Throw practicality to the (cold) wind: Mazda's MX-5

Practicality? Put it in park - some cars are like candy. And late as it is for much of the country to be looking at convertibles, we can't resist sharing the 2006 MX-5, the highly evolved Mazda first introduced in 1989 as the MX-5 Miata. It caused a stir then and has sold well since, growing on those of us who felt deep down that nimble ragtop roadsters had to be European (and mechanically quirky) to be authentic.

A more rigid build, along with enhanced suspension and a couple of extra inches of wheelbase, mean the MX-5 responds almost at a thought. Its engine has been shifted a few inches back for better weight distribution. The MX-5 has further shed its original cute jellybean look for some snarl: The body flares here and there, lights are well-placed.

Like most light rear-wheel drives, the MX-5 can be skittish on, say, wet leaves. And the available six-speed is geared short, so you get a left-leg workout in city traffic. But the efficient 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine delivers joy along with 170 horsepower. So does the sticker: MX-5 is priced in the low-to-mid-20s; highway m.p.g. hovers around 30.

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