We spent a lot of time inside our Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring with the top up, so we got familiar with the comfy confines of this convertible's interior. The all-new 2006 MX-5 is bigger than the car it replaces, but that hardly makes it a large car. How big of a difference do a couple inches here and there make? Not much according to my 5'10" frame, so it's fortunate for Mazda that the MX-5 is packed with enough hair-raising hardware to keep our minds off the cramped quarters.

One doesn't so much as enter an MX-5 as he falls into it butt first. There's no way to enter this car gracefully because of its scant 4.6-inch ground clearance, so we had to get over ourselves and enter the car on its own terms. Once inside the MX-5, however, one doesn't feel less than a foot off the ground. While those extra inches don't seem to translate into many more useable cubes on the inside, at least this little roadster doesn't feel like a go-kart with airbags anymore.



The first order of business in an unfamiliar vehicle is to adjust your chair, and while the MX-5 offers up enough legroom for the average frame the seatback is severely hindered from reclining. Considering the Grand Touring model is the king of the MX-5 line and our tester was fitted with the optional super-stiff Suspension Package, we were also surprised the seat's bolsters weren't a little more substantial.



Inside the MX-5 we encountered the full visual force of Mazda's Saddle Tan leather interior. It's one of three materials the interior designers used, the other two being a contrasting matte black plastic on the upper dash to diffuse sunlight coming through the windshield and a strip of glossy black plastic that ties the other two materials together. The interior's starkly contrasting color scheme is one of the MX-5's most eye-catching qualities when the top is down.



Putting the top down, however, proved difficult despite the fact that it was demonstrated to us when the car was delivered. We hardly ever pay attention when instructions are given though, and so resorted to pushing the release button, pulling the marked lever back and pounding on the leading edge of the top that met the windshield. We met with top down success more often than not, but wondered if our particular car had issues converting to open-air motoring.



Aesthetics aside, the MX-5 was designed to be a tool of speed. The six-speed's shifter mounted in the middle of the wide transmission tunnel is placed exactly where our right hand likes it. Short throws allow one to comfortably shift while hardly moving a muscle in around town driving and saves a few tenths when going all out.



Likewise the MX-5's gauge cluster is all business, with large dials for revs on the left and speed on the right. The all-important oil-temp gauge sits tidily between the two to warn when the fun has gotten out of hand. The Grand Touring model also gets a BOSE stereo with an in-dash six-disc CD changer, but no auxiliary input for our iPod. As is the custom these days, three large dials handle all the HVAC duties. It's an efficient center console design that gets the job done and doesn't get in the way.



One annoying little design detail that did get in our way, however, was the placement of the MX-5's cup holders. Mind you, swilling 20 oz. bottles of Pepsi isn't something we normally do on the track, but we do enjoy a nice decanter of the caffeinated beverage when running errands. Seems like Mazda has put to us an ultimatum: drink or drive, but not both (sounds familiar, no?). The cup holders are placed directly in the path of the driver's right arm on its way to the stick. Try as we might we couldn't shift without shaking up our Pepsi.



Mazda should be given credit, however, for everything it put directly in front of the driver, including the fat-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel and good pedal placement. Again, the MX-5's nature as a true driver's car is evident all around the interior, which is why we can forgive the cup holder faux pas. Will we need to forgive anything about how it performs on pavement or will be singing the MX-5's praises in our final review?


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