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

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

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (2)
  • Comparison (1)
  • Long-Term

2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata Convertible

(2.0L 4-cyl. 6-speed Manual)

  • Comparison Test
  • Second Opinions
  • Stereo Evaluations
  • Final Rankings and Scoring Explanation
  • 2006 Mazda MX-5 Specs and Performance
  • 2006 Pontiac Solstice Specs and Performance

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 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 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.

First Place: 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Over the last 15 years, Mazda's Miata has accumulated a goodly number of kill stickers on it flanks. Affordable drop tops that have taken on the Mazda only to have gone down in flames include the front-wheel-drive Australian-built Mercury Capri of the 1980s and the front-drive Lotus Elan of the mid-'90s.

Well, the 2006 Pontiac Solstice put up a good fight, but you can add it to the list of the Miata's fallen foes.

A little larger, a little more refined and a lot more powerful than its predecessor, the 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata is without a doubt the best of its breed. Mazda has taken everything that was always right with previous generations of the roadster and improved upon all of it.

Still Tossable
Still under 2,500 pounds, the Miata is as tossable as ever. Mazda's engineers were able to improve the car's ride by increasing its wheelbase by 2.6 inches and increasing its rear suspension travel, but without sacrificing its athleticism.

They also completely rethought the car's balance. Despite the new version's additional size, by using aluminum instead of iron for the engine's block and mounting it 5.3 inches farther back in the chassis, they kept the car's overall weight increase to only 22 pounds, while shifting some of the mass rearward. Mazda says the car is now slightly nose-heavy at the curb, but comes back to 50/50 with two aboard.

These changes have made the Miata easier to drive fast. No longer does the rear end want to snap around during trail braking, a situation which was only made worse by its super-short wheelbase. More than one Miata has been backed off the road over the years. Now the car rotates just enough for advanced drivers to get a thrill, while the longer wheelbase and larger tires have slowed the transitions so the slide is much easier to catch.

A little less body roll during hard cornering would be nice, but the setup works so well, we're hesitant to even suggest a change.

Combine those moves with quick and communicative steering, a stiff chassis and trustworthy brakes, which stop it from 60 mph in just 117 feet, and the new Miata is sinful on a mountain road, and just flat-out addicting on the racetrack. Although its pace could be matched by the Solstice in the slalom (64 mph), as well as on the road and racetrack, the Miata's is the more engaging and ultimately more rewarding drive.

Basically, the Miata does exactly what its driver asks it to, right or wrong. We like that. But the tradeoff for all that response is a busier highway ride than you get in the Pontiac. This is still by far the most open-road-friendly Miata there has ever been, but it's still too small, too noisy and too choppy on the interstate to make driving across states fun.

Fast Enough, Finally
It's faster, too. Faster than its predecessor and faster than the Solstice.

Power comes from a 170-hp, 2.0-liter, double-overhead-cam four-cylinder that heads for the top of the tachometer like New Yorkers head for the Hamptons on summer weekends. Redline is a heady 6,750 rpm, and the power peaks at 6,600 rpm, but the engine feels so good up there, and the gearing of the six-speed is so short, Mazda lets the engine reach past 7,200 rpm before any sort of rev limiter kicks in. Sometimes holding a gear and saving a gear change makes a whole lotta sense, and those extra revs come in handy.

But you don't have to ring this engine out like a dishrag to find power. It's surprisingly strong off idle and has a nice punch in the middle of its rev range. Its torque peak of 140 lb-ft hits at 4,800 rpm, which may sound high, but with the ultrashort gearing in the Miata's six-speed it's easy to find.

Just how much shorter is the gearing in the Miata's six-speed compared to the five-speed in the Solstice? Listen to this. The Miata finishes the quarter-mile at the top of fourth gear, while the Solstice hits the traps in third. And out on the highway the difference is really jarring. The Miata revs close to 4 grand at 80 mph in sixth gear, while the Solstice is revving under 3,000 rpm in fifth. This makes passing on the highway easy, while passing in the Solstice requires a downshift, maybe two.

It also gave the less powerful and lighter Miata bragging rights at the drag strip, where it sprinted from zero to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 15.5 seconds at 89 mph. Both performances are better than the Solstice can manage.

Throw in the fact that the Miata's engine sounds better, is smoother and out-sprints the Solstice through a lighter clutch, and it's clear which car's drivetrain we prefer.

Upscale Interior
The redline on the Miata's tachometer completely disappears at night.

