In 1989, Mazda resuscitated the two-seater, convertible sports car market with the Miata. From the first one out the door, it delivered what the long-gone and only lightly lamented English sports cars had never quite managed, a delightful, fun, supremely capable, well-engineered car that started every time and ran forever.
Over the intervening years, the Miata has worn well. It's a daily commuter in environments as disparate as Southern California and Detroit, Michigan. There are more Miatas on racetracks every weekend around the country than any other car. However, its carefully serviced freshness and vaunted vitality has been fading lately. Direct competition is looming in the form of the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, not to mention more expensive entries from BMW, Audi, Porsche, and Mercedes.
Thus we have the all-new, 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata. It's longer and wider, but taller. It's more powerful, but gets better gas mileage and is cleaner. Its looks are sharper, more assertive, but faithful to the heritage. It's also more fun to drive, and not just because it's more responsive to the driver's needs and wants, but also because it's safer, with improved crash protection from side impacts.
Price-wise, it's a compelling picture. Once you sift through the shifting mix of standard and optional features, that is. The entry-level 2006 MX-5 Miata lists for $1,103 less than the base 2005. While the '05 came with air conditioning, a spare tire, leather-wrapped steering wheel, boot cover and fog lights, it didn't have anti-lock brakes or side airbags, both standard across the 2006 line. Given the choice, we'll take the ABS and side airbags. When the top models, the 2006 MX-5 Grand Touring and the 2005 Miata LS, are tricked out with all the available options, the '06 edges the '05 by about $1,500, but this also includes a few niceties like the aforementioned side airbags, larger wheels with run-flat tires and dynamic stability control. So we're not exactly complaining.
To us, this sounds like a good deal on a fun car.
There's one basic configuration for the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata, a two-door, two-passenger roadster. Three transmissions are offered, a five-speed manual, a new-for-2006 six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic with Activematic, Mazda's take on a shift-it-yourself slushbox. The automatic isn't as robust as the two manuals, however, so the only engine available, a 2.0-liter, inline four cylinder, comes in two tuning levels, one rated at 170 horsepower, the other, for the automatic, rated at 166 horsepower.
The least expensive Miata, the Club Spec ($20,435), is what once might have been called a stripper model. It's priced to get shoppers in the door or to form the basis for a race car. It comes with a five-speed manual gearbox instead of the six-speed manual; black fabric upholstery; black vinyl top and door panels; urethane-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; manual door locks; a four-speaker, AM/FM/CD stereo; a storage pocket on the back of the driver's seat; a pair of open storage bins behind the seats; 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels; carpeted floor mats; power outside mirrors and windows. Air conditioning is not offered, nor is cruise control. A tire puncture repair kit fills in for a spare tire; and a four-year/50,000-mile 24-hour roadside assistance program is standard.
Next up is the plain and simple MX-5 ($21,435), which is the Club Spec plus air conditioning and leather-wrapped steering wheel. Mazda offers no factory options on this model.
The list of standard features grows on the MX-5 Touring ($22,435), with the inclusion of cruise control, power door locks, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, fog lights, a storage net on the passenger side of the center floor tunnel, covers for the storage bins behind the seats and silver trim on the seat back/roll bars. A six-speed Activematic automatic transmission ($1,100) is optional.
The MX-5 Sport model ($22,935) is the first in the line with the six-speed manual; the automatic is optional. Standard features include 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels and a front suspension tower bar. The shift knob is trimmed in leather in place of the urethane used on the lower models. Run-flat tires with performance-oriented, asymmetrical tread and tire-pressure monitoring are optional ($515). And a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks and limited slip differential ($500) is available for Sport models with the manual transmission.
The top MX-5 that'll be generally available is the Grand Touring ($24,435). This is the classy Miata, with all the standard equipment and options on the lesser models plus a number of high-grade features. Among them: leather seating surfaces in black or tan and leather-like interior door panels; a cloth top in black or tan in place of the the standard black vinyl top; silver-toned on various interior grips and gauges; a seven-speaker Bose stereo.
The Grand Touring Premium Package ($1600) adds Xenon HID headlights, dynamic stability control with traction control, limited-slip rear differential, Smart Key keyless ignition and anti-theft alarm.
Mazda will also sell a limited-edition MX-5 for 2006; hey, this is a Miata, remember? Called the 3rd Generation Limited ($26,700), production will be capped at 3500 world wide, of which 750 are destined for the U.S. market. They're essentially Grand Touring models but painted Velocity Red and with red or black leather interior; bright-finish, 17-inch wheels; bright trim on various exterior and interior fixtures; and a special, numbered badge on the dash.
Accessories include a detachable hardtop, a six-disc CD-changer/MP3 player and Sirius Satellite Radio.
Safety equipment standard across the line comprises dual, two-stage frontal airbags; new-for-2006, seat-mounted, side airbags designed to protect the chest and head; and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution. The passenger-side frontal airbag has an on/off switch, and that seat is fitt