Mazda MX5 Miata - Review / Road Test

Gorgeous Special Edition Mazda MX5

Seriously fun.

That's the only contradiction about the third-generation Mazda Miata, apart from the fact it's almost universally known as the MX5.

I got a fire-red one to rip about the Los Angeles port area roads at sunset, crimson-ringed clouds reflecting off that gorgeously curved roadster hood. Just a shame that the stifling port air took away some of the pleasure of the wind-in-the-hair stuff.

Mazda works on the beach, too

Anyway, take this front-engined rear-wheel-drive already-classic MX5 to wherever floats your boat: Mountains, forest roads, desert, coast, any tundra you like to rip up, over and around in a car that's as fun to drive as any out there.

Bonuses in the new variant released for 2006: Its phenomenal optional power hardtop, simply one of the best on the market, which takes a snug 12 seconds to retract fully while you either take off that chapeau, for fear of it flying off, or you put it on, for fear of the scalp-singeing California sun. Touch-of-a-button stuff. Lovely.

Amid the fully redesigned package, you'll also find a reworked more muscular front grille and wheel arches and a stiffer monocoque - or essentially single piece - frame, which of course is bolstered by the hard-top (which has always been available, although now it's fully powered). You'll instantly notice the difference even with the top down though, and I've driven each of the two previous variants in different forms. It's also stockier: wider, longer and carries a lower profile.

So you thought that Jinba Ittai rested alongside the Unagi and Uni at your local sushi place? Erm, no. It's the concept on which the MX5 has always been pegged - that of driver and car as one, as the old Japanese warriors. Step into the Mazda's cabin and you may just feel a touch of that as you meld into those fine-leather bucket seats that hug you in all the right places as you take corner after corner at speed (though safely).

You'll quickly realize why Mazda has sold over 700,000 of these since its 1989 global roll-out, making it the most popular sports car ever produced. This is traditional  British or Italian motoring, think Triumphs and M-Gs, Alfa Romeos and Fiats. Also compare it to the Pontiac Solstice and its sister Saturn Sky, Mazda's main competitors today and each very good in their own ways.

Reworked front grille and lower profile frame

Downsides? None, that I could find. Inside is fully updated and sinuously smooth and ergonomically correct. Ah, here's one - the stereo interface. Blocky and not good, the same as on countless Mazdas across its range. Shame because the Special Edition version I got was outfitted with a seven-speaker Bose stereo that sounded great, top up or down.

It's relatively quick, taking 8.2 seconds to hit a mile a minute, with 170 horsepower pushed out by its 2-liter 16 valve four-cylinder engine. My variant had the optional wheel-mounted paddle shifters alongside its 6-speed automatic box with Tiptronic-esque up and down manual shifting, which I always find to be the most satisfactory for roadsters. And usually, you're so close to the ground that speed and acceleration appear much more than, say, if you're in a standard sedan. It also now boasts slip differential and traction control, presumably to make sure the safety agencies include it in their all-important rankings.

This one's a red-hot buy priced between $21,280 and $33,064. Even the Special Edition I had, at the top end end of the scale, won't singe your pocketbook too badly.

Hood retracts in 12 seconds

Classy, leather-wrapped interior


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