I remember when I saw my first Miata. “Now THAT is a cool car,” I thought. Today, my reaction to Mazda’s zippy little sports car has changed little; it’s still fast and fun, with great lines that have only gotten better since Mazda redesigned and re-named it for 2006.
The third-generation Mazda MX-5 offers many new features for this year, and is actually cheaper than the outgoing model. These are among the many reasons that it has garnered so many awards - Consumer Guide’s “Best Buy,” BBC Top Gear Magazine’s Roadster of the Year, Australia’s Wheels Car of the Year … the list goes on.
Five models - the Club Spec ($20,435), Base MX-5 ($21,435), Touring ($22,435), Sport ($22,935) and the Grand Touring ($24,435) - are available for 2006. A third-generation special edition package boosts the Grant Touring to a price of $26,700. Although not a car for those well over 6 feet or for those who need lots of cargo space, the 2006 Mazda MX-5 is still the best-selling two-passenger convertible in the world.
Mazda significant increased the MX-5’s horsepower and torque for 2006. Keeping the same four-cylinder, Dual Overhead Cam (DOHC) 16-valve 2.0-liter aluminum alloy engine, the MX-5 jumps to 170 horsepower (at 6,700 RPM), and 140 lb.-ft of torque (at 5,000 RPM). It is offered as a rear-wheel-drive only.
Mazda also increased the number of transmission choices - the Club Spec and Base models offer a 5-speed manual, while the Sport, Grand Touring and limited edition offer six- speed manuals. A 6-speed sport automatic transmission with paddle shifters can also be had (for $1,100 more) on the Touring, Sport, and Grand Touring editions. While the automatic does lag slightly more than the manual, it’s not so much that it hampers one’s driving experience. And with 25 miles to the gallon in the city and 30 on the highway, it is about as economic in MSRP and MPG as a sports car can get.
The MX-5 may be economical, but it doesn’t skimp where it counts, like in the safety department. Mazda’s Advanced Restraint System (MARS) includes a plethora of features that combine for a much safer ride. Dual front airbags are complimented by dual side airbags that provide torso and head coverage in the event of an accident. There’s a passenger deactivation switch for the front airbag, important for those with babies on board or those who often drive alone.
A tire puncture repair kit comes standard, as well.
The Antilock Braking System (ABS) includes four-wheel disc brakes (the front are ventilated; back are solid). It’s also equipped with Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD), which provides appropriate braking power to the wheels depending on a variety of measurements like wheel rotation, speed and direction. It also helps distribute the total braking power effectively to every wheel. No brake pumping necessary.
The three-point safety belts have pretensioners and force limiters to keep occupants in place for proper airbag deployment. Outside the passenger cabin, side-impact door beams absorb much of a collision’s energy. These lessen the severity of the crash and the likelihood of serious injuries to occupants.
Every MX-5 also comes with an engine immobilizer - to literally stop thieves in their tracks - although a more extensive anti-theft system can be added as part of a package for the Grand Touring edition. Also optional are run-flat tires with a tire pressure monitoring system, and a trunk light.
Warning lamps abound, letting the driver know if there’s a problem with any of the following: airbags, battery, brakes, engine, low fuel, high-beams, low oil or seat belt.
And if you can manage to get yourself inside the trunk - into which Mazda claims one can fit a whole golf bag - there’s an emergency release inside. Hey; in today’s world, you never know what could happen.
Living up to and surpassing its already stellar reputation as the world’s favorite little sports car, the MX-5 has improved its acceleration and braking capabilities for 2006.
Suspension comes in the form of double-wish bone in the front and multi-link in the rear. Upgrading to the special suspension package - which is sport-tuned with Bilstein shocks and limited slip differential - on the Grand Touring model will slightly reduce the ride quality. But those who go for this package are most likely not too worried about a cushy ride, anyhow.
Overall, the features, along with the high-quality ride and handling, make this a tough car to beat in its price range. The wider wheels wells and bigger tires are a huge improvement on an already-amazing car.
The ride in the MX-5 (minus that sport suspension system) is smooth, yet with good road feel, driving like it’s painted to the road. It turns easily, and its suspension is stiff enough to handle tight turns but is not so stiff that it shakes the driver’s fillings loose around every curve.
A tremendously powerful little sports car, this is where the buck stops for those who love to tear around winding roads - which perhaps explains the huge number of Miatas we’ve seen flying around Malibu’s mountains in the last decade.
