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TCC’s Top Picks: Convertibles by Eric Peters
Summer’s here – what are you waiting for?
2006 Mazda Miata by TCC Team
Raising the benchmark, one sunny day at a time.
There was an audible gasp when General Motors rolled out the Pontiac Solstice
concept car during the
General Motors’ decision to put the Solstice into production thus generated a mix of excitement and skepticism. Would the automaker retain the show car’s over-the-top styling, back-to-basics roadster dynamics, and its promised under-$20,000 price tag?
After a surprisingly short wait,
the Solstice is back, this time in production trim. If you’ve got a pair of
calipers, you’ll likely find a few minor dimensional changes, but the roadster
that TheCarConnection.com got to drive, a few weeks back, is uncannily close to
the concept car that first debuted at
Kappa, Kappa, Kappa
Getting there was no mean feat. GM engineers had to come up with an all-new platform. Dubbed Kappa, it will serve as the “architecture” for an assortment of other specialty vehicles, such as the upcoming Saturn Sky. The automaker also had to raid its parts bin for pieces the Solstice could share with other GM products in a bid to hold down production costs.
The strategy worked. The 2006 Solstice is visually striking, a blast to drive and comes in moderately well equipped at a base price of just $19,995.
A multi-hued lineup of roadsters
beckoned as we stepped out of our hotel on a brisk but sunny morning. Despite
the chill of the
Back behind the wheel and buckled up, we listened with delight as the 2.4-liter in-line four fired up. The measure of a great automobile can be found in the smallest details, and it was good to discover that the Solstice engineering team had put some effort into getting the powertrain sound just right.
Of course, they had a good role model. Mazda engineers reportedly studied the exhaust note of more than 100 different roadsters and sports cars when they developed the original Miata.
Miata vs. Solstice
The third generation of that Japanese roadster has just gone on sale, and whether the timing is purely coincidental, it’s good news for motorists. Comparisons between the Miata and Solstice will be frequent and unavoidable. Mazda has actually made a point of addressing the issue online.
Nowhere is the contrast more obvious than in exterior design. The Miata has always been a classic roadster, and despite minor changes, the ’06 update looks much like the original.
The long-nosed Solstice is much more of a head-turner. With top down, the speedster-style headrests provide the car’s visual signature.
The original design emerged from
the pen of Franz Von Holzhausen, part of the team at GM’s
The production car is as
curvaceous as the latest
Be aware that you’ll be likely to spend a lot of your time dealing with gawkers. Folks would follow us for miles out of their way to check out all the angles and chat, if they could catch us at a light.
Seating is comfortable, with precisely the right amount of lateral support you’d want while pushing the roadster through the tight-and-twisties. One complaint, though, is the way the windshield header blocked our view of stoplights, though at 6’ 2”, we are a bit taller than most drivers. Mazda’s latest roadster has largely solved this problem. The Miata, meanwhile, has significantly more trunk space than GM could cram under the Solstice clamshell.
The beating heart of Solstice is that 2.4-liter version of the Ecotec engine, here making 177 horsepower. That’s seven more than the ’06 Miata, but at 2860 pounds, the Solstice has nearly 400 pounds more to haul around. It’s still able to deliver 0-60 times of 7.2 seconds, and clocks an aero drag-limited top speed of 123 mph. No rocket, perhaps, but more than entertaining.
And as we learned long ago while
driving Triumphs and MGs, off-the-line acceleration matters a little less with a
roadster than the brio of a top-down driving experience. During a long day of
driving through the scenic Columbia River Gorge, dividing
The throttle is extremely responsive, as is the roadster’s five-speed gearbox. Yes, Miata does offer an optional six-speed manual, but cognoscenti know that the five-speed has the shorter, smoother throw, so we’ll call this a wash. The Miata also offers a six-speed automatic. The Solstice won’t get its auto until next year, after it’s launched on the Saturn Sky.
The stiff Kappa platform is more
than up to the task at hand. And so is the suspension, using forged
short/long-arms front and rear, along with Bilstein monotube shocks.
Steering is precise and direct, as
you’d expect from a much more expensive sports car. We were especially surprised
at the way the suspension soaked up roadway bumps while maintaining its grip on
the Gorge’s tight and twisty roads. Oversized brakes proved useful throughout
Overall, the Solstice is
everything we could have hoped for, especially if GM was intent on maintaining
the show car’s compact dimensions. The new
We have reason to feel confident.
Base price: $19,995
Engine: 2.4-liter in-line four, 177
Transmission: Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 157.2 x 71.3 x 50.1 in
Wheelbase: 95.1 in
Curb weight: 2860 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 20/28 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front and side airbags; anti-lock brakes
Major standard features: 18-inch alloy wheels; AM/FM/CD sound; tilt wheel; rear defroster
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles