2018 Mazda MX-5 review - price, specs and release date

The world's most popular two-seat sports car gets a power boost and new safety kit. We find out if the updated MX-5 is still our favourite convertible...

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Alan Taylor-Jones
29 Aug 2018 20:07 | Last updated: 17 Sep 2018 15:53

Priced from £18,995 Release date September 2018

Before we begin, let’s get one thing straight: the car you’re looking at is most definitely the updated Mazda MX-5, even if your eyes might tell you otherwise. Unlike most manufacturers that’ll slap on some reprofiled bumpers, fancy new alloy wheels and a couple of new shades of metallic paint, Mazda has done virtually nothing to change the MX-5’s appearance.

Although the terminally geeky might notice the new colour for the otherwise unchanged wheels and the addition of a reversing camera for the first time on an MX-5, most people are unlikely to notice the difference between the two cars. Not that we’re complaining, because the MX-5 is still a sharp-looking little thing.

Thankfully, Mazda has been far more thorough with the MX-5’s mechanicals, adding upgrades to both the 1.5 and 2.0-litre engines. While the main reason for this is to get them through the latest emissions regulations, don’t think for a second that the engines have been at all strangled.

While the 1.5-litre gets a tiny bit more power and torque, the 2.0-litre unit has been hitting the gym hard. With a freer-flowing intake and exhaust, bigger valves, lighter pistons and a higher, 7500rpm rev limit, power is up from 158bhp to 181bhp, while flexibility has been improved across the rev range. You also get engine start-stop technology for the first time, to improve emissions and fuel economy.

But even more important for taller sports car fans will be the introduction of a steering wheel that now adjusts for reach as well as height, meaning the long-legged can pull it closer to their body for maximum comfort and control.

Safety has been improved with the addition of automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and traffic sign recognition on Sport Nav+ models. Blindspot monitoring and the reversing camera are optional on this trim and standard on top-spec GT Sport Nav+ model. Last but no doubt not least for some, there’s now the availability of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity to mirror your smartphone onto the infotainment screen.

2018 Mazda MX-5 review - price, specs and release date

2018 Mazda MX-5 on the road

Although Mazda has tweaked the entry-level engine, the big focus is on the harder-hitting 2.0 – the only engine available for us to try. We currently prefer the bigger and brawnier motor anyway.

Performance is certainly stronger than before, with the 0-62mph time dropping by 0.8sec to a brisk 6.5sec for the six-speed manual version. Before you all shout "That's still a time that could be beaten by many a hot hatch", that’s missing the point of the MX-5 entirely.

Arguably, the best thing about this car is that you don’t have to go fast to have fun. While adding another 23bhp might therefore seem a bit pointless, it’s the new-found reach of the engine that adds so much to the already intoxicating experience of driving an MX-5.

It's happy to haul from around 1500rpm, but the updated engine will also scream all the way to 7500rpm, only starting to feel a bit strained over the last couple of hundred revs. That makes second gear perfect for the kind of twists and turns you get on a winding B-road, with the MX-5 pinging out of the tightest of turns with greater conviction.

The comparative lack of outright pace means you can savour every last rev at sane speeds. And while the extra low-end flexibility is useful, get it spinning beyond 4000rpm and it feels more than brisk enough to entertain. Given that the new exhaust system has provided this engine with a fine singing voice, you’ll be more than happy to oblige, especially given the deliciously sharp throttle response that you just don't get in turbo cars.

No changes have been made to the gearbox – and that's a good thing. With well-defined, direct, short-throw shifts, changing gear is a real joy. An automatic is available for the 2.0-litre RF folding hard-top, but you’ll be missing a big chunk of the MX-5’s driver appeal with that option ticked.

Another area that remains unchanged is the suspension. Regardless of which trim you pick, you might be surprised at just how comfortable the MX-5 is. Even Sport Nav+ and GT Sport Nav+ models, with their stiffer suspension and front strut brace (to improve the rigidity of the body), ride craggy roads very well for a tiny, lightweight sports car. Sure, you know you’re travelling over broken surfaces, but it takes the sting out of all but the most evil of bumps and ruts.

Indeed, Sport Nav+ trim is well worth considering, due to its tighter body control and sharper turn-in. Combined, they make the MX-5 feel that little bit more accurate over rough surfaces. If you’re more of a cruiser, we’d stick with the cheaper SE L Nav+ trim to save some dosh and benefit from that more supple ride. But whichever version you go for, you’ll find the steering is direct, builds weight in a natural and predictable fashion and provides a decent amount of information from the front tyres.

As long as you stick to a manual gearbox, all 2.0-litre MX-5s get a limited-slip differential to improve traction out of tight corners. If you’re clumsy or just plain committed, you can unstick the rear tyres by accelerating hard out of hairpins, but this is something to be enjoyed rather than feared.

2018 Mazda MX-5 review - price, specs and release date

2018 Mazda MX-5 interior

Once again, we can confirm that we’ve definitely used the right pictures for this review; there really is little to no change in here. If you don’t believe us, we’ve included a picture of Apple CarPlay in the gallery just to prove we’re not fibbing.

But CarPlay and Android Auto bring welcome smartphone connectivity, even if it is optional on all models rather than standard. Still, it isn’t an expensive one and it can even be retrofitted to pre-facelift MX-5s, as well as other Mazda models.

And while you’ll find almost everything you need to know about interior quality, space and practicality in our exceedingly thorough full MX-5 review here, it's worth mentioning that reach adjustment for the steering wheel again. It’s certainly a welcome addition, making the car more comfortable for tall drivers, even if some might feel that it could come out even farther to better suit everyone.

Next: 2018 Mazda MX-5 verdict >