Metro Weekly

Open Skies

2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata Sport

Given the Noah-favoring weather as of late, the idea of a convertible may not carry the same cachet as it would during another, less downpour-laden week. But, of course, the skies will eventually clear and the sunshiney weather will soon inspire the desire to drive a vehicle whose dimensions aren’t measured in cubits.

Recent deluges aside, these are good days for lovers of top-down driving, and not just for those who can afford BMW or Lexus models. No, these days are all about the affordable and attractive two-seat roadster. Pontiac has already built a buzz around its aggressively styled (and priced) Solstice, while Saturn is relaunching itself as a more stylish brand with the much sought after (and extensively wait-listed) Sky.

Given this company, the venerable Mazda Miata might seem to be the oldster roadster at the party. But with a tweaked design and modified moniker — it’s now the MX-5 Miata — that bring the long-running two-seater more in line with the rest of Mazda’s eye-catching line-up, the Miata is easily able to play alongside the brash newcomers.

If the new name is an evolution, then so is the MX-5’s styling. It’s less toy-like than some earlier iterations, and the choice to drop the pop-up headlights in favor of two nicely narrow front beams really helps to lessen the cute factor. But it is an evolutionary step, which means that while it’s still recognizably a Miata, it’s not going to stand against some of its more outlandishly styled competitors. Heck, it doesn’t even stand out next to some other Mazdas.

The upside is that the MX-5 maintains a classic and time-tested shape that won’t look outdated in your driveway by next spring.

The evolutionary approach also gives the MX-5 the upper hand when it comes to the interior, where years of experience have resulted in comfortable and nicely appointed space. Despite the car’s small size, the cabin doesn’t feel crowded, and while you can’t describe the interior as luxury, it definitely feels a notch above MX-5’s price point.

2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata Sport
MSRP: $22,935 ($23,995 as tested)
MPG: 24 city/30 highway
Highlights: Tight-handling, plentifully powered and all-around fun to drive for a pleasantly reasonable price.
Lowlights: While the exterior design is classic, it’s not going to turn many heads.

But a sporty roadster isn’t about sitting and stroking the leather on the steering wheel — it’s about how the car feels with the top down on the open highway. Getting the top down is mercifully easy, even if it’s manual — a quick pop of a latch and a push back, and you’re done. You don’t even have to get out of the car to get it done.

Once the top’s down, you’ll want to find some open, scenic highway. With a nicely tuned engine, rear-wheel drive and (one hopes) the 6-speed manual transmission, you’ll want to spend some time just enjoying the experience.

The MX-5 isn’t a total pocket rocket, but it has enough oomph and handling to make you feel the experience of driving is more than simply traversing the distance between point A and point B — it’s about having some fun in between.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.