2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata

From its inception, the Mazda Miata has paid homage to the British Sports cars of the 1960s. Indeed, it’s fair to say the Miata represents what these fun-to-drive roadsters could have become had they been allowed to mature. And as with those early offerings, the Miata developed a cult-like following with more than 700,000 having been sold worldwide, which makes it the world’s best-selling two-seat convertible sports car. The first thing you should know about the all-new third generation Miata is that it is now officially called the MX-5 – an odd move given the equity in the Miata nameplate.

The 2006 MX-5 has grown – the wheelbase has been stretched by 2.6 inches, while the length and width grow by 1.6 inches each. It also earns more safety features, including some much needed rollover hoops behind the seats, and more standard equipment. Surprisingly, all of this was accomplished with only a marginal increase in the curb weight (10kg more than the previous model). The use of ultra-light, high strength, steel in key areas resulted is a lighter but stronger chassis – it’s now 22 % stiffer in bending and a whopping 47% better in torsional rigidity when compared to the previous car. The payoff for the driver is a noticeable lack of cowl shake, a perennial problem that rears it ugly head in lesser convertibles.

While the MX-5 retains some of the styling cues of its predecessor, the designers incorporated many of the RX-8’s aggressive cues. This can be seen in the pronounced fender arches, slanted headlights, larger grille opening and the prominent hood bulge. Around at the rear, the dual chrome exhaust tailpipes, stylish clear-lens tail lights finish off an attractive piece.

The MX-5 is available in three trim levels, with prices ranging from $27,995 for the base GX (same as the 2005 model), the mid-level GS ($30,995) and sporty GT ($33,995). The GX is kitted out with a 5-speed manual transmission and 16-inch alloy wheels, while the GX and GT earn a much-needed 6-speed manual box and wheel-arch filling 17-inch alloys. A new six speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters is optional ($1,200 on the GX and $1,255 on the GT). Air conditioning adds another $1,000, while the optional removable hard top is priced at $1,815.

For the diehard MX-5 enthusiasts there is the Limited model (priced at $34,495) which has the potential to become a treasured collectible. The Limited is only offered in Velocity Red Mica paint and features 17-inch silver finish alloy wheels, along with silver trim on the A-pillar, door handles, grille and windshield frame. Inside, the Limited earns unique heated red leather seats, silver accents on the gauges, dash vents and centre stack. You’ll also find stainless steel scuff plates on the doorsills and a numbered badge on the transmission tunnel – the serial number specifies which of 150 allocated for Canada you own.

Despite the increased room in the MX-5’s low slung cockpit (legroom is up by 0.4 inch and headroom by 0.7 inch) the interior is still a tad cramped for taller, heavyset, occupants especially with the top up. The 2 inches of increased fore and aft seat travel, combined with the tilt-steering wheel are a definite improvement over earlier models. The seats are comfortable and provide good lateral support during hard cornering and all primary controls are easy to reach and operate. The new manual soft-top (vinyl for GX and GS, cloth for the GT) is a cinch to rise and lower from the driver’s seat, only requiring the central latch handle to be released. Once lowered, the top fits flush with the trunk, which eliminates the need for a tonneau cover. This really is the only way the MX-5 should be driven because there are large blind spots that are difficult to counter with the smallish side view mirrors.
Driving with the top down the standard wind-diffuser between the seats helps reduce wind buffeting while allowing the sporty tone from the engine and exhaust to filter back into the cabin. To maximize trunk space, the spare tire has been eliminated and in its place is puncture repair kit. In spite of this the 4 % increase in trunk space owners are advised to pack light.

All MX-5’s are powered by a new all-aluminum, 2.0 litre, DOHC, 4-cylinder engine with variable valve timing. The good news is that even without a turbo (expect that on a later model) it still manages to deliver a rewarding 170 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. Factor in the MX-5’s light curb weight (1132 kg or 2,496 lbs.) and this is more than enough power to deliver lively performance. The GT and its six-speed manual will get you from rest to 100 km/h in just under 8 seconds, which is an impressive number.
Likewise, the four-wheel independent suspension (double-wishbones up front and a new multilink in the rear) is more than up to the task of delivering light, tight handling. While the ride is on the firm side, it is easy to live with. The other likable traits are the precision of the steering, the near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution and the fact the car feels as though it pivots about your posterior – the sensation is exactly like that of driving a go-kart. Ditto the GT’s standard four-wheel disc brakes and anti-lock brakes (a feature not available on GX trim, which is very disappointing) provide abundant stopping power that’s all but fade-free.

As with its forefathers, Mazda’s cozy, two-seat convertible is a blast to drive. Although it will feel the heat from the Pontiac Solstice, it’s not going to have to take a back seat to it. The bottom line? If you’re into affordable, wind-in-the-hair driving nothing does it quite as well as the new MX-5.