The Good: The 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata exhibits great handling and power. The six-speed manual gearbox gives the driver lots of options, and its low price makes it a great value. The Bad: There's no place to plug in an MP3 player with the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata's mediocre four-speaker stereo, and without a navigation option, you will have to rely on maps. Plus, instead of a spare tire, it comes with a can of Fix-A-Flat. The Bottom Line: Technophiles will have lots of fun driving the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata on weekends but may get bored due to the average audio quality and the lack of electronics integration during daily drives. 2006 Mazda MiataThe 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata is a major model update to the best-selling small sports roadster ever. Although it stays true to the original MX-5 concept of a modern, lightweight, small-displacement sports roadster, the 2006 model is larger in every dimension. But its styling minimizes the effect of the size increase. Mazda uses the phrase jinba ittai, a Japanese concept for a rider and horse moving as one, as the design concept behind the Miata. In practical terms, jinba ittai means a balance between handling and power--perhaps more in favor of handling--and responsive controls. The chassis structure, engine, transmissions, and suspension are all new for the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata. With 170 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque, the Miata has real power for the first time in its history, but it does not overpower the chassis. Depending on the model, the transmission is a five-speed manual, a six-speed manual, or a six-speed SportAT automatic. The engine has been moved behind the front axle line, giving it a nearly 50-50 weight distribution for precise, nimble handling. The unibody chassis structure and fully independent suspension utilize a variety of materials in order to maximize strength and rigidity while minimizing weight, with the result that the car is only around 20 pounds heavier than its smaller predecessor. Our test car, the six-speed manual Sport version, came with power windows and mirrors for convenience, a good climate-control system for comfort, and an AM\/FM\/in-dash, six-CD-changer audio system for entertainment. Although not on our test car, optional $1,600 premium packages include HID headlights and traction control, but there are no options for navigation or cell phone integration. Its base price of $22,935 was augmented by $500 for the sport suspension, including stiffer springs, Bilstein shocks, and a limited-slip differential, which is a great value--plus a $560 destination charge for a total of $23,995. Even though no body panels have remained unchanged from prior models, the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata is instantly recognizable. It's a few inches larger in every dimension, but the simple, rounded styling deceptively keeps it small-looking. And it's still far from being a large car. Although the top is manually operated, it doesn't require much strength. It raises and lowers in less time than the power roof on the 2005 Nissan 350Z. At speed, wind turbulence is minimal, and noise is low for an open convertible, even with the side windows down. With the windows up, there is virtually no turbulence inside the cockpit. On the three-spoke steering wheel, we like the controls, which handle audio and cruise.The high-backed, manually adjustable sports seats have grippy cloth upholstery and provide very good comfort and support. Because of the Miata's higher sides, the driver and passenger sit lower in the car, which enhances the feeling of oneness from an ergonomic standpoint. The tilt-adjustable, leather-rimmed steering wheel has cruise and auxiliary audio controls, and the leather-trimmed shift knob is well placed, although use of the cup holders can be messy. Bottle holders are found in each door, but there are no door storage pockets.The instrument panel is fresh and modern-looking, with bezeled instruments and vents that look like metal. The center stack contains the HVAC and audio system controls. An average-sounding AM\/FM four-speaker audio system is standard, and the system is prewired for Sirius Satellite Radio. An in-dash six-CD changer can be added as an option. We found that commercial CDs played just fine, but our test MP3 CD was not recognized, although the system is alleged to be MP3 compatible. At the top-of-the-line Grand Tourer trim, the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata gets a seven-speaker Bose audio system standard. For those considering audio upgrades, the Miata isn't particularly aftermarket-friendly, with a custom, rounded dash panel covering the stereo. A mysterious Media button sits alongside the radio, CD, and satellite mode selectors. This is a legacy from Asian markets, where optional hard-drive music storage can be had. With Sylfex's AuxMod, the media button plays any source hooked up to an auxiliary jack through the Miata's stereo.The Miata's double-DIN slot is unfortunately covered with an aftermarket-unfriendly cover.Trunk space is maximized in the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata by having no spare tire. Instead, Mazda includes its Instant Mobility System, a small zippered bag with a bottle of sealant and an air compressor, which can leave you stranded if the tire gets more than a puncture. Run-flat tires with a pressure-monitoring system can also be had.The point of a sports roadster is an enjoyable driving experience, and the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata delivers. Despite its slightly larger size, weight is nearly the same as earlier models at around 2,500 pounds, giving it increased acceleration with the new 2.0-liter engine. With an aluminum-alloy design with dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, the MX-5 uses variable valve timing on the intake cam, a low-restriction variable-length intake system, and a low-restriction exhaust system to make 170 horsepower at 6,700rpm and 140 pound-feet of torque at 5,000rpm. With a California ULEV-2A emissions rating, it's clean burning. EPA mileage is 24mpg in the city and 30mpg on the highway, making the Miata a reasonable commute vehicle--if any rationalization is needed for its purchase. The 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata feels like its predecessors at moderate engine speeds, with a classic, snarly four-cylinder exhaust note and good pulling power. Think of this generation as a Miata with an afterburner, because after 5,000rpm, the exhaust note goes from a pleasant retro snarl to the insistent shriek of a modern high-performance engine, and the car surges ahead quickly.Six speeds on the Sport edition's gearbox mean many choices in rev levels for different road conditions.There is usable power from 2,500rpm for cruising and 3,000rpm for acceleration, all the way to the 7,000rpm fuel cutoff. This makes the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata easy and pleasant to drive just about anywhere, especially on tight and twisty roads. Plus, although shifting is not often necessary, and many times any of two or three gears will be adequate for performance, the six-speed manual gearbox is an absolute joy to use, with fast action and short throws. Add to that the short, rigid driveshaft and optional limited-slip differential that is part of the suspension package, and the power gets to the ground very well.The 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata's chassis is fully up to the demands of the drivetrain. The engine has been moved back 5.3 inches and is almost completely behind the front axle line. High-strength and ultra-high-strength steel are used in the unibody structure for maximum brawn with minimum weight, and aluminum hood and deck panels further reduce weight. The result is the sort of low-polar moment of inertia handling most commonly associated with a midengine car: quick, agile turn-in and immediate response to driver inputs.The 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata's performance is aided by the suspension, which uses double wishbones in front and a multilink setup at the rear, with antidive and antisquat geometry for stability during hard acceleration and deceleration. Our test car had the optional suspension package, with slightly stiffer springs and matching Bilstein shocks. It exhibited excellent compliance over wretchedly paved roads, with a high degree of comfort and minimal body roll in cornering. Light, power-assisted steering and a soft touch to the electronically controlled throttle also helped the Miata's nimble fun factor.With its compliant suspension, great grip, and light-touch handling, the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata captures the essence of the sports car experience very well.If it goes, it had better stop. And stop the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata does--and well, with four-wheel disc brakes that are significantly larger than those in previous models. They feature both antilock and a new electronic brake-force distribution algorithm that works the rear brakes harder yet minimizes the danger of lockup. The Mazda Advanced Impact Distribution and Absorption system was used in the design of the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata's unibody structure. Different materials of varying thickness placed precisely provide the strength and controllable deformation to protect occupants in the event of front, rear, or side collisions. Both front and side air bags are standard, and dynamic stability control is available. Mazda's bumper-to-bumper warranty keeps you covered for the earlier of four years or 50,000 miles. During the warranty period, Mazda also offers roadside assistance, although it is just call center support that can find local services for you when needed.