By Paul Williams
photos by Paul Williams and Greg Wilson

2006 Mazda MX-5 GS
2006 Mazda MX-5 GS. Photo: Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

Kelowna, British Columbia – Although it’s not likely you know what “Jinba Ittai” means, you may be familiar with classic images of a Japanese warrior on a galloping horse, the rider seated upright with bow and arrow primed, the horse smoothly traversing an undulating terrain.

“Jinba Ittai” means “the rider and horse as one” and this, according to Mazda, was the guiding principle behind the development of the new, third-generation, 2006 Mazda MX-5 (formerly, and still informally known as the Miata in North America). This is the sports car that in 1989 effectively revived the two-seat roadster, and after selling over 700,000 of them worldwide, its market relevance has been clearly established.

Evoking “Jinba Ittai” was a technique used by Mazda’s senior engineers to preserve the essence of the MX-5 from one generation to the next, but it also provides an easily understood metaphor for consumers as well. It suggests a vehicle that’s responsive, nimble, stable and reliable. Mazda is focusing these qualities not only in performance conditions, but also in everyday situations like merging, passing, turning and driving in urban traffic.

2006 Mazda MX-5 Limited
2006 Mazda MX-5 Limited. Photo: Paul williams. Click image to enlarge

A new generation of a popular vehicle is always interesting, but to kick off the latest MX-5, Mazda is producing 3,500 3rd Generation Limited versions, which receive special wheels and chrome trim, along with a plaque identifying the car by number on the transmission tunnel. All feature a special colour — Velocity Red Mica — and only 150 3rd Generation Limited cars will be available for Canada.

The big news for Miataphiles, however, is that #1 of the 3,500 3rd Generation Limited vehicles happens to be a Canadian car, and is currently available for sale (at least it was at the time of this writing). If you want it, act immediately. If it’s not spoken for, your $34,495 and a helpful local dealer may be successful in acquiring that very collectible car for you.

But even if you don’t get #1, there are 149 others available, along with three MX-5 trim levels starting at $27,995 for the five-speed manual GX — the same price as the outgoing model.

2006 Mazda MX-5 GS

2006 Mazda MX-5 GS

2006 Mazda MX-5 GS

2006 Mazda MX-5 GS
2006 Mazda MX-5 GS. Photo: Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

Rounding out the model range are the clearly defined characters of the $30,995 “Sport” GS, with its six-speed manual transmission, and the $33,995 “Leather” GT.

The GX is identified by its 16-inch alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, front and rear stabilizer bars, power windows and door locks, six-speaker audio with CD and remote controls, tilt steering, cruise control and fog lamps.

For an extra $3,000, the GS adds some very desirable features. Standard on this model are the six-speed manual transmission, 17″ alloy wheels, anti-lock brakes, limited slip differential, dynamic stability control, traction control, and a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers.

The GT trades the sport suspension and stability control for xenon headlights, standard air conditioning, side airbags, heated leather seats, smart card keyless entry system, and Bose audio with seven speakers.

There is a short list of options for the new MX-5, including a six-speed automatic transmission for the GX at $1,200; a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters for the GT at $1,255; air conditioning for the GS/GX is $1,000 and a detachable hardtop for the GS/GS/GT is a reasonable $1,815.

But I’ll bet there are people who’d like the sport package and the Bose audio, for instance, but unfortunately, you can’t “mix-and-match” features for the trim lines (at least, not yet). For instance, you can’t have side impact airbags on the GS, and nor can you select dynamic stability control for the GT. Mazda Canada explains that with the limited numbers of MX-5s sold in Canada (about 1,200 per year) there isn’t the flexibility to “custom” build each car (air conditioning, however, is a dealer installed option except on the GT in which it is standard equipment). That limitation extends to exterior colours and interior trim as well, so if you’d like a Sunlight Silver Mica GS with red leather interior, you’re out of luck.

2006 Mazda MX-5 Limited

2006 Mazda MX-5 Limited

2006 Mazda MX-5 Limited

2006 Mazda MX-5 Limited
2006 Mazda MX-5 Limited. Photo: Paul williams. Click image to enlarge

Fortunately, the car has the sports car bona fides to overcome quibbles you may have about appearance and options.

Under the hood, horsepower is up to 170 from the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, all-aluminum engine with variable valve timing. The same engine powers the three trim levels.

Complementing the willing engine is a superbly balanced chassis, wonderful transmission, excellent clutch, and instantly obedient steering and braking.

The weight distribution in the MX-5 is designed to be 50/50 with the driver in place (it’s 52/48 otherwise), which contributes to the supremely balanced feel of the car. While “Jinba Ittai” may be a guiding philosophy, it is certainly realized on the road, where the MX-5 really does feel like an extension of the driver’s body.

It is most definitely a handling car, with emphasis on cornering rather than sheer grunt. The 170-hp motor is plenty sufficient, mind you, but it’s not a rocket (and doesn’t need to be), taking the MX-5 from 0-100 km/h in 8-seconds in the GX and 7.5 seconds in the 6MT GS. Most drivers will find this is more than adequate for their needs.

The sport suspension on the GS is a real treat. Although it firms up the ride, it does permit the MX-5 to take corners at high speeds with virtually no body roll. The standard suspension provides a more comfortable, yet still sporty, ride.

Our test route took us through central British Columbia where fairly high speeds could be achieved on twisting mountain roads. Of particular note is quietness of the cockpit at speed with the roof down, achieved by raising the windows and the small wind block behind the seats.

2006 Mazda MX-5 Limited
2006 Mazda MX-5 Limited. Photo: Paul williams. Click image to enlarge

And speaking of the roof (vinyl for GX and GS; cloth for the GT) the MX-5’s must be the realization of perfection in the evolution of the manual folding top. Not only is it a one latch, one hand operation, but it’s also spring loaded and folds in such a way that it eliminates the need for a tonneau cover. It’s also watertight and airtight. All in all, a magnificent piece of engineering.

2006 Mazda MX-5 GS
2006 Mazda MX-5 GS. Photo: Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

Legroom in the cockpit has been extended by 65 millimetres, which will be good news for taller drivers, but the overall length of the car increases by only 40 mm. Likewise the width is increased by 40 mm and the car sits 15 mm higher. Weight, even with the added size and extra features, increases by only 10 kg. Trunk space is sufficient for some small bags or the luggage of a person that travels light.

Although it has a completely new body, the 2006 MX-5 is easily recognizable and does not dramatically diverge from the 1st and 2nd generation cars. The dual exhaust at the rear is a nice touch, as are the seat backrest hoops. An elliptical theme is evident throughout the car (body, hood, mirrors, lights) and the car is all about curves as opposed to straight lines.

Is it still cute? According to Brandy in BC, mother of three and owner of a minivan upon seeing the car close up: “Oh, it’s so Ceeeuuuute. I love it!”

So, yes. It’s still cute.

But as I say, it’s a real sports car. The new seats are comfortable and snug, holding the driver securely in place, while the precise and direct steering provides endless entertainment even in everyday driving conditions.

Which is what you want in a car like this: fun, novelty and quality in a vehicle that makes the mundane enjoyable.


At a Glance: 2006 Mazda MX-5

Type: Two seat roadster
Available: Being shipped to dealers now
Price: GS: $27,995; GX: $30,995; GT: $33,995; 3rd Generation Limited: $34,995
Notable: All-new 3rd generation of the Miata, now called MX-5

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