A classic Buick slogan boasted, “When better automobiles are built, Buick will build them.”
But perhaps that sentiment is more appropriate to the Mazda MX-5 Miata, a uniquely endearing two-seat roadster that’s been providing affordable grins for nearly three decades. The only way to get a better Miata is for Mazda to develop an improvement.
For 2018, Mazda made some modest updates to the Miata. It’s nothing that will likely make you rush out and buy one, but it continued to hone a package that’s already tremendously appealing to the right customer.
Mechanical tweaks promise sharper steering responses and a more stable, planted ride quality. New color options dress up the exterior and interior, including the “Dark Cherry” fabric on the tested car’s roof. Newly-optional sport seats can hold you in place more snugly. Heated seats now come standard on the base model, so you can more easily enjoy top-down motoring in inclement weather.
That last point proved unexpectedly relevant. I was scheduled to test the updated 2018 Miata during a week that included the first day of spring. Even before the region was walloped with the white stuff, the weather was unseasonably chilly.
But putting the top down is part of the MX-5 Miata experience. This is a low, little car with a relatively modest 155-horsepower engine. It’s not a car that’s built to go fast. It’s built to add some excitement to normal driving. Lowering the roof — a manual operation that takes just a couple of seconds one-handed — increases your connection to the world around you. And the rush of wind also increases your sense of speed without forcing you into dangerous lawlessness. (You can also buy a partially retractable hardtop version called the Miata RF.)
It helps that the MX-5 is also carefully engineered to thrill. It’s not just a small car with no roof. It has rear-wheel-drive for better weight distribution. You’re low to the ground to enjoy a lower center of gravity, and the car’s size keeps it nimble. The engine is joyful, especially when mated to the tested car’s six-speed manual transmission — it feels energetic and its sound is the perfect balance between invigorating and subtle. That means you get to enjoy it without disturbing everyone around you.
For 2016, the MX-5 was fully redesigned with modernized styling, a classily minimalistic interior and greatly improved fuel economy — all welcome additions to its longtime strengths. The EPA estimates it will achieve 29 miles per gallon on premium fuel. Coupled with its $26,185 base price, the MX-5 Miata is an affordable choice to buy and operate. That’s especially true by convertible standards, but the MX-5 Miata even stacks up well against fixed-roof competitors such as the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 — small, low, rear-wheel-drive sports coupes that do, at least, squeeze in tiny rear seats.
The only other direct competitor to the MX-5 Miata is the Fiat 124 Spider. Although it adopts retro Italian styling, it’s actually a Miata under the skin, albeit with a different engine and its own styling flavor. Between the two, the Mazda provides the more visceral experience; the Fiat offers a touch more relaxation.
But just a touch. These little roadsters aren’t for everyone. They seat only two passengers, and even then only in a bit of a pinch. And unlike a growing number of convertibles — albeit much pricier ones from the likes of Audi, BMW and Porsche — they don’t offer all-wheel-drive. When the weather turns really wintry, the safe choice is to park until it clears.
If you own one, though, you’ll eagerly wait for your chance to hit the road again. Even if it’s just to grab groceries or head to work, the MX-5 Miata makes driving fun.
And now you can even buy it with a Dark Cherry roof. What are you waiting for?
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.