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Roadster of the Year 2018: Mazda MX-5

The Mazda MX-5 is the 2018 Auto Express Roadster of the Year, with the McLaren 570S Spider and Porsche 718 Boxster commended

The Mazda MX-5 retains its crown as the best roadster you can buy. The soft-top and the latest ‘Retractable Fastback’ RF version that joined the range last year have their own merits, so there’s plenty of choice. Both cars are brilliant.

With striking styling, the MX-5 looks distinctive, and the RF’s supercar-like design adds another dimension. No matter which version you pick, open the MX-5 up and it delivers an addictive sense of fun, with the wind in your hair and a fantastic powertrain and chassis beneath you.

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Mazda has avoided turbocharging, so the 1.5 and 2.0-litre petrol engines in the MX-5 are deliciously responsive and fun to rev. They’re linked to a sweet six-speed manual box that’s a joy to use – so much so that it’s often considered a benchmark for great gearshift feel in any class of car. Driving the Mazda is a delight at any time, no matter how short the journey.

Lightweight construction means that the relatively low-powered engines feel very sprightly, while it also boosts efficiency and handling agility.

The suspension allows some roll in corners, but it’s engaging rather than unnerving and doesn’t take away from the fun, because the sweet steering and rear-wheel-drive handling mean the Mazda roadster is fantastic on a fast road and doesn’t feel uncomfortable on a bumpy one. As a result of all that, we prefer it as an overall package to its sister car, the Fiat 124 Spider.

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The RF is a little more expensive than the still-brilliant-value soft-top, and both offer just as much in the way of thrills. Not much comes close to the MX-5 for pure driving fun at this price, let alone something that’s genuinely usable every day. 

Our choice 

Mazda MX-5 1.5 SE-L Nav (£20,695)

We reckon the 1.5-litre is a sweeter engine, because it revs with vigour and adds just a little extra sense of fun to driving the MX-5. It’s also cheaper to buy than the 2.0 litre. Combined with the superb six-speed manual box, it means you can exploit the MX-5’s brilliance without fear of going too fast. 

Commended

McLaren 570S Spider

Best new cars of 2017: our road tests of the year - McLaren 570S Spider

If you’ve got a huge budget to spend on your roadster, you can’t go wrong with the McLaren 570S Spider. It’s fantastic to drive, with superb steering, a roaring V8 engine and a chassis that absorbs bumps well without compromising the McLaren’s sharp handling. 

Porsche 718 Boxster

Porsche 718 Boxster GTS - front

The Boxster splits the MX-5 and 570S on price, but also on performance. It’s the mid-engined handling that really sets our pulses racing – and even if the new turbocharged four-cylinder engines aren’t as pleasing as the flat-sixes that powered Boxsters of old, they deliver astounding performance.

Auto Express New Car Awards 2018

For complete, in-depth coverage of the 2018 New Car Awards, buy your collector's edition copy of the Auto Express magazine now or click here to subscribe...

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