Mazda, Road Test Reviews

2006 Mazda MX-5 GT – Road Test

The Mazda MX-5 is a familiar site in my neck of the woods, but this particular one got more than average attention with plenty of people staring and taking a second-glance at it. The MX-5 – or Miata – has been around since 1989, yet many people – including Mazda owners – asked me what this car was! When Mazda re-designed the 3rd generation of the MX-5 at the end of 2005, I thought the changes were barely microscopic. Yes, it was better looking, but it would have taken a keen eye to spot the differences. However, whatever they’ve done to it, it’s worked a treat!

Everyone loves the look of this car – during the test week I didn’t hear one negative comment, just ooh’s and aah’s, and “Gotta have one!” Maybe it was the gorgeous deep burgundy paint called “True Red”, I don’t know – but this is one of the “Hottest” cars I’ve driven this year.

First Impressions
Being a short guy [5’7”], I didn’t think it would be any problem at all getting into the MX-5. However, it turns out I had to fold myself into it just, like anyone else. To say it’s compact would be an understatement. Once inside there’s plenty of room, it’s just the low-to-the-ground seat, and getting around the door/steering wheel combination that’s tricky at first, but after a couple of times it becomes second nature. Sitting so close to the ground is a little disconcerting at first, but once you fire up the engine, drop the top and set off, all is well in the world – for the occupants anyway. Getting out is a little tough too, again, because the MX-5 sits so low to the ground, but that’s just not an issue if you want a sports car is it?

Behind the wheel, everything is within reach and logically placed. Despite the fact that there’s no lumbar support adjustment, the heated seats are surprisingly comfortable and perfectly sculpted. However, after 45 minutes to an hour, the seats become extremely uncomfortable – painfully so. It becomes very apparent that the seat bottom is quite hard, while the lumbar area feels like a lump of wood sticking into your back. I’d definitely not recommend these seats for more than an hour at a time. I got stuck in Toronto’s stop and stop rush hour traffic for 2 hours and was in agony when I arrived at home and crawled out of the car. During day-to-day driving which were generally short trips, comfort was not an issue and the seats do a great job of holding you in place when the twisty roads beckon. Seat adjustments are limited to forward and backward movement and seat back tilt is extremely limited in range due to the confines of the cockpit of this two-seater.

The nice fat steering wheel tilts, but does not telescope, however I found that the MX-5 doesn’t need it since the seating positions are somewhat limited. There isn’t much room for the seats to move very far back. I’d be surprised if anyone over 6 foot tall would be able to sit in the MX5 for any extended length of time. At 5’7” I had plenty of room, but with the seat set for my comfort, there was only about 2” from the seat back to the roll hoop – that doesn’t leave much room to move the seat back for those with longer legs.

The gauges and steering are very upright, and I found the placement and design to be very attractive and easy on the eyes. I was however somewhat surprised by the overly optimistic speedometer that is marked all the way to 150 mph [240 kms/hr] – somehow I don’t imagine the MX-5 could reach those speeds. The centre stack houses the temperature control as well as the stereo system and has a piano-black band running across the dashboard which certainly added a classy touch to the interior; especially in contrast to the color on the lower-half of the interior, a color that I would call “Puke” if there is such a color. My wife says it’s more of a pumpkin color, but either way, it’s downright awful! The material used for the center console between the driver and passenger is probably the cheapest and crappiest plastic I’ve ever seen in a modern car, but again, I think the color had something to do with the perception and overall cheap feel that resulted. The leather seats and lower door area were covered in the same “Saddle Brown” color as named by the manufacturer (the upper being black), and I feel it just ruined the look of this gorgeous car! It made the whole car “cheap” looking; it would have been better in black – anything – other than the color and material that Mazda chose. Carrying small trim features over to the centre console from the dash, such as the vinyl material and stitching details, would have dramatically improved the overall feel of quality in this vehicle.

Steering in the MX5 is very sharp – almost go-kart like and fits perfectly with the personality of the car. The quick steering combined with the short 92 inch wheelbase makes turning and lane changing a snap. The 6-speed manual transmission is perfectly matched with the clutch – unlike the last Mazda I drove – the RX-8, which was terrible. The short throws of the shifter was perfectly suited to the light and easy to modulate clutch, encouraging you to row through the gears. Anyone contemplating an automatic transmission in the MX-5 should be taken to a psychiatrist!