That's the biggest complaint we can lodge at the Mazda's new interior. Sure it's cramped compared to the interior of the larger Pontiac, but it's also better appointed, offers a better driving position and has far superior fit and finish.

Jump from the Solstice and into the Miata, and the first thing you notice is the Mazda's full instrumentation, which even includes a real oil pressure gauge with a needle that moves and everything. Then you notice its artfully finished three-spoke steering wheel, its firm and supportive seat, and that perfectly placed stubby little shifter. We also really like the upscale piano black trim on the dash and the fact that the window switches are on the console behind the shifter where they should be.

There are four cupholders, two behind the shifter and one on each door. Don't plan on doing much shifting if you load up the two behind the shifter. Otherwise, it's a masterpiece of packaging. But we do question the need for redundant radio controls on the steering wheel when the faceplate of the sound system is just 4 inches to the right. We'll reach over.

To drop the top, you don't even have to leave your seat. Just reach up, unlatch a single central latch at the windshield header, and toss the top back. It even folds so cleverly as to form its own boot, much like the top on a Porsche Boxster does. By comparison, the top design on the Solstice is…OK, we'll be nice…"wanting."

Wind noise and turbulence with the top down is also considerably better in the Miata. By reshaping the windshield header, adding small front-quarter windows and providing a wind blocker behind the seats, Mazda masterfully steers the rushing air away from the car's occupants. In the Pontiac that same 70-mph gust curls around the A-pillar unopposed and slams the driver flat in the face.

And it's those details, and there are quite a lot of them, that give the Miata the edge over the Solstice. When you drive the Mazda, it becomes obvious that every aspect of the car was designed and engineered by people who love cars and love to drive. You can tell they told the bean counters, the suits and all the other stuffed shirts how it was going to be and not the other way around.

This is rare in the car business, and the results speak for themselves.

Mazda has managed to make the Miata more comfortable, easier to drive and just plain faster, but without sacrificing any of its purity or affordability. The 2006 MX-5 isn't only the best Miata ever, it's still a Miata and it's still the affordable sports car of choice.

Second Place: 2006 Pontiac Solstice

This comparison test actually began on January 2, 2002. That's the day Bob Lutz, GM's superstar product czar, drove the Solstice concept car onto a stage at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit and pronounced to the world that GM would produce the roadster and it would have a base price under $20 grand.

Well, Bob delivered as promised. Here we are less than three years later testing the production Solstice, which is a mirror image of that concept car. "The 2006 Pontiac Solstice," says GM's literature, "delivers both the thrill of open-air driving with balanced performance and refinement at an attainable price."

After pounding this Cool Silver Solstice around for a while, we agree with that statement wholeheartedly. It's a fun, affordable little ride, and we expect them to sell every one they can bolt together. But the Solstice still isn't the inspired sports car we were hoping for and in this test it finishes second to the new Miata.

From the Parts Bin
As it turned out, the rush to production, along with the promised low price, forced GM to build the Solstice essentially from its extensive parts bin. And the resulting driving experience isn't quite as inspired as we would have hoped.

The list of borrowed hardware is extensive, and includes gauges from the Pontiac Vibe, brakes and rear suspension from the Cadillac CTS and seats from the European-market Opel Corsa.

Even the drivetrain is plucked from other rides. The Pontiac's Ecotec engine — an all-aluminum double-overhead-cam, normally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder — also calls the engine bay of the Chevrolet Cobalt SS home, and its five-speed manual gearbox is also used in the Chevrolet Colorado pickup truck.

Pontiac also decided to use a smaller version of the Chevrolet Corvette's chassis design. It even shares the unique manufacturing process of hydroforming the frame rails with the Corvette.

These aren't bad parts. In fact they work surprisingly well together. But cohesive design from a clean sheet of paper would have surely cured some of the Solstice's shortcomings.

For instance, without dials to monitor water temperature or oil pressure, the Vibe's gauges are incomplete for a two-seat sports car. We also think the Opel's seats are a little pillowy for such a vehicle, and the downsized Corvette chassis created too many packaging issues including a nearly useless trunk and a massive transmission tunnel, which dominates the Pontiac's interior.

We also found the drivetrain to be less than ideal. With 177 peak horsepower at 6,600 rpm and a torque peak of 166 pound-feet at 4,800 rpm, the Ecotec has enough guts for the application, but it revs slowly, gets a little riotous at higher rpm and crudely hangs on to revs when you back off the gas. Not exactly what you expect from the engine in a two-seat sports car, and the tall gearing in the truck-sourced five-speed only accentuates the engine's economy car roots.

