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Exterior Design: *****
Mazda took a chance when it added flared arches to its drop-top bathtub on wheels. The new design splits the difference between cute and aggressive, and manages to score a direct hit on both counts. A new, larger [still symbolic] power dome is carved into the hood, which adds another welcome touch of machismo. Owners may no longer feel an urge to take the MX5 home and cook it a good meal, but its sheet metal is still highly emotive without being Over The Top.

Acceleration: ****
The MX-5 s 170hp engine is a brilliant all-rounder. Thanks to variable valve timing, chain-driven double-overhead camshafts and 16-valve breathing, the powerplant lays on a nice thick spread of bottom end torque and a quick dusting of extra oomph (as you approach the redline). Third gear is especially rewarding; slamming in from the top of second places you in the meat of the powerband. The artist formerly known as Miata runs out of puff at 90mph, which seems like 165, so that s OK. The last star is withheld due to the relentless tuned-Accord engine note and the constant zizzing through the stick.

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Braking: *****
The MX-5 s new, larger stoppers are strong, feelsome and progressive. With such little weight to reign in, it s no surprise that there s not even a hint of fade when used, repeatedly, in anger.

Ride: *****
I m not sure what ultra high strength steel is, but I ll bet its rigidity would give Pfizer pause for thought. Using the new material as a foundation, the MX-5 has been upgraded to a rock solid rock and roller. The rag top is completely devoid of scuttle shake, body flex or, if you prefer, the heebie jeebies. At the same time, the MX-5 s double wishbones are remarkably adept at adapting to surface imperfections. Put it all together and you ve got a commuter that cranks.

Handling: *****
Faultless, to a fault. The MX-5 has such tremendous lateral stability, such sublime body control, such fantastic manners at the edge of adhesion (and beyond), such a communicative steering system, you can drive the mini drop top at 9/10ths 10/10ths of the time. With a little practice, you can up that by a tenth. Is that a good thing? You pay s your money

Gearbox: ****
The six-speed s a bit notchy, but precise and direct.

Audio/Video: *
We d give it no stars if we could. Even with the bass and treble cranked-up, the FM tuner, satellite radio and CD system all sound like 1950 s AM. If ever a car cried-out for some kick-ass ICE, the MX-5 is it. Denying the roadster the tunes it needs to succeed as the world s best toy represents a tremendous loss of face for Mazda execs.

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Toys: *
None.

Trunk: *****
Ha! Our spies report that the MX-5 s arch (not to say camp) enemy, the eternally elusive Pontiac Solstice, has virtually no trunk space. Well, neither does the MX-5, but, in this case, virtually means some, and some beats none every time. When the roof s up, you can also stash a bunch o stuff behind the MX-5 s driver s seats. (Dope smoking road trippers are advised to put a post-it on their forehead to remind them that all that kit and caboodle must go in the trunk when the top goes down. And another one on the steering wheel to remind them of the one on their head.)

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Overall rating: ****

[by Robert Farago]

Related:
Jalopnik Reviews: 2006 Mazda MX-5, Part 1, Part 3 [internal]

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