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Mazda Miata gets new style, new name

July 29, 2005|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

Not many vehicles can claim a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records, but the Mazda MX-5 Miata has the "Most Popular Sports Car" category locked up tight.

Since the car's inception in 1990, more than 700,000 have been produced for worldwide consumption by the young and the young at heart. In all those years, the two-seater has remained true to its roots, providing solid and secure open-air driving pleasure at an affordable price.

Now there's a third-generation version on the way this fall that should further solidify the MX-5's amazing popularity.

Those who have loved and yearned for this car won't be disappointed in what Mazda has come up with for its all-new 2006 model. Now looking more muscular and grown-up, the MX-5 (the familiar Miata name is no more) still goes about its business in an honest, straightforward and fiscally responsible way. Only now there's more fashion and drama in its design, including bulging fenders and a profile that correctly hints at slightly more power under the hood. But the sheet-metal changes are more evolutionary than revolutionary and the true-to-its-roots '06 version is instantly recognizable as the same model that created such a sensation back in the early 1990s.

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Mazda's designers made only modest dimensional changes to the MX-5, adding a couple of inches in overall length, width and wheelbase, but widening the track - the distance between the left and right wheels- by three inches (front) and two inches (rear). The extra width provides more interior room.

The motor has been moved rearward by more than five inches for better weight distribution, and the chassis has been considerably stiffened, which is intended to improve the car's ride quality and overall handling prowess.

All this and the car weighs just 22 pounds more than a 2005 version.

The roomier cockpit provides an update on the familiar MX-5 themes of cabin comfort and simple-to-use gauges and switches. The speedometer and tachometer are prominently featured between the extra-thick steering wheel and the power window controls remain within easy reach atop the floor console. Side-impact air bags (built into the seats) are now standard as are three storage areas (one of which is lockable) built into the back wall between the seats.

The simple-to-use manual convertible top folds neatly and cleanly behind the cabin in such a way that there's no need for a separate tonneau cover. A removable hardtop is also available.

Turning the key and stepping on the throttle engages a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that's similar to that offered in both the Mazda3 and Mazda6 four-door models. For this application, horsepower is rated at 170, a gain of 28 over the smaller 1.8-liter engine found in the 2005 models.

Five-speed and six-speed manual gearboxes are available as is a six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift controls.

Perhaps the best news concerns the price. At a starting point of $20,400, the MX-5 is not only less expensive (base price to base price) than the 2005 Miata by around $2,000, it will be competitive with the previously announced $20,000 Pontiac Solstice roadster planned for release later this year. Competition is indeed a wonderful thing.

At the top of the MX-5 pecking order will be the Limited, a loaded-to-the-max roadster, painted in its own distinctive shade of red and finished with special 17-inch alloy wheels, silver-trimmed windshield frame and other exclusive touches. Only 750 will be sold here.

Given the improvements in size, interior room, style, performance and value, the MX-5's position as a Guinness Book of World Records holder won't likely be in jeopardy any time soon.

Copyright 2005, Wheelbase Communications

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