The Good Stuff
OK, enough griping. The Solstice has plenty going for it. Plenty.

First of all, it's sexy as hell. Park it next to the Miata and only the president of the local Miata Club will notice the Mazda.

Second, it performs well, running zero to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds and the quarter-mile in 15.8 seconds at 87 mph. The Miata, which is smaller, lighter and geared shorter, is only slightly quicker. It hits 60 mph in 7.5 seconds and sprints the quarter in 15.5 seconds at 89 mph.

It also turned the same slalom speed as the Miata, an impressive 64 mph, and matched the Mazda's lap time around the racetrack.

Short/long control arms and Bilstein coil-over shocks make up the Pontiac's front suspension, and all the hardware is exclusive to the Solstice. It works well with the Cadillac-sourced rear suspension, providing a firm but compliant ride, and extremely stable handling. Still, we would like the Solstice to offer more feedback and respond better to different driving techniques.

Push it hard and the Solstice has one cornering attitude, it understeers. Regardless of what the driver does, the Pontiac's huge 18-inch rear tires refuse to give up their grip of the road. This makes for quick slalom times, and it's the way you want your mom's car set up, but it quickly bores the advanced driver.

The Miata, on the other hand, offers an infinite number of cornering attitudes to choose from. And it allows the advanced driver to adjust and choose between those attitudes at any time through his skillful use of the steering, brakes and throttle. In other words, although the big-tired Pontiac can match the Miata's slalom and lap times, the Mazda handles more like a real sports car.

Most of GM's current passenger cars use electrically assisted steering we're not especially fond of. Thankfully, the Solstice doesn't. Its hydraulic system is still a bit slow (the ratio is 16.4 to 1) and still a bit numb compared to the Miata's steering, but trust us, it's much better than it would have been if GM went with the electric system.

We must also praise the Pontiac's four-wheel disc brakes. They're without the spongy, overly long pedal travel that has plagued GM's brake systems for years, and they're properly heat resistant. The Solstice stops from 60 mph in just 122 feet, just 5 feet more than the Miata's performance.

Cockpitlike Cockpit
Compared to the cramped Miata, which is nearly 4 inches narrower and rides on a 3.4-inch-shorter wheelbase, the Pontiac's interior feels roomy top up or down.

You sit relatively low in the Solstice, but not low enough. Most drivers felt their relationship to the leather-wrapped steering wheel could be better if the seat would go down a bit or the tilt wheel offered one more notch up. The wraparound dash and high door sills, however, do make you feel like you're down inside the car and its bolstered seats are supportive.

Most everything is placed well, including the shifter, which has short-enough throws, and the effective climate control system, which is made up of three big knobs. The optional seven-speaker Monsoon stereo is also outstanding, even with the top down at highway speeds.

There's still too much hard gray plastic, however, seemingly acres of it, and there are a few ergonomic issues Pontiac should have addressed. The three more annoying ones are the laughable placement of the cupholders behind the driver's right elbow, the constant reflection of the interior trim in the rearview mirror, and the origami-style roof-folding exercise that forces you out of the car.

Putting the top up is even worse, requiring you to walk to both sides of the car to secure the individual flying buttresses, which don't really sit flush to the deck lid like they should.

Hop in the Solstice after driving the Mazda Miata and the Pontiac's extra bulk, vague controls and unresponsive handling simply detract too much from the purity of the drive.

It's a smile maker for sure, but the Miata gets you grinning from ear to ear.

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.

So the good news for me was, the Solstice is in the hunt. It's not a clunky, clumsy show-off, good only for being seen in.

For my personal tastes, a Miata/MX-5 still does the Dance of the Sporting Roadster better, and its poise and balance and attitude and control feel are more like what I want in a basic sports car. But congratulations to Pontiac and to Bob Lutz, the Solstice's champion inside GM, for creating a car that is not an embarrassment for them nor a disappointment for us. It's a viable roadster, and we're pleased.

Senior Editor Ed Hellwig says:
I drove these cars just long enough to realize that I would never want to own either one. They're a pain to get into, borderline claustrophobic after that and only marginally entertaining on city streets. Neither have any torque or cargo room, and both have styling that's way too close to cute for my tastes.

