New Mazda MX-5 Z-Sport 2018 review

We try the limited edition Mazda MX-5 Z-Sport, which features unique styling cues inside and out

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

A few years after it launched, the fourth-generation MX-5 is still a thriller – and Mazda’s insistence to keep the updates flowing only reinforces its status as one of the finest sports cars on sale. This Z-Sport version has all the charm of the standard car with a dollop of added exclusivity, and for that reason, it could be a canny purchase.

The Mazda MX-5 has possibly the richest heritage of special edition models of any car ever made. In its near 30-year life and across the model’s countless global markets, the number of limited run spin-offs is very hard to keep track of. 

Here in Britain we’ve had our fair share of quirky MX-5s, and 2018 sees a new one enter the fray: the MX-5 2.0i Z-Sport. It’s on sale now, and just 300 will be made available to UK buyers. 

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The usual special edition rules apply. As mentioned, it’ll be made in limited numbers, while its unique styling tweaks ensure it stands out from the crowd. The MX-5 Z-Sport is finished in Machine Grey metallic paint, offset by a unique cherry red fabric roof. Additionally, 17-inch gloss black BBS alloy wheels inject a bit of aftermarket appeal.

Inside, you’ll find an individually numbered Z-Sport plaque on the dash, plus Z-Sport scuff plates and floor mats. The seats and dash are upholstered with sand coloured leather.

Take away the Z-Sport goodies and it’s a range-topping 2.0-litre Sport Nav model. That means you get 158bhp and 200Nm, while a limited-slip differential and Bilstein dampers help take care of the driving side of things. The well-stocked standard equipment list aims to make the small interior feel as plush and connected as possible, too.

Interestingly though, the Z-Sport presents us with our first chance to try a series of mechanical revisions, which have now been applied to all new MX-5s. Every 2018 version of the venerable sports car comes with the subtle suspension, chassis and handling changes announced by Mazda back at the Tokyo Motor Show last October.

Subtle they are, too. There was very little wrong with the way the MX-5 drove before Mazda’s engineers thought it reasonable to have a rethink, and it remains very much the same. It’d probably take a fine-tuned MX-5 aficionado driving the old and the new car back-to-back to unearth any tangible differences, though Mazda’s listed claims include sharper steering and revisions to the rear suspension. 

Three years into its life, the fourth-generation MX-5 is still one of the UK’s top drivers’ cars, and the 2.0-litre soft-top is Mazda’s most potent combination. While the performance figures lag a little behind the latest generation hot hatchbacks, the 7.3-second 0-62mph dash isn’t to be sniffed at.

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The responsiveness and free revving, raspy nature of the four-cylinder engine, plus the low seating position, small cockpit and sweet gearshift, all add to the sense of fun, too. Only the biggest speed freaks will feel underwhelmed from a performance point of view. 

Turning the wheel reveals just how well the MX-5 holds itself on the road, with the sharp, direct steering brimming with feel. It’s light for a sports car, but that’s unsurprising given the tiny 1,075kg kerbweight. The ride isn’t too harsh on those 17-inch wheels and low profile tyres, either, again thanks to the low overall mass.

In fact, thanks to its perfect 50:50 weight distribution, the MX-5 still feels like the ideal set of training wheels. The chassis and suspension setup invites you to explore the car’s limits, too, and the limited-slip differential means it always feels responsive and poised. 

What’s more, this Z-Sport special edition is only £530 more expensive than the standard 2.0-litre Sport Nav model on list price. On a PCP deal, that’ll likely equate to a manageably small increase in monthly repayments, and as such, could be the MX-5 to buy right now.

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