Pure automotive joy
The Mazda Miata, the world’s best-selling, two-seater fun machine, has just received its first complete redesign since its debut in 1989. And the results are fabulous, turning what was already a fleet-footed and enjoyable automobile into an even more well-defined and performance-oriented experience.It’s virtually impossible to sit behind the wheel of the new MX-5 (Mazda’s new official tag for the machine, although it’s safe to still call it a Miata) and not grin from ear to ear – every short-haul errand trip turns into a driving adventure. One of the biggest changes from the first- and second-generation Miatas is improved leg, hip, shoulder and headroom; for those new to the car, the two-seater, bare-bones cabin is still a tight fit and is not exactly designed for million-mile, cross-country jaunts, but what it lacks in extended comfort is more than made up for in pure driving excitement. And with 170 horses now standard under the hood, uphill passing and speedy (but not too speedy) cruising are the norm.I got to enjoy an entire day on the road in the new Miata with the top down, crossing every pass in the Summit County, Leadville and Vail areas, and can report that there’s very little to complain about in the Miata experience, other than remembering the importance of a hat and sunscreen after eight hours in the open air. Granted, the fall debut of the new convertible is probably a little late for those of us in the High Country – the first Miatas won’t hit dealerships for about a month – but this one is definitely worth the wait.Performance is the name of the game in the little Miata, with precise and immediate steering making it a cornering miracle, and more than ample power from the 2.0 liter inline-four engine.
Quick, concise braking, a fun and easy-to-use six-speed, manual transmission and cool exhaust notes with every stomp of the accelerator make driving nothing but fun. The ride can be a little bumpy at times, with the low-set machine immediately reporting rough road conditions, but that’s part of the appeal.Stylistically, the new Miata is a little more solid and sophisticated than its earlier versions. Our Galaxy Grey-colored tester, complete with a nicely contrasting brown cloth top and matching Saddle Tan leather seating and interior, does, in an odd way, look a bit more like the copycat drop-top Honda S2000 roadster (a slightly more powerful and considerably more expensive variation on the Miata theme) than Miatas of the past. I’d say that’s mostly due to the car’s broader nose and grill-mounted headlamps; whatever the case, the new Miata’s looks are sweet and swift. The front view is especially nice, with a small hump on the top of the aluminum hood cover and more prominent outcroppings above the wheel wells adding interesting texture. High-discharge headlamps and a set of fog lamps are set off by an oval-shaped, honeycomb mesh grill and a small air scoop at the bottom of the bumper.The gently raked windshield is accented by two small angular side windows and small side mirrors, each set on stalks and somewhat prone to vibration when the Bose speaker system is fully pumping. Attractive 10-spoke, 17-inch alloy wheels and grippy Michelin Pilot Preceda tires keep this baby nailed to the pavement. In the rear, a wider, flatter tail smoothly cascades into a tail featuring a tall, wide bumper, chromed brake and turn signals, an aircraft-style fuel filler lid and a pair of chrome-tipped exhausts.
Seating is supportive and pleasant enough – my day behind the wheel was much less back-breaking than a recent experience in the butt-rattling BMW Z4 roadster and the ergonomically designed interior places nearly everything where you need it. Steering wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls help maintain a focus on the road; an instrument panel full of chrome-edged, white-on-black gauges is easy to read. At first, I was a little concerned by the lively dance of the oil pressure gauge as I ran the Miata through its gears – this is apparently a normal part of the Miata experience and should not have concerned me as much as it did. The hard plastic interior, especially the square-edged, elbow-numbing center column (complete with a sliding lid over the beverage holders), does seem a little cold given the rest of the car’s dynamic feel, but such is the nature of the machine. There’s a bit of storage, including a small bin between the seats, smaller boxes behind the seats and a reasonably spacious trunk; just don’t plan a Costco trip in this car.The manual soft top was a joy and can easily be handled while seated. Simply pop the release button and pull down the handle and the top effortlessly swings into its stored and locked position – raising the roof is just as easy.
2006 Mazda MX-5 MiataBest features• Fun to drive• Improved acceleration and power• Smooth and gracious looksWorst features
• Interior still cramped for long trips• Limited storage space• Ride can be rough on tough surfaces• Price as tested: $25,495• Includes: 170 HP 2.0 liter I-4 engine, six-speed manual transmission, 17-inch wheels and performance tires, manual cloth soft top, air conditioning, single CD stereo with Bose 7 speakers, leather seating, glass rear window, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, mesh air deflector• Stated mileage: 24 mpg city, 30 highway
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