The suspension is tight and firm, but bumps and road imperfections are barely felt. I thought the run-flat tires would have made a ride that was more harsh, but that was absolutely not the case. Through the pylons, the MX-5 was very flat with almost no body-roll. Cowl shake was also near non-existent. Anyone that’s driven a previous generation Miata/MX-5 would be shocked at how solid and unmovable the new chassis is. I was so impressed with its stability that I went out of my way trying to get it to shiver across railroad tracks, but it was extremely well planted.

The MX5 boasts a fantastic Bose sound system with highs that are nice and clear, and perfectly placed speakers that make the sound enveloping. The subwoofer is perfectly set up so that it doesn’t over-power the rest of the system – no matter how much bass you dial in. One big disappointment was the single-disc CD instead of the 6-disc units that are becoming the norm. To its credit though, the system is MP3 and CD-RW capable. The only other down-side to this sound system is that even maxed-out, the volume couldn’t drown out road noise on the freeway.

Obviously, storage in a two-seater convertible is at a premium, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that for a car of its size, the trunk is quite spacious at 5 cu/ft., whether the top is up or down. While you’ll never get much more than 2 cases of beer in the trunk, with the magic of soft sided luggage a couple of guys could easily pack enough clothes in there for a weekend – two women on the other hand, they’ll have to FedEx their stuff to the destination! Inside the passenger compartment there are more storage options; behind the seats are two handy bins which are great spots to get your possessions out of sight. Between the seats in the centre console is a lockable storage bin (a must in any convertible) large enough to hold a good selection of CD’s. When the top is up, there is also a half-decent sized area (where the top is stored when it’s down) to store something that’s small, light and flexible like a couple of sweaters/coats. While the MX-5 is a two-seater, it has 4 cup holders: one in each door that are designed for water bottles (or in our case they were perfect for our sunglasses), and 2 between the seats with a sliding cover.

I found the keyless entry in the MX-5 to have mixed-blessings. As long as you have it in your pocket/purse you don’t need to take it out; there are little rubber buttons on the door handles you press to lock/unlock the car and the trunk. While it’s nice and compact – the same size/shape as a credit card – you have to be standing right beside the car in order for the buttons to work. I’m not talking about a foot away – I’m talking about almost leaning on the car to get it to work. The Mazda RX-8 uses the same system and it worked great, so there may have been something wrong with the test vehicles fob.

The top drops in about 3 seconds, just lower the windows, unclip two latches and throw the top back into it’s spot behind you. There’s no boot or tonneau cover to put on because the top folds so neatly into place – it looks like it has one already on it. Putting it back up requires you to pull a lever between the seats, reaching back to grab the roof and pull it up over your head. Re-do the latches and that’s it. The roof looked like it was well padded and insulated, but it was quite the opposite. Driving on the freeway at speeds in excess of 60 mph became a bit tedious, as road-noise levels felt like noise pollution. Cranking up the stereo wasn’t always an option because you’d just get overloaded, which makes it even worse.

The 2006 Mazda MX-5 line up is nice and simple in Canada (GX, GS and GT) …a little more complicated in the U.S. Either way, there’s one engine – 2.0L 170 hp DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder with VVT – and either a 5-speed manual (base model) or a 6-speed manual transmission. The GT adds a leather interior and a 6-speed manual transmission and offers the option of a 6-Speed Automatic Transmission with Paddle Shifters.

Standard features included on the Canadian GT include: Manual Z-Type beige or black cloth top, dual front airbags, engine immobilizer anti-theft system, tilt steering, steering wheel mounted audio & cruise controls, power door locks, keyless entry, fog lights, 17” Alloy Wheels with 205/45R17 tires, Xenon HID headlights, rear glass window with electric defogger, BOSE audio system (includes AM/FM single CD with 7 speakers including 2 tweeters) with speed sensing auto audio volume control, air conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, foldable mesh wind-blocker, Intelligent Key System (keyless entry and start), power windows with driver’s one-touch down and heated leather seats. To get the equivalent in the U.S. you’d have to order the GT and add: Premium Package 2 [Xenon HID Headlights, Dynamic Stability Control w/Traction Control, Advanced Keyless Entry, Anti-Theft Alarm] ($1,374); Run Flat Tires & Tire Pressure Monitor System ($442) and the Appearance Package [front air dam, side skirt and rear under skirt] ($916).

