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2006 Mazda Miata MX-5 Grand Touring Review

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Mazda

MODEL:Mazda Miata MX-5 Grand Touring
ENGINE:2.0-liter DOHC I4
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:166 hp@7600 rpm/140lb.ft.@5000rpm 
TRANSMISSION:6-speed automatic with manual mode
WHEELBASE:89.2 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT:155.7 x 66.0 x 48.4 in.
CARGO VOLUME:5.1 cu. ft.
ECONOMY:23 mpg city/30 mpg highway
PRICE:$24,435(includes $560 delivery fee)
I became a car nut because of a low-powered British sports car, an MGA. I almost gave up on cars because of the same car, because it was unreliable, ridiculously quirky, and simply not made for American driving.

The MGA died, as did MG, essentially. But Mazda launched the Miata in 1990, and this car is good where the MGA was not good (it still hurts to say bad), and offers just as much driving fun, if not more. The Miata, like the MGA, is underpowered, but you hardly notice it because of all the fun you're having.

The 2006 Miata is completely new. It doesn't share any components with the car it replaces. And yet, it's the same car it was when it was first introduced. This is what Mazda discovered that British Leyland Motors didn't,; upgrading a car without changing its basic character is good. First, the engine. Powering the 2006 Miata is an all-new 2.0-liter I4. It drives the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission (in the Grand Touring model) with a manual mode. So if you want to be lazy, you can keep the gear selector lever in full automatic mode and the Miata shifts when it feels it's the right time to shift.

But if you want to drive the Miata like a sports car, and I found that I wanted to drive the Miata this way, then shift the lever into "M" and shift using paddles behind the steering wheel. There are clearly marked "upshift" and "downshift" paddles on both sides of the wheel, so you don't have to decide which ones you want to use. They shift instantaneously, and since there's no clutch pedal to mess up, the shifts are smooth.

In the entire week I had the Miata I don't' believe I exceeded 60 mph on any road. But boy did I have fun. And that's the essence of a true sports car as far as I'm concerned. The engine/transmission combination is so well balanced that speed isn't important.

Obviously, the other half of the sports car equation is great handling, and the Miata passes this test with flying colors as well. We drove the Miata over our favorite twisting mountain road, upshifting and downshifting with the paddles and taking the corners as fast as we dared. I would love to take the Miata out on a race track or slalom course somewhere where I could do what I wanted without the fear of running into a car coming the other way.

This all-new third generation Miata has a new front suspension that is comprised of double wishbones, as in the best sports cars and race cars. The rear suspension uses long links to help linearity. Coil springs are used all around with gas-filled shock absorbers. Steering is by rack-and-pinion (power-assisted) and there are disc brakes at all four corners.

Aiding in the handling is the front mid-ship location of the engine. This means that it is pushed way back in the engine bay, which contributes to nearly ideal 50-50 front-to-rear weight distribution, leading to better balance and - ta da - better handling.

The two seats are extremely comfortable. They offered excellent side support. It might have been slightly better to have even more side support, but then I might have been tempted to drive the Miata even harder. They were manually adjustable.

Instruments were white-on-black, as in classic sports cars. They included a speedometer, tachometer, oil pressure, water temperature and fuel.

To make the compartment as roomy as possible, there are power windows and mirrors. No modern car is without cupholders, and the Miata has them in the doors as well as two in the center console.

I was impressed by the headroom with the top up. There was never the feeling that I was going to touch the roof. The top was a manual top, but once you got the hang of how it operated, it raised and lowered fairly easily - a lot easier than my MG's top did. The top folds neatly into its own boot, that doesn't reduce trunk space. When it's up, you can use the boot for additional storage. My MG's trunk was a trunk in name only. Sure, I learned to live minimally when I had it, but it wasn't practical for trips longer than a weekend if you weren't traveling alone. The Miata's trunk is listed at just over five cubic feet. It's reasonably practical and is of good size. The Miata Grand touring lives up to its name.

Miata has always been a good sports car. The original concept was excellent, and the redesign of this third generation keeps the tradition alive. If you're a fan of big hunking power and noisy exhaust notes, this isn't the car for you. But if you're interested in seeing and experiencing what the classic sports cars of the Fifties were like, then this is the car for you. But be careful, you may turn into a car nut.

2005 The Auto Page Syndicate