During a week with the 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club, a couple of passengers note my enthusiastic driving behavior. Launches from stoplights are brisk with the engine regularly climbing near redline, slowing for entrances into parking lots has me working the pedals to match revs. When our long-term 2016 MX-5 Miata left, it put a roadster-shaped hole in my heart. So as I soak up the sun and playfully zoom along in this 2018 Club model, it's a welcome reunion.
The MX-5's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is just as eager as I remember, with 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque that doesn't earn its keep with sheer output, but with its willing-to-rev nature and immediate throttle response. It does an adequate job shooting the 2,332-pound drop-top out of corners and is relatively efficient, returning an EPA-estimated 26 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway when paired with the brilliant six-speed manual transmission.
The manual itself remains a joy to use with short throws crisply slotting into gears and an easy-to-modulate clutch. Add in perfect pedal placement for heel-and-toe action and there's little wonder why I automatically do it when just motoring around regularly.
Does the MX-5 need more power? In my opinion, no, but if you're one of the folks who've been begging for more oomph, hold out for the 2019 Miata. The 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G engine is getting lighter internals that increase output by 26 horsepower to 181, and its redline moves from 6,800 rpm to 7,500. Both good things.
Being a Club trim, my tester is the sharpest-handling MX-5 you can get from the factory, what with its Bilstein shocks, front strut tower bar, Bridgestone Potenza S001 205/45R17 summer tires and a limited-slip differential. Further improving reflexes are optional front Brembo brake calipers and forged BBS wheels that reduce unsprung weight.
All of that may sound like a recipe for stiff and uncomfortable car for regular driving, but that's not the case. Yes, it's a tight handler that quickly turns in, changes direction, hangs on tight around bends and features some of the best steering response and feedback available on a new car today, but the suspension takes a noticeable set at the beginning of every maneuver. The body roll and dive under braking isn't abundant and is a small trade-off to have ride compliance for the times you aren't blazing through your favorite back road, running an autocross or around a track.
I certainly appreciate the MX-5's more forgiving ride on wrecked Michigan roads. Small and medium impacts are handled well, but bigger road hazards will still jolt you pretty good. Still, chassis tuning is an ideal balance between performance and comfort for the street and is perfect for taking a weekend road trip with a friend. The 4.59-cubic-feet trunk should be enough to swallow two or three bags' worth of stuff for a couple of nights away.
Rounding out the Club touches are a handful of visual enhancements for a more aggressive look. On the outside, a black air dam, side sill extensions, rear lip spoiler and rear bumper skirt contrast nicely with the Machine Gray paint job and red ragtop.
For the interior, new-for-2018 Recaro sport seats are optional to dress things up some. Not only do they look snazzy, but they offer good side support and they're comfortable. They are also heated, which surely would be good for the winter months, but I didn't once use them during 90-degree summer weather.
Where the MX-5 may disappoint is in the tech department. The Mazda Connect system with a 7-inch center screen handles infotainment functions that include navigation, a nice-sounding nine-speaker Bose audio setup, satellite radio and Bluetooth. Working through Mazda Connect's various menus is a cinch with the center console controller dial surrounded by hard shortcut buttons to quickly get to radio, home and navigation screens.
What the MX-5's Mazda Connect system doesn't offer is either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto capabilities. While Mazda is rolling out both technologies on upper-level 2019 Mazda6 sedan models, no plans regarding either of them coming to the Miata or any other models have been announced just yet.
Safety-wise, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert are standard. Both come in handy to better cope with the large blind spots when the top is up for changing lanes and backing out of parking spots.
Since my tastes usually veer toward the sportier end of the spectrum, my MX-5 would have the standard six-speed manual gearbox and definitely be a Club model to get the upgraded suspension and limited-slip diff. That starts at $30,055, including $895 destination.
From there I'd option it with the $300 Machine Gray paint job and red roof just like my test car because I really like the look. Finally, I'd take the $4,470 package that adds the Recaro seats, Brembo brakes and BBS wheels for another small uptick in performance and style. That brings the price tag for my preferred MX-5 to $34,820.
Are there cars more fun to drive than the Mazda MX-5? It depends -- if you like rip-roaring acceleration from stops, then it may not be your cup of tea. But if you are looking for a simple sports car that's light and a riot around corners with balanced handling characteristics, and one can be driven hard without too easily attracting the attention of law enforcement, the Miata is hard to beat.
The only other new cars that match the Mazda's lightweight, big-fun mantra are the Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86 twins. Those aren't convertibles, nor do I often find myself missing them when I haven't driven one in a while. Yet here I am again, eagerly awaiting the next time a Miata finds its way into my garage.