2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata

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2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata

This 2006 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2015.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.5

Bottom Line:

A Guinness world record holder, the Mazda MX-5 Miata is a new-generation model for 2006, with a tad larger interior, new 4-cylinder engine and more unisex, less cute, styling. Is it enough for today's finicky and competitive U.S. market?
Pros:
  • Easier-than-ever open-and-close top
  • Agile handling
  • Best Miata interior ever
Cons:
  • Can't carry a lot of stuff
  • Not-as-precise feel to new, 6-speed manual
  • MAZDASPEED turbo engine is gone for 2006

The Mazda MX-5 Miata deserves credit for helping revive what was a dying segment in the United States back in the 1980s—that of affordable, two-seat, fabric-topped roadsters.

The little Miata also is noteworthy for setting a Guinness Book record as the best-selling roadster in history. Since sales started worldwide in 1989, Miata sales have topped 700,000, with nearly half of them—322,000—sold in the United States.

It was the Miata, after all, that combined the fun-loving, agile handling and look of a topless British sports car with the dependability of a modern Japanese-built auto.

Today, the Miata is in its third generation. Its new, 2006 model has a better-looking interior than any previous Miata, and is restyled to make the car less cute and more sporty in a unisex kind of way. The lightweight soft top is easier to operate now, wheels and tires are bigger, and there's a slightly larger, naturally aspirated, 4-cylinder engine.

There are new features, too, such as a first-ever key-free system for entry and startup. It's an option. Also for the first time, the Miata has seat-mounted side airbags designed to provide crash protection for both the thorax and head.

Best of all for many driving enthusiasts, the formula that made this rear-wheel-drive car so appealing in its earliest days hasn't changed: A sprightly, road-hugging ride with nimble handling and near-perfect, 50-50 weight balance. It all comes without dominant, big-engine horsepower.

About the pricing…
Mazda officials make much of the fact they priced the third-generation MX-5 Miata at introduction $1,663 less than the starting manufacturer's suggested retail price for a 2005 Miata.

Note, though, this new MSRP of $20,435, offered at introduction of the new generation car, was for a 2006 Club Spec Miata—a trim level not available in 2005. It comes without air conditioning, cruise control or power door locks. This base car also has a vinyl, not a cloth, top and a plain urethane steering wheel.

In comparison, the 2005 base MX-5 Miata included air conditioning and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

There are other, better-equipped new-generation Miatas, of course. Indeed, where there were only two trim versions of the 2005 car, there are five trims now—Club Spec, MX-5, Touring, Sport and Grand Touring.

And prices do climb. For example, one test car—a Grand Touring model with cloth top and leather seats—had optional sport suspension, 6-speed manual transmission and new key-free entry system, among other add-ons and was priced at more than $27,000.

Fun to drive
The 2006 Miata retains the lively, fun-to-drive character of earlier models.

Driver and passenger sit low to the ground, and in curves and mountain twisties, the little, lightweight car seems to be glued to the road. There's no floating sensation, just a palpable feeling that the Miata is intimately in touch with the pavement.

This isn't a cushioned ride, as you might guess. Riders feel about all road bumps, so lengthy trips can become fatiguing from the constant body jiggles and bumps. But the wear and tear seems a bit alleviated because the new body is 47 percent more rigid than the predecessor model.

Some road noise came from the tires in the Grand Touring test car with uplevel, 17-inch tires, even when the fabric roof was atop the car. Road noise is a bit less in cars with the base 16-inch tires. And obviously, there's wind noise with the top down.

The steering wheel is just the right diameter for this car. Steering response is prompt and accurate but not twitchy or nervous as it can be in some high-priced exotic sports cars.

And with the top down on a sunny day, I heard all kinds of birds singing and dogs barking. The world seemed alive and vibrant, and I felt like I was a part of it. No wonder so many Miata households leave their SUVs and sedans at home and use their Miatas as everyday cars—at least in the summer. This low-riding, rear-wheel-drive car isn't necessarily designed for snowy, wintry days.

One 4-cylinder engine
The 2006 Miata has a new, 2.0-liter dual overhead cam 4-cylinder engine.

Displacement is increased from the 1.8 liters in the 2005 car. The new engine is rated at 170 horsepower, which is up from the 142 horses of the '05 car but not equal to the 178 horses of the turbocharged 4 cylinder of the MAZDASPEED MX-5 Miata that Mazda has sold in the past.

Similarly, torque rises to 140 lb-ft at 5000 rpm in the '06 car, up from 125 in the regular 2005 Miata. But the MAZDASPEED MX-5 Miata had 166 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm.

