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2006 Mazda MX-5 GS Road Test

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Justin Pritchard
2006 Mazda MX-5 GS (Photo: Justin Pritchard,
The third generation roadster is improved over the old ones in terms of roominess. I tried out a 2000 model for kicks when I had the '06 to compare. The older generations were downright cramped for people my size. The '06 is merely snug and does a great job of putting you in the center of the action. It doesn't feel crowded, but rather as though it is integrating you directly into the driving experience. You sit low, step over deep door sills on the way in, and everything around you is placed intuitively. It feels more like riding in a rollercoaster than a car, and that's a very good thing. You don't get into the MX-5, you strap it on: it feels like an extension of your body more than it does a machine.

The seats are very grippy, with bolsters holding you tightly in place. I drove this car for 4 hours straight and wasn't uncomfortable, but I required a few sessions of roadside yoga-stretches on the 400 North to maintain my agility.

The shifter is marvelous. Its truly flick-of-the-wrist motion acts with an uncanny level of accuracy and there is a confident notchy action to it, you'll never think you've missed a gear. You never have to use your whole
2006 Mazda MX-5 GS (Photo: Justin Pritchard,
arm. The shifter knob is perfect, the throw is perfect and the overall feel is perfect. If I had to compare every other manual gearbox I've ever driven to this one, they would all fail. The 6-speed unit has very close ratios ensuring brisk acceleration when applying 2.0 liter MZR engine's 170 horses. The clutch takes some getting used to at first, but once you learn it, you're in for a treat- its grabby and precise, meaning some rewarding heel-and-toe work if that's your thing, and lightning quick launches out of a stoplight if the need arises. Your driving is kept in check by way of a traction control system. Though I've driven many much more powerful cars than this and never wished for traction control, it is nice to have it watch over you if its raining out for instance, or if you drive your MX-5 in the snow.

At this rate, lawnmowers will soon have traction control, to keep you from wiping out on a patch of dandelions and mowing into your neighbors compost heap.

There is plenty of "woah!" to go with your "go" because the brakes are near perfect too. They are powerful, easy to modulate, and the ABS isn't intrusive. If you want to do the braking yourself, you can. With the 17" wheels and Pilot tires on my tester, stopping power went straight to the pavement with no fuss whatsoever.

The engine is smooth and likes to rev, a lot. In 6th gear even, the engine revs over 3,000 RPM or higher at highway speeds. Its variable timing system ensures optimal operation regardless of RPM or throttle position. You could cruise along in town at 60 km/h in 6th gear and it never chugs or shudders when you ask for low-rpm acceleration. There is a rich, fat, band of mid-range torque which will throw you gently into your seat, and a nice high-rpm tune that is very addicting. And because this 170 horsepower doesn't have a lot of metal to move, it's a proper little rocket of a machine too. It's swift and refreshing to run it through the gears, but I'll warn you right now, it's addictive. You will always want to row through the gears and then quickly find yourself going too fast, at which point you get to try the brakes again. To save on fuel and speeding ticket costs, try
2006 Mazda MX-5 GS (Photo: Justin Pritchard,
seeing how low of an RPM you can shift at without making the engine lag instead of seeing how fast you can nail the 1-2 upshift. The engine breathes out of two chrome tailpipes. The sound is smooth and harmonious, velvety even, though given the nature of this machine I did expect it to be louder. It's not an aggressive sound the engine makes, but more of a subdued growl I wish I could hear more of. In case you're wondering, when the engine is revving, no matter how high on the highway, the exhaust note doesn't intrude. It grabs attention from behind--the sound makes people wonder "what that was".
Justin Pritchard
Justin Pritchard
Automotive expert