight transfer affects the MX-5’s handling. Trail braking is a technique that first takes confidence and familiarity in the car’s abilities. In the case of the MX-5 Miata Club, I was able with trial and not-so-much error to find the sweet spot where controlled weight transfer was noticeable and easily achievable.
Driving Experience: Exterior
Mazda has redesigned the MX-5 Miata with what they say “captures the very instant energy becomes motion.” This classic sports car has a long hood and a short trunk (both made of aluminum for weight reduction), short overhangs, a cropped cabin pushed far back on the body and large wheels pushed as far as feasible towards all four corners.
Standing only 4.9-inches off the ground, you get an instant go-kart feel–seeing the road and world from a far different perspective. The clean front end starts with LED headlights that allowed the designers to take up as little real estate as possible, and the grill does not suffer from being overly large or small mouth bass-like.
Off the nose is a low, sloping hood and a laid-back A-pillar. The sides are smooth, ending at the short trunk deck with a shark antenna, dual exhaust with bright tips, and round LED taillights similar to a Ferrari 812 Superfast. Badging is kept to the absolute minimum on what is a great-looking sports car. The Dark Cherry manually folding cloth roof and the black BBS wheels were attractive against the Machine Gray paint.
Driving Experience: Interior
With an interior designed with driver-centric ergonomics in mind, Mazda says it will allow for “an even greater number of drivers to be able to experience the MX-5 Miata.”
Allowing for elbow, head and legroom, as well as storage space, plus the infotainment system and multiple cup holders, becomes a design and engineering challenge in a two-seater with a droptop. I am 5-foot-9 and fit easily in the MX-5 Miata, but so did friends that were six-foot tall. One of the issues with past-generation MX-5s was, if the driver had a long torso, their head would extend above the windshield. For my taller associates, this was not an issue in the new model, which might come from the seat being lowered a bit from the previous-generation car.
The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club comes with cloth-trimmed, heated Recaro sport seats. There is some travel in the seats and they recline a bit, but once you find the closest position to being comfortable you can stop messing with the manual adjustments. The bottom cushion padding could be increased and there was no lumbar adjustment. These are not so important if you are driving your MX-5 Miata short distances, but 70+ mph over a long distance on the highway will make investing in aftermarket seat cushions a consideration.
The dash layout is simple and clean with a seven-inch, color touch-screen display erupting from the dashboard. With the top down, everything is pretty bright, so the three, deep-set round gauges are protected from glare by a hood. Because performance is always top-of-mind with the MX-5 Miata, the tachometer (the largest of the three gauges) is in the center.
The excellent nine-speaker (including one in each of the seat headrests) Bose sound system delivers deep bass and crisp treble for the AM/FM/CD/MP3/AUX HD radio, two USB inputs, SiriusXM (four-month subscription), Aha, Pandora and Stitcher Internet radio integration. The Mazda Connect connectivity system includes navigation. It’s cumbersome to make band and channel changes as there are no volume or channel knobs on the dash, requiring multiple steps to control a single function. The need to use the center console-mounted selector knob results in diverting the driver’s eyes from the road. There are controls mounted on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, but they were limited in their range of functionality.
A couple odd placements are obviously borne from limited space.
The CD player is located in a slot behind the driver and passenger seats. The access is so awkward that I would be surprised if anyone ever uses it. Then, the cup holders are stored in a cubby and needed to be inserted into slots on the rear of the transmission tunnel. Because they are nearly unreachable behind the driver seat a solution was to set a drink cup on the floor and lay it against the seat and door panel. Easy access and it never got in the way.
Mazda has obviously worked hard to keep noise from inside the cabin when the top is up. With the cloth top lowered, which is a very simple, one person, three-latch process and the windows up, there was little wind hitting or swirling around the driver and passenger. While driving 70 mph on the freeway I received an incoming call, which I took using the Bluetooth hands-free feature accessed by the steering wheel-mounted controls. Taking a call at this speed with an open top was an experiment, as I was positive the caller would hear nothing but a roar and not my voice. To my surprise not only was the call crystal clear, with no wind noise, but the caller said it was as good quality of a call they could remember being on. Also of note is the caller’s voice was sent through the speakers in the seat headrests, which kept me from thinking I had to shout. So, three cheers to Mazda’s sound engineers for a great job on reducing interior noise levels.
Convenience comes your way with cruise control, remote keyless door locks, power windows with one-touch down, power door locks, rain-sensing windshield wipers, power and heated side mirrors, push button ignition, A/C, carpeted floor mats, glass rear window with defogger and small, but appreciated storage areas.
One last thing is the trunk, which intuitively would seem to be diminutive and a second thought. This is far from the case as it can hold everything needed comfortably for a long weekend. Obviously, you will not be bringing golf clubs, visiting wineries and lugging home cases of wine, nor will you be doing any antiquing. But, if we are getting real here, why would you be buying a MX-5 Miata to do any of those things in the first place? Managing expectations is the key when driving a two-place roadster.
The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata comes with an extensive list of standard and optional safety features including four airbags, four-wheel power disc ABS braking system, dynamic stability control, traction control, tire pressure monitoring system, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, an anti-theft alarm and engine immobilizer.
The 2018 MX-5 Miata has not been rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Pricing and Warranties
Clean Fleet Report’s 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club, with $5,195 in optional equipment, had a MSRP of $35,240. Base MSRP for the three 2018 MX-5 Miata models, excluding the $890 Delivery, Processing and Handling Fee is:
Sport: Manual Transmission $25,295
Sport: Automatic Transmission $26,645
Club: Manual Transmission $29,155
Club: Automatic Transmission $29,755
Grand Touring: Manual Transmission $30,195
Grand Touring: Automatic Transmission $31,270
The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata comes with these warranties:
- Basic Three years/36,000 miles
- Powertrain Five years/60,000 miles
- Roadside Assistance Three years/36,000 miles
- Perforation Five years/Unlimited miles
Observations: 2018 Mazda MX-5 Club
The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club has superior performance and is a blast to drive. You will enjoy tossing around this lightweight convertible sports car knowing it is by far the lowest priced two-seat, rear-wheel drive convertible on the market, therefore offering the most topless fun for the money. There is that smile again.
Mazda celebrated a milestone for the MX-5 Miata by producing the one millionth car on April 22, 2016. Built in Mazda’s Hiroshima, Japan factory, the MX-5 Miata has been the heart and soul for the company since it debuted 29 years ago in 1989.
Mazda dealers will have a MX-5 Miata enthusiast on staff, whether it be in parts, service or sales. Ask for them on your visit as they will be eager to answer all your questions about owning one of these wonderful cars.
Whatever you buy, Happy Driving!
Photos by Lex Adams
Related Stories You Might Enjoy—More Mazda Fun
Personal: Mazda MX-5/Miata—My Indulgence
Road Test: 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF
Road Test: 2017 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD
Road Test: 2017 Mazda3 Five-Door
First Drive: 2017 Mazda CX-5
Road Test: 2016 Mazda6 Grand Touring
Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at firstname.lastname@example.org.