Mazda MX-5 VS Ford Mustang
- Fun factor
- Legendary status
- Tiny boot
- No CarPlay (it's coming)
- Slightly firm ride
- V8 noise
- Better interior
- Adaptive dampers
- Four-cylinder noise
- Still a poor safety score
- Prices are up
Buying a car for fun, rather than just transport, is an unimaginable luxury for most of us, because most vehicles that are genuinely joyous - the kind that make you smile like a four-year-old in a bath full of gelato - are almost unobtainably expensive.
And that's what makes Mazda's MX-5, a car quite accurately described by the company's spokes folk as the "icon" of the brand, so special. Because it is hugely fun, and it is far more of a toy than a tool, and yet, with a price starting at just $34,190, it's the kind of dream car that's actually within touching distance of reality.
Mazda has just unveiled yet another facelift for the venerable roadster (and retractable hardtop) as part of its goal of "continually seeking new ways to make it even more thrilling and satisfying to drive".
It has aimed to kick this goal by redesigning the cupholders, giving it black wheels instead of silver ones and, for the first time, offering a steering wheel with telescopic adjustment (people have only been wanting that since its first version, back in 1989). There's also a new reversing camera tucked into its taut behind.
Rather more importantly, the 2.0-litre engine has also been given a proper going over and now creates more power, more torque, and revs higher, for an even better aural experience. Which sounds pretty fabulous. Prices are up $750 across the range to pay for all that, which sounds like a reasonable deal. Let's find out.
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The Ford Mustang 2018 model is more than just a facelift, this is a comprehensive rework of the brand’s iconic muscle car.
There are big changes outside and in, but the most important ones are to the way the 2018 Ford Mustang drives.
More than just brawn - although there’s plenty of that - this updated Pony Car has a bit more brain about it, too.
We drove the new models in Nice, France, ahead of the Australian launch of the updated Mustang this month.
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This latest face lift for the fabulous Mazda MX-5 may not be revolutionary, and indeed some if it is just fiddling at the edges, but the improved safety, rear-view camera and nice black wheels may impress a few buyers, while the extra zest and reviness from the engine will most certainly attract fans of this car's core ingredient - fun motoring.
Do you dream of having an MX-5 in your garage, just for sunny days, tell us in the comments section below.
The Ford Mustang 2018 update is a substantial one - it’s a marked improvement on a car that needed some attention here and there. It’s more fun, more adept and more muscular a muscle car as a result of the changes. If you’re already a Mustang owner and you’re wondering if the update is worth considering, the answer is ‘yes’.
If it were my money, I’d choose the V8 auto coupe because, when it comes to this sort of car, it’s the bodybuilder of the bunch.
Would you choose a V8 over a turbocharged four-cylinder? Let us know in the comments section below.
Changes to the look of the MX-5 would best be described as singular, because there is only one - a swap from silver wheels to metallic black ones, in a bid to "emphasise the car's visual impact".
Even the base model roadster gets the new black look, albeit 15-inch versions, while the RF gets 17-inch alloys. the range-topping GT, strangely, gets 17-inch silver wheels.
Other than that, the looks of the MX-5 remain the same, and that's a very good thing, because this is, far and away, the angriest and sexiest looking version of the classic two-seater ever to roll out of the Hiroshima factory.
Apparently there are people who find the latest look too sharp, too Japanese and too anime, and would prefer a look to the rounded, happy-puppy looks of old. But those people are simply wrong. This is a fantastic looking vehicle, no matter which colour wheels it has.
When it comes to paint colours the same six remain on offer - 'Soul Red Crystal Metallic', 'Machine Grey Metallic', 'Snow' aka 'White Pearl Mica', 'Ceramic Mica', 'Eternal Blue Mica' and 'Jet Black Mica'. So no green, yellow, orange or gold. Soul Red is clearly the choice here.
There is a body kit available as part of the optional Kuroi sports pack ($4220), which also includes a rear diffuser. Roof racks are not an option. Floor mats will also cost you $166.23 extra. Ouch.
If I had to make a remark about the updated Mustang’s design, it would be that it doesn’t quite look as American any more. That could be good or bad, depending on where your loyalties lie.
The slimmer, broader-looking headlights and the revised front bumper, grille and bonnet all work together to give it a more substantial presence on the road if you’re looking at in your rearview mirror.
