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HarleyEarl

Roadster Double Take

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Double Take: 2006 Pontiac Solstice VS. 2006 Mazda MX-5 Roadster Rage: Pontiac’s Solstice takes dead aim at Mazda’s MX-5 Miata AUTOWEEK Published Date: 11/28/05 Almost from the minute General Motors unveiled the Pontiac Solstice concept at the 2002 Detroit auto show, comparisons to Mazda’s Miata started being bandied about by the media and in Miata owner forums on the Internet. And why not? The Miata, well into its second decade, has become the benchmark by which all entry-level two-seat sports cars are measured. At our first drive of the Solstice earlier this year, Pontiac engineers readily admitted their car would be closely scrutinized alongside the new MX-5 Miata, and they welcomed the comparison. Because Mazda launched the new version of its two-seater around the same time the Solstice made its debut, no one from Pontiac had a chance to compare the cars against each other. But we had an opportunity to take both roadsters to the test track and have at it. Read on. The results might surprise you. For the money, both the Pontiac and the Mazda bring a lot to the roadster party. Solstice has the now-famous base sticker price of $19,995, while the Miata starts at $23,495. The Miata’s standard equipment list is longer, as its only option is a sports suspension that pushes the sticker to $23,995. The Solstice is loaded, and stickers at $25,000. If all we did was judge a car by its looks, the Solstice would win hands down. The Miata is cute, in a British roadster sort of way, but the Solstice, with its rounded curves and bulging fender flares, is just plain sexy. Plus, it doesn’t look like anything else on the road. GM’s Wilmington, Delaware, assembly plant is ramping up a third shift to meet demand for the Pontiac (and for its Saturn and Opel siblings), but few Solstices are in the hands of owners yet. Driving one causes a stir, as we found out on our way to the test track. Even in car-rich, automobile-jaded Southern California, several vehicles on the freeway slowed to take a good look at our silver car, one driver pacing us for miles to take it all in. When he finally passed us, he saluted the Solstice with a thumbs-up. We began the test with some preconceived notions about these two cars. Building an economical two-seater is fresh territory for General Motors (Corvettes are in a different league, and the less said about Fiero, the better), so we fully expected the Miata to be the front-runner at the track by large margins. Mazda has been building this roadster for 16 years, with three generations under its belt to get things right. Both cars are powered by four-cylinder engines—a 2.4-liter in the Pontiac and a 2.0-liter in the Mazda—but the Solstice weighs 362 pounds more than the Miata. The Pontiac makes a bit more power—177 hp to 170 hp—but would that be enough to compensate for the Solstice’s weight disadvantage? If all we did was judge a car by its looks, the sexy Solstice—with its rounded curves and bulging fender flares—would win hands down. But this is more than a beauty contest. As noted in our introduction story on the Solstice (“What a Concept,” Aug. 29), the newest addition to the Pontiac line has been the hot project within the company since it was given the production green light. Engineers on the project knew they would have but one chance to get the car right; they couldn’t release a half-baked version and hope to improve it in subsequent model years. Following our tests, we would say they succeeded in getting Solstice right. Performance-wise, the two cars are about as closely matched as they come. The Solstice posts a 6.94-second 0-to-60-mph time, while the Miata’s best time is 7.04 seconds. The Miata wins the quarter-mile ET at 15.43 seconds to the Solstice’s 15.50 seconds, but the Solstice runs just a bit faster at the pole, 87.4 mph to 87.2 mph. A driver hiccup could upset those results either way. The Mazda, with its six-speed manual, needs third gear to hit 60 mph, while the Solstice, with a five-speed gearbox, gets to 60 mph in second gear. The Miata might fare better with the available five-speed manual. The Solstice shifter feels quick and precise, while at times the Mazda box requires some hunting to find the right slot. Driving the cars back to back prompts lots of conflicting responses from our testers. The Miata has much more steering feel in the slalom, and its engine responds quicker to throttle inputs. The Miata has more chassis roll than the Solstice, but the Mazda turns in quicker—in fact, going from Solstice to Miata, all of the testers clipped a couple of cones on the first run; its steering is that much quicker. The Miata is faster in our slalom course, 7.11 seconds at 47.0 mph, while the Solstice takes 7.13 seconds at 46.9 mph to go through the cones. The Miata needs 119 feet to stop from 60 mph, while the Solstice needs 123 feet. And with the Miata a known entity for many years, the biggest question we wanted to answer is this: Could the Solstice deliver on its good looks? The short answer: Yes. With 16 years under its belt to get things right, the Miata is the benchmark entry-level roadster. And the car is lighter, which helps give it a performance edge at the track. The Miata exhibits very little understeer on the skidpad, and is easy to steer with the throttle, though the Solstice turns in a better number, 0.90 g to 0.87 g. Adding up all these figures, the Miata scores a slight performance advantage over the Solstice. But our testers came away from the track impressed with the Pontiac, especially with the car’s chassis and suspension. “The Solstice is much nicer than I expected,” said one. “But it does beg the question: Why can’t GM do to its other cars what it has done here?” Driving both the Solstice and the Miata on a 500-mile loop that includes high-speed freeway sections, part of old Route 66, and some twisty roads in the San Gabriel Mountains gave us a more real-world perspective from which to compare the cars. The Solstice’s slightly longer wheelbase and bigger tires (Goodyear Eagle RS-A 245/45R-18s vs. the Mazda’s Michelin Pilot Preceda 205/45R-17s) provide for a more comfortable ride and better tracking through fast corners. The Miata is jumpier, with darty handling. The Miata has more yaw in the corners, and its suspension gets upset bouncing over freeway expansion joints. It is an uncomfortable, jarring ride. The Solstice cockpit is slightly bigger, with more shoulder- and legroom. From a pure comfort standpoint, the Solstice is more welcoming over a variety of road surfaces and conditions. There is a vast difference in the manual top operation of the two roadsters. With the Miata, twist the latch at the header and push the top back and down, latching it into place—a quick and easy, one-person job. The Solstice requires you to pop the trunk via a button on the key fob that releases not only the lid, but the top’s rear wings. You then release the inside latch and fold the top into the trunk, then close the trunk. It, too, is a one-person operation, but there are more steps involved than with the Miata. With tops up, both cars are equally noisy. With the top down and stowed, you lose most of the Solstice’s storage space, while the Miata top folds down into a well in front of the small trunk. The Solstice interior’s lack of storage is annoying, as the only place to put cell phones or other items is an expandable pocket in front of the seat cushion between your legs. On the other hand, the Solstice’s sound system is far superior to the Miata’s. Something we had noted at the Solstice introduction reared its ugly head again in our tests: a nasty driveline noise that got worse throughout testing. The driveline clunk is not a reassuring sound of quality. GM engineers say they are working to correct the problem. Pontiac’s most recent Consumer Satis-faction Index numbers are better than Mazda’s, but we will reserve judgment regarding the Solstice’s build quality for a few years. The Miata feels pretty much bulletproof. Its fit-and-finish is terrific. Picking a winner in this DoubleTake is especially difficult, because the two cars are evenly matched at the track, competitively priced, and are loads of fun to drive. If you want a car to go autocrossing in, the Mazda is a good choice. But with all things considered, three factors weigh heavily in favor of the Solstice: fresh, good looks, better on-road ride and handling, and superior driving comfort. While we would be happy with either in our garage, for this test the Pontiac Solstice is our pick.
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*double-takes* Hey... They picked the Solstice. Good read. They mention a clunking noise in the Solstice, which indicates that Pontiac's (and GM's) initial release quality needs some work.
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I think they ask 6 of ther writers to review the cars and 6 of 5 picked the Pontiac including the stories author. The sport compact import guy like the Miata, go figure.
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*double-takes*

