Jon Rosner, Fri, 11 Nov 2005 08:00:00 PDT
Heresy ! The 2006 Mazda Miata presents two bits that fall into this category. First of all Mazda threatened to drop the Miata name and just go with "MX-5", well, that was as short-lived as "new coke". But the second one is going to be around for a long time. What is it ? A "slushbox", the bane of the existence of any "true" sports car driver, the Miata Touring comes with an automatic transmission. Given that the original Miata automatic had all the acceleration of a dead rodent expectations were mixed.
Sharing a much stiffer chassis with the newish RX-8 the new Miata is larger, wider, and bigger all around. My demo car had nice silver-gray paint and a burnt-orange top that was fashionable, but not my favorite color combination. The engine is more powerful and acceleration times with a manual match those of the hard-core MazdaSpeed Miata Special Edition that closed out the old body style.
The original Miata was a handsome scaled-up version of the original 1960s Lotus Elan that could accommodate people of medium-size, the first Miatas were good for large to extra large and the new model gives us that much more room in every direction that those who are double extra-large can fit nicely, (triple-extra large and you still need a Buick.) The seats fit like Recaros, snug, but not intrusive, the gauges are easy on the eyes, day or night, and everything falls nicely into reach. Except for some door trim and the hard-plastic center console the interior could easily pass for car selling for ten to fifteen thousand dollars more. Contrary to some of the reports, unless you have arms like a wrestler putting the top up or down is still a two-handed operation. But what a joy, this is the slickest manual roof ever put on the market. It folds with the ease of a good umbrella and tucks very neatly, clicking right into its nest.
How does it drive ? Mahvelous dahling, simply mahvelous. The across the board improvements over the 2004 model are truly impressive. Bilstein shock absorbers, considered to be about the best in the industry are optional on some models. But it is hard to believe that they could significantly improve the handling. On a brief backcountry romp the ride proved to be taut, but supple, with a tenacious grip until you reached the limits.
Pushed hard it did not feel quite as tightly controlled as a BMW Z4 or a Porsche Boxter, nor did it slither over the worst roads like the Lotus Elise.
But the car was responsive, steering intuitive, and it took the twisty corners like it was on rails. It was fun using the paddle shifters on the wheel to zip through the gears. The best paddle shifters are found on the BMW M3 automatic, and the response time from these puppies was only a 1/2 blink slower, and nowhere near the lets-wait-and-see-what-happens found on the Ferrari and Maserati paddle-automatics. If you are using the paddles, shifting gets snap salute response, slightly slower if you simply mash the go-pedal.
This brings us to my latest commute. The brutal Walnut Creek to Mountain View run over the rather clogged stop and go traffic of California 680.
680 is home of the minivan or SUV with the inattentive driver on the cell parked obliviously in the fast lane. Fortunately the dispatching of left lane bandits was usually only a paddle-away, very satisfying for when the opportunity presents itself. The six-speed automatic picked up a trick from the big Jaguars, run all day between 1,500 and 2,000 RPM and have power with solid gas mileage. The four-wheel disk brakes proved to be quite ample and progressive when avoiding the teenagers swooping though traffic. By the way the Bose sound system was superb, offering crisp and clear sound even with the top down at speeds.
The single-layer roof seals well, but might not be the happiest place to be in really nasty winter weather. The bright headlights saturate the road, but have a sharp cut-off point instead of tapering off. As mentioned earlier, some of the interior plastics are not impressive. No back seat means that there is no room for the "peanut gallery" and Mrs. Mom will not let me add yet another two-seater to the collection.
Mazda has pulled a hat trick. They have moved the Miata up-market by making it larger, wider, faster, better handling ~ an all-around better car. They have done so with a gain of only 30 pounds from the significantly smaller last-edition AND they have not raised their prices
Mazda revived the two-seat sports car market in 1989. They have now raised the bar even further by offering not only a better Miata, but also the first truly pleasing inexpensive ragtop with automatic. Congratulations Mazda, job well done.