Obviously the roofline has remained the same, and the rear end has seen revised LED tail-lights, plus the V8 now has quad exhausts, the EcoBoost now has twin exhausts, and both now get a black diffuser rather than a colour-coded one. The GT model’s wheels remain the same as before - standard issue mesh multi spokes are fitted in 19-inch diameter across the line-up.
There is no doubting that this still looks muscly enough to be considered a muscle car, but the subtle styling changes outside are enough to push it more towards what we’ve come to expect of a modern-day sports car, too. It looks more European, and that’ll either float your boat, or it won’t.
Inside there are some design changes, too. The most important one being the 12.0-inch digital dashboard cluster in front of the driver, which is lovely to look at, offers excellent functionality, and really lifts the ambience of the cabin.
Some of the materials have been tweaked inside, and it feels more plush than it did before - anyone who drove the pre-update Mustang will know that the cabin was a bit low rent, and while this update sees a good stride towards it being better, it’s still not a penthouse apartment inside.
Once again, the changes inside the MX-5 are not huge, but one of them - the addition of telescopic adjustment for the steering column - will be very welcome to fans who have long wondered why they couldn't be just that bit more comfortable at the wheel.
This Mazda already had a fantastic, low-slung driving position that made you feel like part of the car, but it's even better now that you can have the wheel exactly where you want it.
There's also been a slight tweak to the design of the sun visors, for better coverage, and the gaps between the detachable cupholders - of which there are two - have been optimised to allow easier attachment and removal. They've also been made more rigid, "to suppress wobble", because no one likes a wobbly drink, particularly around fast bends.
In yet another example of paying attention to every detail, the levers you use to adjust the seats have also been made slightly thicker and more rigid, just so they feel better.
In terms of practicality, of course, it's not really a key selling point of any MX-5, nor has it ever been. There's limited oddment storage behind the gear lever and a tiny kind of lunch box behind your left shoulder, and a very small glove box as well, with no room for bottles, or anything else, in the doors.
There's not a lot of room, generally, in the MX-5's tight and glove-like cabin, but that's just the way it's supposed to feel. Small and perfectly snug.
The boot is deep-ish, but narrow, and it's overnight bags only in its 130-litre space (boot capacity in the RF is an even smaller 127 litres).
While shoulder and elbow room are limited, headroom is quite good, even in the hard-topped RF version.
Even so, there is reasonably good usability on offer… at least for those in the front seats. The front features decent door-pocket storage, a pair of cupholders, a covered centre console bin, and a reasonable glovebox - but there’s not much loose-item storage for easy access to phones, wallets and the like.
There are elements to the cabin that just don’t make sense, like the monodirectional toggles for the drive mode and steering mode controls - why can’t you flick them up and down? It’s a silly and frustrating, oversight.
It’s simpler if you don’t think of the Mustang as a four-seater. Technically that’s what it is, but even toddlers or young children would be cramped back there, with limited head, knee and toe room, and no storage to speak of whatsoever. There are ISOFIX child-seat anchor points and top-tether points as well, if you want to try driving your kids around in one (perhaps you don't like them).
At the very least, those back seats fold down if you want to make it a two-seater with a massive boot space. Even without them folded, the boot capacity is good: it has 408 litres of luggage volume.
Price and features
Prices have risen $750 across the entire range for this new update to the MX-5, but Mazda Australia claims that's more than made up for by the extra new safety kit, plus the reversing camera, the new wheels and, in the case of the 2.0-litre models that 95 per cent of people will buy, more power, torque and revs on offer.
The base model Roadster, at a very temping $34,190, will still appeal to some purists who hate the idea of big, heavy roofs (70 per cent of buyers will go for the RF) and big, powerful engines.
Standard kit at that level includes that new reversing camera, 16-inch alloy wheels (now black metallic for extra visual menace), a cloth soft top, LED headlamps, power mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, climate-control air (but who needs that, with a convertible!), black cloth seats, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with 'MZD Connect', an audio system with six speakers and DAB+ (but no CD player), Bluetooth streaming, internet radio integration, satellite navigation, 'Smart City Brake Support', or AEB, in both forward and reverse, 'Traffic Sign Recognition', 'Driver Attention Alert' and reverse parking sensors and blind-spot monitoring.
Step up through the trim levels to the GT Roadster with the 2.0L and you're quickly over $40K at $41,960 (add another $2000 for the auto, if you must), and you'll score 17-inch alloys, adaptive LEDs headlights and DRLs, black or tan leather on your seats, which are now heated, a 'Premium' Bose stereo with nine speakers, 'Advanced keyless entry' and lane-departure warning.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto gadgets are not available yet, but a dealer-fit fix is expected very soon, at some extra cost.