Hey... They picked the Solstice.

Good read.  They mention a clunking noise in the Solstice, which indicates that Pontiac's (and GM's) initial release quality needs some work.

[post="49652"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]



GM REALLY needs to get this under control! ASAP!

I've noticed build defects in a lot of GM cars on the lots lately and when I got up close to the 2 Solsti I've seen I could also pick out a few sketchy areas... Of course, I'm a restorer so I'm pretty detail oriented.
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Good article. I thought it quite interesting that they said almost the exact opposite that all of the other rags said but hey I LIKE IT!
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5/6 is pretty damn good. There's bound ot be a few hard core Miata fans who prefer the MX5. Just like there's Mustang guys who bought a '98 GT and insisted it was a better car than the Camaro Z28 of the day even though it was outgunned in every way. C'mon 215 HP versus 305.... it's like fishing with dynamite.
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Anyone got $25K I can use to buy a SOLSTICE?------I will pay you BACK!------Somehow!------Someway!------Someday! :P
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Good, fair review. I was surprised. Most other review indicate that the Miata is the better car.. And that British one... Ugh. Good to read... I just hope they fix those quality problems.
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Good, fair review. I was surprised. Most other review indicate that the Miata is the better car.. And that British one... Ugh. Good to read... I just hope they fix those quality problems.

[post="50749"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]



Solstice and MX-5 are two of the most evenly-matched competitors we've seen in quite awhile.

Both have good points and bad points......I don't like Solstice's interior quality and seats, and I think the lack of luggage room is unforgiveable. However, I think Solistice looks better than MX-5 and handles every bit as well. I think I'd like the MX-5's powertrain better though....I drove one recently and it was beyond sweet....but Solstice is supposed to ride better. Give-and-take....give-and-take.

I'd be happy with either of them! It's nice to see GM compete so well.
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