The 2018 Mazda MX-5 lacks storage space and advanced safety features, has pricey top trims, and a bothersome infotainment system, but it overcomes these foibles and more with a brilliant design, lightweight chassis, nimble handling, and excellent fuel economy.

Best Value

With a single 2.0-liter engine, the choice of either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, a convertible or power targa-style hardtop, and Sport, Club, Grand Touring, and RF trim levels, 2018 Mazda MX-5 prices range from $26,185 to over $37,000.

Base equipment includes the typical power features, LED headlights and taillights, 16-inch alloy wheels, power mirrors, a glass rear window, keyless entry, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shifter, and handbrake, air conditioning, Bluetooth, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen.

At a $3,845 premium over the base Sport, we'd choose the Club model with the six-speed manual, naturally. The Club trim brings a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein dampers, a limited slip differential, 17-inch alloy wheels, a shock tower brace, a front air dam and rear lip spoiler, LED daytime running lights, a Bose audio system, upgraded seat trim, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Here's how we'd build it:

  • Model: 2018 Mazda MX-5 Club
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder
  • Output: 155 hp / 148 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual
  • MPG: 26 City / 33 Hwy
  • Options: None
  • Base Price:$30,045 (including the $890 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$30,045

Performance

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Our choice would be the slick shifting manual, as it more easily keeps power in the 3,000-plus rpm range – snicking through gears and aided by a progressive clutch pedal. But if slogging through stop-and-go is your daily routine, the automatic is a close second. With either transmission, the MX-5 has better dynamics than most cars two and three times its price. It excels in back roads corner-carving with its low driving position, compliant suspension, and quick, communicative steering – all the while delivering an exemplary EPA-estimated 26 miles per gallon in the city, 33 on the highway, and 29 combined.

At the same time, the six-speed automatic isn't as quick-shifting as dual-clutch versions found in other small, sporty cars. The manual Club's firmer suspension lessens ride comfort, while the MX-5's short wheelbase can react sharply to larger ruts and road imperfections. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert is standard on Club and Touring models. The Touring also gets lane departure warning, automatic high beams, and adaptive front lighting. However, advanced safety features like pre-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control are unavailable.

Style

The MX-5's sleek, muscular design manages to look classic – long hood, short trunk – without wallowing in nostalgia, especially when dressed in Soul Red paint. The RF ups the ante with a quintessential coupe shape and hardtop that, when activated, lifts and stows in the trunk in 13 seconds. The eye-catching shape is wrapped around a driver-centered interior featuring well-bolstered, suspended fabric front seats (pricier and grippier Recaros are optional on the Club), excellent sight lines, and outstanding ergonomics.

The MX-5's shortcomings lie with its minuscule 4.59 cubic feet of trunk space, minimal cabin storage, and seats that lack all-day comfort. In addition, there's considerable noise at highway speeds, even in the RF, while reaching the controls for the cumbersome infotainment system requires some contortion.

The Best and Worst Things

We're attracted to the MX-5's gorgeous design and exquisite handling. We only wish it came with a rearview camera and the advanced safety features available on the Mazda3.

Right For? Wrong For?

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Enthusiasts will be eager to slice and dice back roads thanks to the MX-5's svelte design, superb handling, and slick-shifting manual.

Safety-minded buyers should look elsewhere due to its lack of advanced features.

The Bottom Line

Thanks to its svelte design, first-rate ergonomics, sublime handling, and great fuel economy, the 2018 Mazda MX-5 is a top choice in its class, despite coming up short in useful storage, advanced safety systems, and infotainment operation.