If you want the folding hard-top RF version, and most people do, then the basic spec will set you back $39,400, the GT $45,960 or the RF GT with the optional black roof $46,960.
It's still a lot of car, or at least a lot of fun in a little car for the money, but you'd have to consider whether you'd could be just as happy in a car that's almost as more fun but has five doors and a decent boot, like VW's Golf GTI.
What price, though, a roof-down drive on a summer evening? On its day, the Mazda makes a compelling argument against buying a Porsche Boxster. Which is high praise indeed.
The 2018 Ford Mustang range sees a bump in pricing across all models in the range. Here’s a rundown on the price list for the model line-up.
The EcoBoost four-cylinder coupe with the six-speed manual still starts below $50k - just. The list price is $49,990 plus on-road costs. The 10-speed automatic version of the coupe lists at $52,990. That price is up $4000 on its predecessor.
The four-cylinder convertible models bring a fairly sizeable premium, with the 10-speed automatic version listed at $59,490. There’s no manual soft-top available. That price represents at $4500 jump on the pre-facelift model.
The V8-powered GT coupe with a six-speed manual transmission lists at $62,990, while the 10-speed automatic version comes in at $66,259. Those prices represent $5500 and $6639 jumps, respectively.
The Mustang GT convertible 10-speed auto is listed at $74,709 - a huge $8793 lift over the existing model.
Across the board, Ford is justifying the increases with big additions to the standard equipment list.
The biggest update is the addition of a fully digital instrument cluster - a 12.0-inch screen with configurable layouts and displays, which is a standard-fit item across the board. Still offered is Ford’s 8.0-inch Sync 3 media screen with sat nav, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology, and there’s now a 12-speaker Shaker audio system, too - the pre-facelift model had a nine-speaker stereo.
All models sold in Australia will also be offered as standard with a new adjustable sports exhaust system, which includes a quiet-start function so you don’t annoy the neighbours (and who doesn't think of Mustang buyers as kind, considerate types?). The loudness is adjustable depending on which drive mode you select - Normal, Sport+, Track, Drag Race, Snow/Wet and My Mode, the latter of which is a customisable setting, also new to Mustang. The steering can still be configured in Comfort, Normal and Sport settings.
Visually separating the two models are different wheel designs, but all Mustang models come with auto headlights, auto wipers, keyless entry and push-button start, new LED headlights, heated seats and a heated steering wheel (which is new to the Mustang - the heated seats aren’t). Recaro seats are optional on the GT only ($3000).
There’s an array of active safety kit added across the range, too - read about that in the safety section below.
There are some key optional extras that buyers can choose from. A set of OTT (yes, it stands for ‘Over The Top’) stripes can be had in black on any model ($650), or white on the Fastback only ($650) There’s also a rear spoiler for the Fastback ($750), and Recaro leather seats ($3000).
The EcoBoost model can be had with 19-inch Lustre Nickel alloy wheels ($500), while GT buyers have the option of 19-inch forged alloys ($2500).
All models can be equipped with the MagneRide adaptive suspension system at a cost of $2750.
As for colours, there are a few to choose from, including the new hero colour, Orange Fury, plus Kona Blue, Lightning Blue, Magnetic grey, Race Red, Royal Crimson (dark red), Triple Yellow and plainer options like white and black.
Engine & trans
So, let's start with the engine that almost no one - other than rusted-on purists apparently - will opt for; the 1.5-litre engine lurking in the base-model roadster, which is still seen as "the ultimate expression of the MX-5", by the marque's hardcore, old-school fans.
Small tweaks to this engine - which will make up just 5 per cent of total sales - have seen power rise by a single kilowatt to 97kW, and torque bumped from 150Nm to 152Nm.
The bigger and more exciting changes have been made to the 2.0-litre engine, which is the only choice you have anyway if you're opting for the RF - which 70 per cent of buyers will - but in the case of both engines the control units have been revised to give a feeling of more direct acceleration, a sensation further exacerbated by tweaks to both the automatic and manual transmissions to offer quicker response times, and less "jerk" during acceleration.
Yes, you can have your MX-5 with a six-speed automatic transmission, and a shocking 43 per cent of buyers are tipped to make that choice, even though it is the wrong one. The six-speed manual goes with this car the way tomato sauce goes with a pie, or soy sauce with sushi.