Company officials wouldn't discuss when a turbo might be added for the Miata again. But working the 6-speed manual transmission in the uplevel test car, I got enough zip from the 2.0-liter motor for passing maneuvers and for spirited driving.

Still, I noticed this 6 speed is a new Mazda design, and it didn't seem to have the same short-throw, satisfyingly precise feel that I enjoyed so much in the previous tranny that came from a Mazda supplier.

A 5-speed manual is standard on the three lowest trim levels. The 6-speed manual is on the Sport and Grand Touring models only.

It's well worth trying Mazda's new 6-speed automatic, too. In a test drive, it worked well to keep this car peppy, and the shifts were made easier and racecar-like because of steering wheel-mounted paddles. But this tranny is more than a $1,000 option.

Horsepower with the automatic also is lower—166. A Mazda official from Japan said it was because the automaker didn't want to overtax the automatic in handling so much power.

Note that despite the larger displacement, the new 4 cylinder doesn't hurt the Miata's fuel economy rating, which ranges from 23 to 25 miles a gallon in city driving and 30 mpg on the highway, depending on which transmission is used.

About the top
Mazda changed the soft top so it latches only in one central spot—at the leading edge of the windshield. This replaces the two latches on the earlier car.

To get the top up, a person merely has to pull up now, not forward and up. This makes the maneuver more natural and easier.

The roof is unlined inside, and in one test car, there was some wind noise that emanated from the passenger side window, near where it joined the roof.

The Miata has been sold with a removable hardtop, which retailed for some $1,500. Mazda planned one for the new-generation car, too, but an official said pricing and details weren't available before introduction.

Odds and ends
Only in North America has the name "Miata" stuck. Consumers elsewhere know this car as the MX-5.

So, look carefully at the new model. You'll find there's no reference to "Miata" anywhere on the new car. Badging—and even floor mats—have only "MX-5" on them. Oh, and the Mazda badge on this new Miata is bigger than ever before.

Driving behind a new Miata, I was struck by how similar the new taillamps are to those on Honda's two-seat convertible, the S2000.

Leather seats in the test car provided super support and comfort. But I wish seat height adjustment was provided in the Miata, especially for the driver to see over the now more-prominent hood. As it is, the only adjustments for the seats are seatback recline and forward and back on the track.

The lack of height adjustment for the driver also made it difficult for someone my size—5 feet 4 inches—to back up this car, even with the top down. I struggled to raise myself up off the seat as the car moved backward. The problem wasn't just the molded head restraints. It was the plastic wind deflector that's positioned between the head restraints. I just couldn't see over it.

There still isn't a great deal of room to put things in this car. With someone taking up the front-seat passenger, I had to toss my purse and briefcase into the trunk. There are no map pockets on the two doors, but I do appreciate the new cupholders molded into the doors, by the armrests. They were just right for water bottles.

Trunk space, by the way, is 5.3 cubic feet, up slightly from 5.1 cubic feet in the previous-generation car.

There's no delicate way to say this: The Miata's horn is wimpy. It almost sounds like a toy. I'd be hesitant to use it on U.S. roads as drivers in big SUVs and pickups are more likely to snicker than pay attention to this silly horn.

Beware if a child rides in the front passenger seat. Mazda moved the parking brake lever away from the driver and next to the passenger seat for 2006. As a result, there's now an access hole over by the passenger seat that's held shut only by a Velcro snap. It can be tampered with easily, potentially exposing fingers to very hot mechanicals.

Finally…
After more than a dozen years on the market with what might be described as mostly evolutionary changes, has the MX-5 Miata seen its best days in terms of U.S. sales? I mean, hasn't everyone in the United States who really wanted a Miata had a chance already to get one? (This new-generation car will be the first sold in Russia and China, however.)

Yes, the Miata clubs are full of amazingly loyal, wonderful customers, who no doubt are critical to continued Miata sales. Some of these club owners have four, five, six and more Miatas. But is the MX-5 Miata catching fire with other buyers who are perhaps younger than the core Miata market of Baby Boomers?

Don't get me wrong. This is a fun car and unique in today's U.S. auto market where so much is focused on big engines, big power and big vehicle size.

But are enough of today's consumers in tune with a car like the MX-5 Miata where power and size aren't the sole determinants of performance and zestful driving? I wonder.

I also wonder what impact new roadsters such as the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky will have on the Miata's appeal.

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BB02 - 8/23/2014 11:57:33 AM