By Fleetwood Brougham
Another gay icon has gone under the knife. Only this time, it’s one of our favorite machines. When it debuts this fall, the 2006 Miata MX-5 is certain to have gay America falling in love all over again. In designing the new Miata MX-5, Mazda’s intent was to update the roadster’s look without changing the familiar Miata silhouette. I think from the photos it’s clear the designers achieved their objective. Remarkably, the 2006 model shares not a single component with the 2005 car. It’s a whole new wardrobe that practically looks the same, just like the Gap’s yearly clothing line. One change you will notice is the removal of the Miata name, which is slated to be replaced solely by the MX-5 designation.
The MX-5 receives a big boost in power with a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Horsepower stands at 170 and the all-important torque rating moves to 140 foot-pounds. That’s not enough to dust a Mustang GT, but in the lightweight MX-5 it’s more than sufficient to achieve a 0 to 60 run under 8 seconds yet still achieve 30-mpg on the highway. The true joy of the MX-5 is not found in its straight-line performance, but rather in its ability to dance around corners, dart through traffic and connect driver to machine. The Japanese call it “Jinba Ittai” or “Rider and Horse as One.” The description is spot on. From the driver’s seat, I found every switch to fall within easy reach with a set of steering-wheel-mounted controls to oversee the audio and cruise functions. The MX-5’s six-speed manual required minimal effort, slipping into gear with the precision of a fine Swiss time piece. Turn the steering wheel a few degrees and the MX-5 responds in kind; pull the wheel hard over, and the car practically performs a right-angle turn. Mazda has done a masterful job smoothing out the ride. Even with the big 18-inch wheels, I never felt the ride harsh or unsettled.
The 50/50 weight distribution that kept the old Miata in such perfect balance is alive and well in the MX-5, despite some parts juggling. The trunk-mounted battery, for example, is now under the hood and the exhaust pipe is routed down the passenger side as opposed to the driver’s. This last point is key because, as anyone who has driven the old Miata knows, the driver’s right leg is pressed against the transmission tunnel at all times, becoming uncomfortably warm. In the new MX-5, the burden of a tight fitting foot well has been transferred to the passenger, who has more leeway to adjust his or her leg position.
In addition to its mechanical improvements, the MX-5 sees increased shoulder room, legroom and headroom. “But Fleetwood,” you protest, “how can a convertible gain more headroom?” Be patient little ones and read on. Besides the top-up facet that allowed the head atop my six-foot plus frame to remain unmolested by canvas and metal ribs, I found I could now see under the windshield frame, as opposed to over it as was the case with the old car. The new top is even easier to operate than previous models, requiring only one arm to flip it into place. When retracted, the top locks behind the protective roll bars, creating its own tonneu cover. Isadora Duncan fans will want to keep their flowing robes short when driving top down, buying a Miata roll bar as the MX-5’s wheelbase spans a mere 91.7-inches (if you don’t know Isadora’s story, for heaven’s sake look her up on the internet, it’s a gruesome tale).
Everything about MX-5’s interior has been made better. The seats are more comfortable, the dash more modern and the optional Bose speakers are the best yet developed for the MX-5. Unfortunately, the six-disc CD player can’t read MP3 encoded discs and there is no input jack for an iPod. Clever details abound, such as the door-mounted built-in cup holders, the mesh wind guard and the multi-adjustable vent system that allows warm air to circulate near your feet and legs in the winter and cool air to flow over your legs and torso in the summer. Top up or down, the MX-5 never failed to bring a huge smile to my face, and that alone is worth the price of admission.
The MX-5 is offered in five trims, ranging from the bare bones Club Spec at $20,435 to the fully-loaded Grand Touring at $24,435. Mazda also offers a limited edition model with unique paint, interior color and wheels for $26,700. I give props for the available removable hard top and six-speed automatic with paddle shift manual shift control. I give the evil eye to the marketing guru that limited the Bose speakers, HID headlights and stability control to the Grand Touring model only. Oh, and Mazda, you need to remember that even Grand Touring owners may prefer cloth seats to leather. This is, after all, an open air vehicle destined to be bombarded by the sun’s rays. Toasty leather makes for seared gluts and perspiration-soaked backs.
Mazda is a gay-friendly company.
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