Revisions to the 2.0-litre power plant, including the use of a new, dual-mass flywheel, have increased power significantly from 118kW to 135kW, while the redline has also soared to 7500rpm from 6800rpm. Overall torque is up from 200Nm to 205Nm.
The engineers claim to have a delivered a sensation of "urgent, limitless acceleration", with linear responses all the way up to that new rev ceiling. Against the stop watch, that means a 0-100km/h time for the 2.0 of 6.5 seconds in the Roadster or 6.8 in the RF, against 8.3 seconds for the 1.5-litre Roadster.
Mazda says there's also more torque available across the whole rev range, while tweaks to the exhaust system, including a new inner silencer structure, also provide a more resonant, exciting sound to go with the extra power and revs.
The engine uses a timing chain rather than a timing belt. Oil capacity is 4.1 litres.
There have been power and torque increases across both the four-cylinder turbo and V8 naturally aspirated engines.
The 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo EcoBoost engine now produces 224kW of power (down from 233kW - apparently due to a new way of calculating the peak power output!) at 5400rpm, but torque is bumped to 441Nm at 3000rpm (it was 432Nm). It is rear-wheel drive, as you’d expect, and it has the option of a six-speed manual transmission or a 10-speed automatic gearbox.
The 5.0-litre V8 engine has seen power and torque bumps, too. It now produces 336kW of power at 7000rpm (up from 306kW), and torque is rated at 556Nm at 4600rpm (previously 530Nm).
The extra power is good, no doubt about it. But the extra noise of the V8 is what was most enticing about it. More on that below.
Fuel economy for the little 1.5-litre engine is 6.2 litres per 100km for the manual or 6.4L/100km for the auto, while the 2.0-litre version - which is naturally aspirated rather than turbocharged or supercharged and thus wonderfully old-school, returns 6.8 and 7.0L/100km respectively in the roadster, rising to 6.9 and 7.2 in the RF.
All of these figures reflect an ideal world, rather than the real one, where you will regularly push it all the way through the rev range in several gears and get nowhere near those numbers.
Mustang models sold with the 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder turbo model are more efficient, as you’d expect. The six-speed manual coupe is claimed to use 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres, while the 10-speed auto coupe model has a claimed consumption of 9.5L/100km.
The convertible version with the EcoBoost uses 9.5L/100km with the standard 10-speed auto.
As for the V8 coupe, the six-speed manual uses a claimed 13.0L/100km, while the 10-speed auto helps drop consumption to 12.7L/100km. The V8 auto convertible claims an identical figure as the fastback: 12.7L/100km.
Almost every time you drive an MX-5, of any generation, you find yourself doing a little glee face. There's something innocent, old-school and almost childish about how much fun they are.
The magic is in the simplest of set-ups - light weight, rear-wheel drive, short wheelbase, sharp steering, slick gearbox - and it's one that has only gotten better over the years with the addition of better technology. And, vitally, more power.
Every time you drive one, however, it's hard not to wonder how much more enjoyable it could be with just a few more herbs under the bonnet. The current iteration of the car, with its sharp, sleek lines and mean, take-me-seriously face, has been offered with a 2.0-litre engine for a while now, and it did make the MX-5 feel more potent than ever before… and yet you had to wonder if there was still a bit more lurking under the bonnet, waiting to be unleashed.
And now, finally and wonderfully, it has been. The upgraded version of the power plant produces more of its 205Nm of torque (up 5Nm) throughout the rev range, which now stretches all the way to 7500pm (up from 6800rpm), and power has taken a serious step up from 118kW to 135kW.
It's still not a huge number, but in a car that weighs just 1035kg (1087kg for the RF), it's enough to produce more than just the sprightly performance we've come to expect from this zippy Mazda.
The power now on tap means you can really up your pace if you want to, and go-to-jail speeds are now most assuredly an option for the keen/crazy driver.
What has always made the MX-5 one of the great sports cars, however, is that it's so much fun to drive even at lower, legal speeds, and that remains the case here. The way the car corners, the connection it seems to have to your core, through your hips and via your finger tips, remains as visceral and vital as ever.
It is telling that the engineers made no changes at all to the chassis or handling of this version, because they realised it was damn close to perfect already.
This MX-5, then, is just as much of a huge hoot as the one it replaces, it's just that it's now faster, and perhaps even a tiny bit louder, than before, and that is a very good thing.
I spent the most time in the V8 model, and it wasn't so much the extra power and torque that was noticeable, as the extra noise. If you were blindfolded and sat in the new Mustang, you might think you’re sitting in a ‘70s yank tank - there’s a delightful burble at idle (a little more pronounced in the auto) and it gets even better the faster you go.
