The chassis structure, engine, transmissions, and suspension are all new for the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata. With 170 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque, the Miata has real power for the first time in its history, but it does not overpower the chassis. Depending on the model, the transmission is a five-speed manual, a six-speed manual, or a six-speed SportAT automatic. The engine has been moved behind the front axle line, giving it a nearly 50-50 weight distribution for precise, nimble handling. The unibody chassis structure and fully independent suspension utilize a variety of materials in order to maximize strength and rigidity while minimizing weight, with the result that the car is only around 20 pounds heavier than its smaller predecessor.
Our test car, the six-speed manual Sport version, came with power windows and mirrors for convenience, a good climate-control system for comfort, and an AM/FM/in-dash, six-CD-changer audio system for entertainment. Although not on our test car, optional $1,600 premium packages include HID headlights and traction control, but there are no options for navigation or cell phone integration. Its base price of $22,935 was augmented by $500 for the sport suspension, including stiffer springs, Bilstein shocks, and a limited-slip differential, which is a great value--plus a $560 destination charge for a total of $23,995.Even though no body panels have remained unchanged from prior models, the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata is instantly recognizable. It's a few inches larger in every dimension, but the simple, rounded styling deceptively keeps it small-looking. And it's still far from being a large car. Although the top is manually operated, it doesn't require much strength. It raises and lowers in less time than the power roof on the 2005 Nissan 350Z. At speed, wind turbulence is minimal, and noise is low for an open convertible, even with the side windows down. With the windows up, there is virtually no turbulence inside the cockpit.
The high-backed, manually adjustable sports seats have grippy cloth upholstery and provide very good comfort and support. Because of the Miata's higher sides, the driver and passenger sit lower in the car, which enhances the feeling of oneness from an ergonomic standpoint. The tilt-adjustable, leather-rimmed steering wheel has cruise and auxiliary audio controls, and the leather-trimmed shift knob is well placed, although use of the cup holders can be messy. Bottle holders are found in each door, but there are no door storage pockets.
The instrument panel is fresh and modern-looking, with bezeled instruments and vents that look like metal. The center stack contains the HVAC and audio system controls. An average-sounding AM/FM four-speaker audio system is standard, and the system is prewired for Sirius Satellite Radio. An in-dash six-CD changer can be added as an option. We found that commercial CDs played just fine, but our test MP3 CD was not recognized, although the system is alleged to be MP3 compatible. At the top-of-the-line Grand Tourer trim, the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata gets a seven-speaker Bose audio system standard. For those considering audio upgrades, the Miata isn't particularly aftermarket-friendly, with a custom, rounded dash panel covering the stereo. A mysterious Media button sits alongside the radio, CD, and satellite mode selectors. This is a legacy from Asian markets, where optional hard-drive music storage can be had. With Sylfex's AuxMod, the media button plays any source hooked up to an auxiliary jack through the Miata's stereo.
Trunk space is maximized in the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata by having no spare tire. Instead, Mazda includes its Instant Mobility System, a small zippered bag with a bottle of sealant and an air compressor, which can leave you stranded if the tire gets more than a puncture. Run-flat tires with a pressure-monitoring system can also be had.The point of a sports roadster is an enjoyable driving experience, and the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata delivers. Despite its slightly larger size, weight is nearly the same as earlier models at around 2,500 pounds, giving it increased acceleration with the new 2.0-liter engine. With an aluminum-alloy design with dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, the MX-5 uses variable valve timing on the intake cam, a low-restriction variable-length intake system, and a low-restriction exhaust system to make 170 horsepower at 6,700rpm and 140 pound-feet of torque at 5,000rpm. With a California ULEV-2A emissions rating, it's clean burning. EPA mileage is 24mpg in the city and 30mpg on the highway, making the Miata a reasonable commute vehicle--if any rationalization is needed for its purchase.
The 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata feels like its predecessors at moderate engine speeds, with a classic, snarly four-cylinder exhaust note and good pulling power. Think of this generation as a Miata with an afterburner, because after 5,000rpm, the exhaust note goes from a pleasant retro snarl to the insistent shriek of a modern high-performance engine, and the car surges ahead quickly.