- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

Come on folks, isn’t a Miata by any other name still a Miata? You bet it is, only with the latest generation of the popular roadster that literally revived open-air motoring on our shores, it’s better than ever.

Does it make sense to drop the Miata name that has built such a positive equity?

Probably not, but in the final analysis, true followers will still use the Miata name when talking about the car anyway.

Sixteen years have gone by since Mazda presented the first MX-5/Miata at the Chicago Auto Show on Feb. 9, 1989, and the focus of the car is still on driving that is fun and exhilarating. The emphasis in all phases of development for the third-generation, 2006 MX-5 was “Jinba Itai,” which translates into Western cultural terminology as “Horse and Rider as One.” Key elemental issues in building the 2006 MX-5 were a body structure utilizing new weight-saving technologies and materials that improve crashworthiness while increasing rigidity; freshened interior and exterior styling and design that remain true to the car’s original concept; slightly enlarged exterior dimensions yielding more room for taller occupants with greater comfort and safety; livelier, linear engines; better steering response, improved suspension componentry and enhanced braking systems; and finally, workmanship indicative of higher quality with added feature content.

At first glance from a distance, the MX-5 doesn’t appear to be radically different from its forebears. Upon closer scrutiny however, even though it’s an evolutionary advancement of the two-seat icon, it is in reality an entirely new vehicle done in the basic style and concept of the original. The synergy of the original remains, with all elements revised for the better. The entire car takes on a bolder, more muscular stance and appearance overall from the restyled front end with functional air intake and integrated fog lamps, past the sculpted hood and contemporary, raked windshield, sharply pronounced fender arches front and rear with wheel wells filled up nicely with 10-spoke alloy wheels, to the shortened deck with unique light treatment.

The new MX-5 I piloted had a base price set at $22,935. while the six-speed automatic transmission and delivery and processing fee bumped the final count and amount to $24,595. The top was a manually operated unit that can be raised and lowered from the driver’s seat.

The Mazda Miata (Oops, MX-5) has lost none of its appeal. In fact, it has gained status on all levels. I wasn’t crazy about the six-speed automatic transmission, even though the paddle shifters are unique and simple to use in the manual mode. There seems to be a slight lag in engine response with the automatic. The manual gearbox delivers a greater fun factor in driving, without question.

Acceleration is adequate, though the engine is slightly on the “buzzy” side. A throatier tone from the four-banger as well as the exhaust would contribute greatly to broader smiles. Handling is crisp and precise with pleasing throttle steer qualities. The car exhibits a very nice front/rear balance.

The biggest plus for me in driving the MX-5, was the added interior volume that accommodated my 6-foot-4-inch frame quite nicely. The trunk capacity has been increased by 4 percent over that of the second generation.

It’s still not huge, mind you, especially with the top down, but I was able to stash two bags and a full-face motorcycle helmet without difficulty.

The MX-5 is a pure sports car with heart and … Mazda’s “Zoom-Zoom” spirit.

It’s still really a Miata, though.

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