New car reviews

2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster

The Zen of Zoom-Zoom

Lou Ann Hammond, Sun, 11 Sep 2005 08:00:00 PDT

Whether you're a Jesuit Priest or just someone who enjoys being at one with their car, Mazda has created a two-seater convertible that makes you feel heavenly.

Jinba Ittai is a Japanese phrase that translates into English as "the rider and horse as one". I live in Auburn, CA, known as the Endurance Capital of the world. My neighbor, Tim, just got through running the Western States 100. People run 100 miles, without anyone chasing them, just to receive a belt buckle and bragging rights. The Western States Trail Ride, known in these parts as the Tevis Cup Ride, is the oldest modern day endurance horse and rider race, having been held annually since 1955. It is the inspiration and model for all other endurance rides worldwide.

The ride was first organized by Wendell Robie, an Auburn resident and a devoted rider of the Sierra high country. Horse and rider cover the rugged trail from Lake Tahoe to Auburn in a single day, once again to receive a buckle and bragging rights. Both the Western States 100 and the Tevis Cup are grueling physically and mentally. The Tevis Cup is the ultimate expression in Jinba Ittai; the rider and horse as one.

My neighbor, Sheri, has ridden the Tevis Cup. "The Tevis Cup is not just about being lightweight and nimble. It is about understanding your horse and yourself. You need to know your horse's strong points and how to use them to your advantage. You need the lightest equipment on your horse because you're asking so much from them. Center of gravity is the key," says Sheri. So is the crew that helps you prepare before and during the race.

Since 1989, when the Miata made its debut, Mazda's goal has been to create a car where oneness is the cornerstone of the driving experience. Just as horse and rider, this only occurs when the boundaries between the driver and vehicle melt away and create a single entity. Body flattened against the horse, to maintain the horses balance and allow for power in the rear, as you help it up the steep incline, Body thrown back as your foot meshes the pedal and you climb the hill. Body down and right as your horse sweeps around the corner, barreling forward to make the 24 hour cutoff on the 100 mile race. Body sloping to the left as the car takes the sweeper hugging the apex of the curve. Yabusame is the ability of the rider to gaze into the horse's eyes and have a heart to heart communication with each other. With a car, Yabusame would translate into creating a relationship between machine and driver. Yabusame is not about sheer horsepower, but more about the joy of driving.

Keeping a car, or horse, as light as possible is important for performance. The Mazda Miata is the best selling lightweight two-seat convertible ever built, selling 700,000 units since 1989. According to Takao Kijima, MX-5 program manager, "Kansei Engineering was used to produce the MX-5. The Kansei approach is how much appeal the car has to the driver. We challenge the engineer's sensitivity and creativity."

Appeal for this car comes in its power to weight ratio. The engineers had a gram strategy; they would reduce the MX-5 by every gram they could, for example, the rear mirror was reduced by 84 grams. The body structure used new materials, such as lightweight, thin-gauge, high strength steel, aluminum, and molded plastic. The way cars are molded can increase rigidity as well. They used a steel and aluminum welding technology using friction heat. Sheri used to have her horses shod by a horseshoer that came in and tacked them on. She found that if she had the shoes hot-shod on the horse's hoofs that they stayed on longer, which avoids problems during a ride. Mazda used 960 tires in their tire study.

The MX-5 has a 50/50 weight distribution, but that doesn't tell the whole story. If you were to lay down on a horse, the weight distribution would be 50/50, but the horse wouldn't perform nearly as well as if your whole body were in the center and the weight distribution was still 50/50. According to Joe Bakaj, Senior Executive Manager, Research and Development, the goal of the engineers was to have the weight distribution 50/50 and as close to the center of the car as they could. The wheelbase is 65mm more, and the overhang shorter which makes it sit better on the road. The engine was moved back 135 mm, which pulls the weight to the center giving the car a faster turn-in.

Just as there are people who won't be able to feel at one on certain horses, there are people who won't feel at one with the MX-5. If you're over 6' 2" there is no headroom, period.

This MZR-series 2-liter 16-valve, in-line 4-cylinder, 170 horsepower front-engine is a rear-wheel drive two-seat roadster that comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission, featureing chain-driven double overhead camshafts. Galloping smoothly to its 7000 rpm redline, the 2.0-liter powerplant delivers 140 lb-ft of torque at 5000 rpm for driving exhilaration throughout the rev range.It has a manually operated Z-fold convertible top that is easy to operate with one centrally located latch handle. In the lowered position, the top fits flush and smooth, without the need for a detachable boot cover.

Prices start at $20,435, almost $2,000 less than the previous generation. If you have $26,700 and love red, opt for the Gen-3 LTD with the numbered badge, each delineated by a numbered plate on the transmission tunnel . Only 750 are to be sold in the United States.

Competitors for the 2006 Mazda MX-5 are the BMW Z4, Porsche Boxster, Nissan 350Z roadster, Pontiac Solstice and the Saturn Sky. Oh, and a horse, of course.



2006 Mazda Miata

The easy to operate manual convertible

Tones and textures compliment the interior

The gram strategy and lower center of gravity

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