Options are few: a 6-Speed Automatic Transmission (GX) $945 [$1,200 Cdn]; 6-Speed Automatic Transmission w/ Paddle Shifters (GT) $945 [$1,255 Cdn]. There’s also an available detachable hardtop for winter, and just lately Mazda showed at the Paris Auto Show, the new hard-top that folds into the trunk.

On the safety side, the MX-5 GT comes with dual air bags, seat-mounted side impact air bags, traction control, ABS, Dynamic Stability Control, tire pressure monitoring system, Xenon headlights, side impact door beams, Seatbelt pretensioners with force limiter and run-flat tires .

The 2006 Mazda MX-5 is covered by a Bumper to Bumper Warranty for 36 months /36,000 miles [80,000 kms], plus 3-years roadside assistance
Towing capacity: Not recommended.

The Conclusion
I loved driving around in the MX-5. It’s a blast to drive, and surprisingly I rarely went over the speed limit. It’s a car that encourages you to enjoy your drive, no need to get there as fast as humanly possible. It’s as powerful and responsive as it needs to be – nothing more required. It’s stunning to look at, especially in the color of the test car. It’s very comfortable for short, around-town journeys with a phenomenal stereo system. It’s got a fair-sized trunk for the size of the car, plus it takes 2-seconds to wash, because it’s so small. Definitely a second or third car but definitely not a car you’d want to have as your one and only. The very small sun visors don’t swivel to the side – and for women – there’s no vanity mirrors, so bring your own.

Pricing for the 2006 Mazda MX-5 GT
As tested: $26,150 [$33,995 Cdn]
The base model is the Club Spec (US) GX (Canada) which is priced at $20,435 [$27,995 Cdn], next up is the Sport GS at $22,435 [$30,995 Cdn] and the GT at $24,435 [$33,995 Cdn]. There’s also a very limited run [3,500 world-wide] of an MX-5 called the “3rd Generation Limited” model with special equipment that will sell for $26,700 [$34,495 Cdn] and will be available this September. It won’t be hard to miss because it’ll be available only in a “Velocity Red Mica” with matching interior leather.

Fuel Consumption: [Premium – 91 Octane]
The 2006 MX-5 is rated at 25 mpg City [9.7 L/100 kms] and 34 mpg Highway [7.2 L/100 kms]
I averaged 27 mpg [9.0 L/100km] combined

Open air driving in 3 seconds or less
Fantastic stereo system
Lots of fun

The stereo system has only one CD slot
Make your chiropractor your new best-friend – you’ll need lots of adjustments if you drive long distances in this car.
No outside temperature gauge

Would I Spend My Money On It?:
No. To be honest the seats are the only thing I truly hated about this car, but it’s a big deal-breaker for me – I’m partial to being pain-free.

Immediate Competition:
Pontiac G6 and Solstice, MINI, Beetle, PT Cruiser, Saturn Sky, Ford Mustang, Chrysler Crossfire Roadster and Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder

By The Numbers…
Horsepower: 170 hp @ 6700 rpm
Torque: 140 lb. ft @ 5000 rpm
0-60 mph: 6.7 seconds
Max Speed: 129 mph [206 km/h]

8 – Quality
6 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
7 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space (all things being relative! ;O)
8 – Special Features (Sat Nav/Heated Seats/ Sunroof, etc)

6 – Ease of Entry/Exit
8 – Front Roominess
10* – Rear Roominess
9 – Driving Position/Controls

9 – Drool Factor
7 – Fit & Finish

8 – Engine
9 – Transmission
9 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
7 – Bang for the $$
10 – Fuel Economy

121 Total / 150

*There is no rear seat, so it gets 10 points to keep all the scores based on 150

Copyright © 2006 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain Shankland

Also Published at: PaddockTalk