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Revisiting the ND Mazda MX-5 (because there’s no such thing as too much Miata)

Early last year, Mazda was graceful enough to allow me to sample a 2017 MX-5 Miata Grand Touring for a week. It was only natural that I compare it to the 2008 Miata Touring that I’ve owned for over a decade now. This year, Mazda allowed us to sample the 2018 version of its most enthusiast-oriented ND Miata, the Club trim level. So, did we harbor any feelings of ennui, déjà vu or “been there, done that”? Heck, no! You can never have too much Miata.

If anything, this is a more direct counterpart to my 2008 Touring model than the ND Grand Touring version we sampled last year. Nonetheless, rather than repeating ourselves with an NC-to-ND comparo, the focus here is on the changes Mazda made for 2018 to its iconic roadster, and what awaits it for next year.

New for 2018
The 2018 model year is the third for the 4th-generation ND MX-5 Miata. Our Club soft-top with manual transmission sample starts at a base MSRP of $29,155, with its suite of options and the obligatory Delivery, Processing and Handling Fees bringing the bottom line to $35,240.

The chief contributor to that over $6000 jump is the new-for-2018 Brembo/BBS RECARO Package and its $4470 MSRP. This coexists with the current less expensive Brembo/BBS Package (which itself gains black heated leather seats for 2018). Both packages include Brembo front brakes with red calipers, BBS forged 17″ alloy wheels (in a so-called Dark Gunmetal finish more accurately described as black) and the addition of side sill extensions and a rear bumper skirt to the Club’s standard front air dam and rear lip spoiler. The RECARO version of the package replaces the black regular leather seats with (of course) RECARO seats finished in a combination of black leather and ultrasuede. Also inside our test car is the $425 Interior Package comprised of alloy pedals, door sill trim plates (which were, sadly, just as scratch-prone as they were in last year’s Grand Touring tester) and a red oil cap underhood.

In addition, our Club sample was decked out in a couple of new-for-2018 color options: a $300 Machine Gray exterior (this was previously exclusive to the RF hardtop version) and a no-cost Dark Cherry soft top, a combination which gives it an upmarket, Germanic vibe.

Other changes for 2018 include standard fitment on all trim levels of Advanced Smart Keyless Entry (push-button start), a revised Mazda Connect infotainment system with 7″ full-color touchscreen display, HD Radio and multi-function Commander, revised sun visors and, in Mazda’s words, retuned rear suspension and power steering for improved performance, ride comfort and NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) control.

How does it drive?
As I stepped inside, I naïvely expected RECARO seats akin to their Orthoped line with all manner of adjustable lumbar, side and thigh bolsters. Instead, I was greeted by seats that retain just their standard counterparts’ bare-bones back-and-forth, setback angle and tilt adjustment for the leading edge of the driver’s seat cushion adjustability. Yes, they do hug the driver a bit more closely than the standard seats without being overly confining (although my build is rather narrow-shouldered), but the RECAROs are more nice-to-have than absolutely gotta-have-it.

Shift into reverse, stare at the central screen and, again, no rearview camera, just like its 2017 counterpart. It seems that Mazda built all its 2018 MX-5s for the U.S. market right before the final drop-dead May 2018 legally-mandated deadline for obligatory fitment of rearview cameras on all new cars.

Shift forward and drive off, and all is utterly familiar from last year’s experience. One detail that I forgot to mention then is a gear indicator in the lower-right quadrant of the centrally-mounted tachometer. Handy, especially with a short-throw shifter such as the Miata’s. It also includes upshift suggestions for maximum fuel economy, even suggesting that you skip gears (say, from 4 to 6) as you bury the accelerator and the revs rise. Annoying, and something that will surely be ignored by the hardcore enthusiast that prizes maximum forward momentum.

Speaking of fuel economy, The 2018 ND Club we sampled started out with a 28.1 mpg average per the trip computer, which came down slightly to 27.6 mpg at the end of our nearly week-long stint. The 2017 ND Grand Touring we borrowed last year ranged between 34.6 and 31.3 mpg average. There are no mechanical changes to explain this, nor do we suspect anything nefarious. We’d chalk up the differences to a higher proportion of dense stop-and-go city traffic in hotter top-up-and-A/C weather versus our previous spring 2017 test.

