Be warned, this is an MX-5 article!! It's a good article though, so I posted it.
MARK PHELAN: Drop-top ties for top spot
September 29, 2005
BY MARK PHELAN
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
Let's face it, this is Detroit and the first question most folks will ask about the all-new 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata is, "How does the Pontiac Solstice compare to it?"
The Miata set the standard to which any affordable little convertible must aspire. When the first-generation Miata went on sale in 1989, it embodied the joy of strapping yourself into a light little car, the wind in your face as you blasted the countryside.
Best of all, the Miata was reliable. Unlike the lovely little roadsters from Alfa Romeo, Fiat, MG and Triumph that preceded it, you never had to worry about whether it would start in the morning or leak in the rain.
The Miata quickly established itself as the car to beat, and for 16 years it's dismissed all challengers.
So how does the new Solstice, Pontiac's first roadster ever, stack up?
Despite how similar they look on paper -- both are two-seat convertibles with soft tops, four-cylinder engines, rear-wheel drive and base prices near $20,000 -- the two cars have very different characters.
They are both delightful, pretty cars, but they excel at different things. The Mazda has the look of a traditional European roadster of the 1950s.
The Pontiac's looks owe a debt to classic racing sports cars of the 1960s.
Four stars for everybody and a round of drinks on the house. This is a very good year if you like your convertibles little and entertaining.
The new MX-5 Miata has more room, power and comfort than the car it replaces, but with a base price of $20,435, it remains an affordable entry ticket to the joy of owning a convertible. I tested a well-equipped Grand Touring model with a sticker price of $24,935. (All prices exclude destination charges.)
The Miata's most noticeable styling is the addition of fender flares to make the MX-5 look more like Mazda's pricier RX-8 sports car.
I prefer the simpler shape of the old model, and I prefer the clean, flowing form of the Solstice.
I also prefer the name of the old model, which was simply Miata. Mazda calls the car the MX-5 in the rest of the world, and corporate policy calling all sports cars by initials and numbers dictated that its U.S. operations drop the Miata name with the new model. It doesn't matter how well-known and popular the name is, the car will be called MX-5 Miata for a transitional year, then Mazda will abandon the established name.
I think that's just silly. I'm sure Mazda will save money on corporate stationery and little chrome nameplates, but throwing away a well-known name always strikes me as a mistake.
It's one of the very few mistakes Mazda made with the new car, however.
The interior sets the tone for all the differences between the MX-5 Miata and Solstice. The Mazda feels positively spacious -- for a roadster, anyway -- while the Pontiac embraces its occupants.
The Mazda's interior features an odd mix of some of the best-looking materials in any inexpensive car and some that just seem cheap.
The highlight is the exquisite color matching between the leather upholstery on the seats and doors and the adjacent plastic trim. The low point is the hard plastic of the sun visors and the top of the dashboard.
The gauges are legible -- except that the orange backlighting renders the tachometer's redline invisible at night -- with attractive lighted pointers.
The controls are all easy to reach and use, except that the stereo on the MX-5 I tested had several dummy buttons that served no function unless you shelled out for the more expensive model.
I hate that kind of thing. It seems like the superfluous buttons will constantly reproach you for being a cheapskate who wouldn't come across for the multi-disc CD changer or optional auxiliary inputs like a cassette or minidisc player.
The MX-5 features four cupholders -- which should be enough for any two-seater -- but it's a bit short on storage space for maps, CDs and the like.
The manual soft top is much easier to use in the new model. A single easy-to-operate latch in the center of the windscreen replaces two attachment points in previous Miatas. Another very handy new latch holds the top snugly out of the way when it's folded down.
Wind noise is a little obtrusive in top-down driving, but the car is noticeably quieter and more pleasant than the old Miata with the roof closed. You can open and close the top -- albeit awkwardly -- from the driver's seat.
The trunk is another clear winner. It offers 5.3 cubic feet of storage space -- nearly 40% more than the Solstice.
Even better, the trunk's shape makes it easy to toss a couple's bags in for a weekend getaway. The Solstice, by comparison, wraps its small storage space around the car's fuel tank, resulting in a cramped layout that's even less useful than its 3.8 cubic feet would lead you to expect. Further, the MX-5's top does not reduce storage space when its folded down.
The 2006 Miata's 170-horsepower engine provides plenty of power, and the four disc brakes have ample stopping power. Antilock brakes are standard equipment on the MX-5, as they should be on all cars.
ABS is a $400 option on the Solstice.
Two other important safety systems -- traction control and electronic stability control -- are options on the MX-5.
Pontiac says traction control, which prevents the rear wheels from spinning on slippery surfaces, will be available on the Solstice sometime in 2006.
The Miata I tested had a six-speed manual transmission with short, sporty throws from one gear to another, but I found myself occasionally hitting third when I wanted fifth gear.
A five-speed manual is standard on base models and a six-speed automatic is available as an option.
There's no automatic available for the Solstice now, but Pontiac says a five-speed auto will go into production early in 2006.
The MX-5's steering was precise and responsive.
The suspension did a surprisingly good job of absorbing bumps over rough pavement. To my great surprise, the Solstice seemed to have the sportier and more aggressive suspension.
I preferred the Solstice's suspension, which made the car feel nailed to the ground at high speeds and during sharp maneuvers.
That's purely a matter of personal preference, however, and to my mind that's all that separates the new MX-5 Miata from the Solstice.
They are both marvelous cars that should thrill their owners and set the pace for roadsters for years to come.
Contact MARK PHELAN at 313-222-6731 or [email protected].