In fact, the 10-speed auto V8 was the standout vehicle I drove. The logic of the transmission is brilliant - if you suddenly stab the throttle the auto will downshift three or four gears in the blink of an eye - and I mean that literally, because you can barely perceive it via the display on the driver information screen; it happens that fast.
The shifts aren’t always smooth - there can be a perceptible thunk through the cabin at times - and while that may not be the most refined experience, it’s actually pretty rewarding as a driver to get that sort of feel-able feedback.
The manual version of the V8 feels more relaxed - I’d even go as far as to suggest it’s a bit lazy. The auto just does a better job of making use of the grunt on offer.
The multi-mode sports exhaust - with Quiet, Normal, Sport and Race Track settings - was a set-and-forget feature on my test. It was in Sport, because - while there might be a perceptible difference on a track - it was identical in ‘regular’ driving.
Another new addition helped transform the drive experience - the MagneRide adaptive dampers. They may be optional on all models, but it seems that if you want a muscle car that handles corners and bumps adeptly, it’d be money well spent.
The magnetic ride control system can adjust each corner up to 1000 times per second, and while you’d have to be some kind of superhero to perceive that, there is no denying that the system does a terrific job of isolating cabin occupants from rough surfaces below, while also helping the Mustang corner with more sporting intent than I remember the previous one possessing.
The steering is trustworthy, with good feel and a nice linear and progressive sensation to it when you’re changing direction. The Mustang does have a big turning circle, though, so making tight moves in parking spots can be a bit of a task.
I also had a drive of the EcoBoost engine and its new 10-speed auto, and found it felt more tense and eager to please than the V8, particularly the V8 manual. It’s noticeably lighter at the front end, meaning it feels more keen for hard driving in corners.
Try as it might, though, the four-cylinder simply can’t match the V8 for fitting the image of the Mustang. It is good to drive, but it just doesn’t sound as good, or as Mustang, and therefore doesn’t make you feel as good as the V8 model does.
The standard safety offering is another area that's had the facelifting magic applied to it for this upgrade, with more 'i-ACTIVSENSE' technologies now coming as standard across the range, and, finally, a 'Rear Monitor', or reversing camera, now standard, tucked away in the centre of the rear bumper.
New safety features include 'Smart City Brake Support', or AEB, forward only on the base but also in reverse on GT and above, 'Traffic Sign Recognition', 'Driver Attention Alert' (GT spec only) and reverse parking sensors. Blind-spot monitoring was already included.
If all that fails you'll be protected by four airbags, two each for driver and passenger. The MX-5 received a five-star ANCAP rating when it was most recently tested, back in 2016.
This is a difficult section to score, because the updated Mustang has a lot of safety equipment, but it falls short on the ANCAP crash test score. It was tested by Euro NCAP in 2017, and managed a lowly three stars, due to poor crash protection for occupants.
At the very least, that’s a step up on the pre-facelift model, which scored just two stars in ANCAP testing in 2017. ANCAP has announced the updated Mustang achieves the same three-star score as Europe (from December 2017 production).
Despite that, the 2018 Mustang comes fitted with a lengthy list of safety gear, including dual front, front side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags (no curtains on the convertible model). Plus there’s a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist and lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, auto high-beam headlights and auto wipers.
So, with all the gear, 6/10 seems harsh. But if you have a crash, the Mustang has been deemed to be less safe for occupants than other cars out there, so it’s a justifiable score.
As well as being good value you can bet this car will have good resale value. Check out our problems pages to see if there any automatic transmission, clutch or engine problems, faults or issues.
The warranty is now five years/unlimited km, which is pretty good for a sports car, but you will have to service it every year/10,000km. The first service is $304, the second $347, then back to $304 for the third and fifth. You get the picture.
Ford has recently introduced a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, applicable to all vehicles purchased from May 1, 2018. That’s a nice touch from the brand, which needs to appeal to customers now more than ever.
As with most Ford products, the Mustang has service intervals every 12 months/15,000km, and the company has a capped-price service plan applicable for the life of its cars. Prices can be found on the company’s website, but to give you an idea, the average cost per year for the first five years if you stick within the 15,000km interval bracket works out to $372 for the four-cylinder and $477 for the V8.
If you’re worried about Mustang problems - be it questions over reliability, engine problems, transmission problems or general issues - be sure to check our Ford Mustang problems page.