The gearbox is smooth and quick, as well, on-par with Honda as one of the best 5- or 6-speed four-cylinder engines around. Acceleration and the exhaust really define the 2006 MX-5 in terms of how much fun it is to drive. The exhaust sounds a bit contrived to some, but for us, it only enhanced the experience - it IS a sports car, after all, so why not make it sound like one?
As for wind noise, remember - a convertible top makes it seriously hard to maintain a quiet ride. With the top down, however, the rear mesh aero wind-blocker creates a cabin-sized space where conversations can be held at a normal decibel. And while the top comes down smoothly, getting it back up can be a slight problem -but nothing a little practice can’t fix.
Our main gripe is that, when full, the two cupholders impede the driver’s ability to shift smoothly. We wouldn’t be surprised to see this changed in the future. But few among us would allow drinks in a new car, anyway.
Where else can you find such a thrilling ride for well under $25,000?
The great value continues inside the vehicle, where Mazda has achieved a great look using mostly hard plastic. That’s right - a great look.
The instrument panel is rimed in silver accents, with the easy-to-read gauges that are black with white lettering. It’s backlit with a red tint at night.
Seats are black cloth buckets that are more comfortable than one would suspect. There’s not a ton of room for those well over 6 feet, and because of its small dimensions, the MX-5 doesn’t offer a whole lot of room to scoot the seat back or to recline.
Control the mirrors outside with power controls inside. One can also find power steering and power windows standard on all models. Extra goodies that come standard include maplights, a digital clock, a 12-volt power outlet, and dual visor mirrors.
Need cargo room? Although there’s not a whole lot of room in them, the three storage compartments behind the driver and passenger seats are convenient, and are lockable (as is the glove compartment). There’s room for water bottle storage on the door panels, too.
It’s really worth the extra hundreds of dollars to upgrade to the Base MX-5, primarily because the Club Spec doesn’t offer air conditioning. But the Base does, as well as a leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel.
With the exception of the Grand Touring edition, all models come with a four-speaker, AM/FM/CD sound system, which has a speed-sensitive automatic volume control feature. It’s set in the center of the dash, and its simple, curved design only enhances the ambiance.
The Grand Touring comes equipped with a Bose sound system that includes seven speakers and AudioPilot. The Grand Touring edition also upgrades to either black or a (slightly funky) tan leather interior.
Upgrade to the Touring edition for cruise control, power door locks, remote keyless entry, and steering wheels audio and speed controls - all standard.
Go for the Interior Trim Package and get: an aluminum and leather shift knob, aluminum pedals, aluminum finish on the dash, window switch panels, parking brake release button, and a shift plate for those with automatic transmission.
While Mazda maintained the same basic shape of the MX-5, this year’s model looks a little more grown up and a lot more up to date. It’s got a more aggressive, masculine stance, removing the “cute” and replacing it with a “What, you wanna race?” exterior personality.
The front window has a solar-control, tinted windshield, while the glass rear window has a defogger. Rear lights are thoroughly modern, and the dual exhaust contributes to the MX-5’s fun factor. The top is black vinyl, although Grand Touring edition purchasers can opt for black or tan cloth (which matches the interior).
All models can be upgraded to the Appearance Package, which includes a front air dam, side skirt and rear under skirt to further update the look. The Premium Package adds xenon HID headlights (along with non-exterior features like dynamic stability control with traction control, limited slip differential, keyless entry and start system and an anti-theft alarm).
The standard 5-spoke, 16-inch aluminum alloy rims are wrapped in 205/50 tires. They can also be upgraded to 205/45s with 17-inch rims (with 10 spokes) starting at the Sport edition. The Touring edition will add fog lights.
The numbers don’t lie. This really IS the world’s coolest, most popular, most affordable two-passenger sport coupe. Go with the 2006 Mazda MX-5 any day over the over-hyped Pontiac Solstice. The Solstice may have a few dozen more lb.-ft. of torque, but the MX-5 more than makes up for that in practicality, fun, and overall responsiveness.
Pros: It's a pop top. It's very affordable. It retains true sports car heritage and it is tons of fun.
Cons: Interior noise with the top up -- but that's a problem with every convertible.Ratings (1-10)
- Style: 8
- Performance: 8
- Price: 9
- Handling: 8
- Ride: 9
- Comfort: 8
- Quality: 8
- Overall: 8