The 2018 MX-5 Club includes a pared-down version of the Grand Touring’s i-ACTIVSENSE suite of safety technologies. Here, its sole functions are Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA). The former has High or Low sensitivity settings, and the system can be turned off if that’s your preference.

In comparison to the ND Grand Touring model that I tested last year, the ND Club comes with stiffer springs and Bilstein shocks, a limited-slip differential, front shock tower brace and the aforementioned Brembo front brakes. The ride did seem a bit firmer than I recall last year’s ND GT being. Other than that, I didn’t feel any day-and-night differences between the Club and GT. Then again, this can hardly be called a direct or even fair comparison, since more than a year separated the two ND Miata drives. Surely a driver with a finely calibrated butt driving the two back-to-back (preferably on a twisty mountain road, autocross course or racetrack) could pick out some differences (and would surely rule in favor of the Club).

…and for 2019…
Earlier than expected (on 20 June 2018, to be precise) Mazda released information on the 2019 MX-5 Miata. Even as the ND enters its fourth model year, aesthetic changes are nonexistent, and no one is speaking in terms of an ND2. Mechanically, however, Miatisti everywhere are rejoicing as their favorite roadster will have, in the immortal words of Tim Allen, “more power!” To be precise:

The net results are 181 horsepower at 7,000 rpm — a 17-percent improvement — and 151 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, with a richer torque curve throughout MX-5’s entire rev range. (The previous ND numbers are 155 hp @ 6000 rpm and 148 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm).

Speaking of rev range, redline has increased from 6,800 rpm to 7,500 rpm. Engineers were able to increase performance through several means, including:

– Reducing internal mass and friction: Each piston has been reduced 27g in mass, thanks to a minimized skirt area. Connecting rods are 41g lighter than previous units.

– Reducing exhaust loss: The upgraded engine carries an increased valve opening angle and valve lift height. The inner diameter of the exhaust manifold has also been increased. The net results are a 30-percent reduction in pumping losses.

– Improved combustion: Reconfigured intake ports and new high-diffusion, higher-pressure fuel injectors improve the tumble and swirl of fuel in the cylinder and better-atomize fuel. The benefit is improved efficiency and torque at all rpm.

– Dual-mass flywheel: Replacing the single-mass flywheel with a low-inertia, dual-mass flywheel improves smoothness and responsiveness.

– A new exhaust system with richer sound quality.

– New final drive ratio: The transmission’s final drive ratio has been increased from 3.454 to 3.583 in models equipped with an automatic transmission in order to improve linear response to match the driver’s intentions. Gear ratios are otherwise unchanged from previous models.

Better yet, this added performance comes without adversely affecting fuel economy. John Goreham of Torque News compared 2018 vs 2019 official U.S. EPA figures and discovered a 1 mpg improvement in highway fuel economy for the manual MX-5 and a similar improvement in combined city/highway fuel economy for the automatic for 2019 (all other figures remain unchanged for 2019 vs 2018).

The sole exterior changes of note are new black metallic 17″ wheels and an available brown canvas soft top (it is unclear whether this replaces 2018’s Dark Cherry top or if both will coexist for 2019 as alternatives to the black top).

Inside, the 2019 MX-5 Miata features a first-ever telescoping steering wheel (with 30mm of travel), easier-to-open doors with revised door stops and revised cupholders and seat levers.

On the safety front, the 2019 gains the mandatory rearview camera (finally!); and Traffic Sign Recognition and Smart City Brake Support functions are added to the i-ACTIVSENSE suite of safety features (presumably just for the Grand Touring trim level but this, too, remains unclear).

A minor down side of the 2019 changes is a small 7-lb increase in curb weight (from 2332 lbs for a 2018 ND manual soft top to 2339 lbs for its 2019 counterpart). We’re inclined to blame the addition of the camera and other safety equipment. Still, that sizable power increase should make the 2019 MX-5 Miata the fastest yet from the factory, dethroning the NB Mazdaspeed Miata Turbo. And, as Mazda notes, it took other measures under its “Gram Strategy” to mitigate that weight gain, such as adopting an aluminum steering shaft in place of the previous steel unit.

Fingers crossed, hoping and praying that sampling a new Mazda MX-5 Miata becomes an annual ritual for us here at Kaizen Factor. We can hardly wait to sample those 2019 upgrades.

Photo/Image Credits:
Image #6: via Jalopnik.
All other photos by Joaquín Ruhi.

Published inDriving ImpressionsMazdaMX-5 MiataReviews

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