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Top-Down Comparison

Comparison Test: 2006 Pontiac Solstice vs. 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata

According to Pontiac, its 2006 Solstice roadster is already a huge success. After it appeared on NBC's The Apprentice, the carmaker says 1,000 examples of the two-seater were sold in only 41 minutes and more than 7,000 found owners in the following 10 days.

Great, it's about time GM's Screaming Chicken division had something to crow about. But before Pontiac's new poster child can become the darling of America's sun worshippers, it has to get past the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata first.

Mazda's Miata has been the small, affordable rear-wheel-drive roadster of choice since it first landed on American soil in 1990, and it isn't going to hand over its crown without a fight. For 2006, Mazda has redesigned its ragtop, perhaps in anticipation of this very shoot-out. It's now more powerful, a little larger and much better appointed. It's also, for the first time, macho on the outside.

But the Solstice, too, comes loaded for bear. The startup from Detroit also packs rear-wheel drive, along with more sex appeal than a Jessica Simpson video, huge wheels and tires, and a larger engine than the import.

As Michael Buffer likes to say, "Llllllet's get ready to rumbllllllllllllllllllllllle!"

The Cars

Since we had just tested a very gray top-of-the-line Miata Grand Touring, this time Mazda sent over a bright red Miata Sport, which has a base price of $23,495 and is one notch under the Grand Touring model on the Miata food chain. Options were limited to a $500 suspension package that adds a sport-tuned suspension, Bilstein shocks and a limited-slip differential.

We never missed the Grand Touring's leather seats, slightly fancier interior trim or its standard seven-speaker Bose sound system, which we gave a lackluster review. The Sport model comes with all the good stuff you get with the Touring package, things like keyless entry, foglamps and the upscale-looking silver on the roll bars, and then adds a six-speed manual transmission (lesser models have a five-speed), a strut tower bar for increased chassis stiffness and 17-inch wheels and tires. Every Miata gets ABS, a CD player and a tilt three-spoke steering wheel.

Power comes from a normally aspirated 2.0-liter, double-overhead-cam four-cylinder that makes 170 horsepower at 6,700 rpm and 140 pound-feet of torque at 5,000. That's only 8 horses less than the 2005 turbocharged Mazdaspeed Miata offered.

It's also 7 ponies shy of the Pontiac's output. The larger 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder, which also sports two double-overhead camshafts, is rated at 177 hp at 6,600 rpm. The additional displacement also gives the Solstice quite a torque advantage over the Mazda. Pontiac says the Ecotec cranks out 166 lb-ft at 4,800 rpm.

But that additional power is there to compensate for the larger Pontiac's 350-pound weight disadvantage and GM's decision to fit the Solstice with a five-speed manual instead of a six.

This Cool Silver Solstice, which we recently road tested on its own, arrived on our doorstep loaded with options, hiking its sticker price well above its $19,950 base price. It had everything, and it all costs extra, including air conditioning, ABS and leather seats. All tallied up, the Pontiac cost about a grand more than the Mazda, while they were more or less comparably equipped.

The Test

We had fun.

First we spent most of the week banging around L.A. in both. Top down, of course. Joy rides were plenty, but we also used these little roadsters as our daily drivers to see which makes the drive to work more palatable. This was also when we evaluated their fuel mileage, their cargo-carrying abilities and their cupholders.

Then we headed north to our double secret test facility where we ran them through our grueling battery of instrumented testing. You know, 0-60-mph acceleration, slalom, that kind of stuff.

From there it was off to some of central California's best driving roads, including Routes 33 and 166, which snake through 100 miles of lush canyons before ending up in the desolate flatlands to the east. There, surrounded by nothing, is the Buttonwillow road course, where we set up a tight 11-turn configuration to further evaluate the athleticism and smile factor of the two two-seaters.

When we felt their eight tires and 16 brake pads were sufficiently cooked, we hammered each down the dead-straight Interstate 5 for a 150-mile return trip to L.A.

After that, it was one last romp of a weekend in each.

The Results

First Place
Second Place
Second Opinions
Specifications and Performance
Final Rankings and Scoring Explanation

The End

Check the stats and the similar performance numbers of these two cars, and you'd expect this test to be a dead lock, maybe even a squeak-out win for the Pontiac.

Didn't happen, the Miata walked away with this one.

Don't get us wrong, we like the Solstice. In fact, if the Pontiac was competing with a 2005 Miata we're pretty sure it would have come out on top.

But this new Miata, or MX-5, or whatever Mazda is calling it, is really something. Its interior is better finished than the Pontiac's, its performance is a bit better and it's the better convertible, with superior wind protection for its passengers and a far superior top design.

But the biggest reason the Miata took this one is the simple fact that it's 10 billion times more fun to drive. It's more responsive. Its engine is livelier and its gearbox feels like it was plucked from a shifter kart. It also has more steering feel, and it stops better.

The Pontiac, although fast, just doesn't offer the same connection to the machine. It feels distant, more like a boulevard star than a true two-seat sports car.

Well, in our world, these roadsters are supposed to be true sports cars. And sports cars are supposed to be fun. The more fun the better. And cars just don't get any more fun than the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata.
 

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:yawn: old news (from Edmunds) - this one has been beaten to death
 

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Thought one of the editors summed it up well...

Editorial Director Kevin Smith says:
Okay, I was a little narrow-minded coming in. I felt the Solstice had to feel as light and lively as a Miata or it was toast. But as I built up seat time in Pontiac's new roadster, I came to appreciate that the Solstice didn't have to feel exactly like Mazda's MX-5 to be a success. It could be a smidgeon less direct in its control feedback, a little less quick to react to inputs, and not quite so poised on tippy toes, eager to change direction. As long as the driving experience managed to fulfill the promise made by its sporty-roadster concept, it could be different and might still be okay.

And that's how it turns out. The Solstice does not feel like a Miata. It feels instead like its own car, a bit bigger and softer in general, but still spirited and acceptably capable on a winding, sun-drenched canyon road. In fact, for sheer cornering grip, its limits seem higher and more easily accessible than the new MX-5's.
 

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It still comes down to this:

When I look at an MX-5... :yawn: I mean, I just can't get over the fact that I am not at all attracted to it. I wasn't attracted to the old miatas... I'm not attracted to the new one.

BUT HOT DAMN, WE HAVE A WEINER!

 

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Only 10 Billion times funner to drive?, I thought it would be a milliongajillionbazillionquadrillionlolapaloozillion infinity times more fun :lol:

You want fun, try driving a Pinto backwards down the wrong way on the freeway with a full tank of gas.....thats ten billion times more fun! :lol:
 

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gizmo2004 said:
Marco: tell me you did NOT do that, please! funny. :)
'cmon! EVERYONE's doing it!
 

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Yeah, AOL and Edmunds are hooked up somehow.

If they are not exaggerating, and the MX-5 is 10 Biiiilllllion times more fun to drive....

...then Mazda should charge about $250 Trillion bucks for them (thats 25K X 10 Billion).

Unless, they have some screwed up exchange rate for their "fun factor". Something like 9,999,999,999 = about $1500 or so.

In that case, a Corvette on a race track is, by my calculation, about 18 quadrillion times more fun to drive than an MX-5.

And Terpfans/Skycaptains/Rickady88s engine swap cars must be another 10,000 times more fun yet...:lol: :rolleyes:

There's making a point with extrapolation, then there's complete and utter exaggeration.
 

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This review seems completely biased to me.
 

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MSG_McKee said:
:agree: What's next the Google and Yah:yawn::yawn: reviews? ;)
Since Google is my digital god... I would listen to a Google-review.

If Google says so, it MUST be true.
 
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