I don't find their recipe for fun appealing, but there are plenty that do. For those people, I'd recommend the Miata. The steering is better, the brakes are more powerful and the gearbox nearly perfect. With its more tightly spaced gearing the 170hp engine feels stronger and its sounds better than the Pontiac too. On the racetrack it wasn't even close. The Miata attacked while the Solstice just hung on the best it could. Then there's the properly finished interior that has usable cupholders, an upscale look and the world's best manually folding top.

The Solstice isn't bad, it's just not nearly as good. It feels bigger, slower and more like a cruiser. Its shifter is vague and the steering a little numb. With so much grip it can be thrown around easily, but the engine is no match for the chassis. When you're not going all out it suffers from excessive wind shear that makes your face numb after a few miles. Then there are the little things like the clunky looking top and lack of storage space.

I could think of a lot of other cars I would buy for $25K, but if it had to be a roadster Mazda would get my cash.

2006 Mazda MX-5
2006 Pontiac Solstice

2006 Pontiac Solstice

System Score: 8.0

Components: Our Pontiac Solstice test car came with a few optional stereo upgrades. The car has a six-disc CD changer with the Radio Data System, which displays radio station call letters and sometimes song information, and MP3 compatibility. Our tester was also equipped with an upgraded Monsoon speaker set that includes seven speakers in all: two mounted in the doors, two mounted on the windshield pillar, two mounted behind the seats, and one subwoofer.

Performance: Given that our Solstice came equipped with $800 in stereo upgrades, it's not surprising the sound quality is very good. The highs are crisp and the lows are deep, for the most part. Turning the bass up results in more rumble than punch, but for most types of music it sounds fine. We were expecting a little more kick from the bass with the optional subwoofer, but most people will find this system better than average. However, it's not as sharp as the 2006 Mazda Miata's optional Bose stereo.

The system's weak point is that it doesn't handle midrange well. But bump the mids down a notch or two and the problem is solved.

The head unit is good-looking but perhaps a little plain given the sporty nature of the car. Still, all the features are easy to use, and the buttons and knobs are logically placed. The display is well laid-out and the menus for changing tone and balance are easy to read and remain in the position you left them in rather than automatically reverting back to "bass" whenever the menu times out. We also like the fact that the large, round volume knob is an easy reach from the shifter. Our car came with redundant steering wheel-mounted controls, but those buttons are rather small and not really much of a convenience. We found ourselves just reaching over and changing the volume on the head unit.

GM has clearly revamped its usual collection of EQ settings ("Country," "Rock," "Talk," etc), as the changes to the sound are now more subtle. We found the "Country" setting sounded best for most types of music but in many cases each EQ setting really does sound best for that type of music — this is one of the few stereos we can say that about. However, the Solstice lacks "top up" or "top down" sound profiles, something we like on the Miata.

Another nice feature that perhaps only audiophiles will appreciate is the fact that each of the EQ settings can be used as a starting point for customizing the sound. On previous GM stereos changing the bass or treble would revert the setting back to "Custom," which was frustrating for those who really like the "Jazz" profile but just want a little more bass. Once more feature that shows GM is paying attention to details is the fact that you can eject CDs even after the car is turned off — nice.

Best Features: Well-designed head unit, enjoyable sound overall, nice bass for the price.

Worst Feature: Bass could be punchier considering the optional subwoofer.

Conclusion: With lots of thoughtful features and good overall sound quality, this seven-speaker stereo is a good fit for the sporty Solstice's. The head unit could use a little more flair, but considering the car's sub-$20,000 base price, we can't complain. — Brian Moody

2006 Mazda MX-5

System Score: 7.0

Components: The MX-5 Touring comes standard with a single CD player and four speakers. The Grand Touring and Limited Edition versions offer a seven-speaker Bose system. Our test car had the basic four-speaker setup, but that does include speed-sensitive volume control with three top-up and three top-down listening modes. All four speakers are mounted in the doors.

Performance: The base stereo doesn't offer a lot of fancy features like the Pontiac Solstice's but the top-up and top-down modes work well. The sound quality is a little richer in Top Down 3 mode.

The sound quality is fine most of the time but does lack bass. Without the Bose system, the standard stereo tends to sound a little thin and somewhat busy. The head unit does not offer midrange controls and having all available speakers mounted in the doors doesn't give the sound a very full flavor.

There's not a lot you can do with just four speakers, but we've heard stereos that sound worse with more speakers. The one good thing about this basic system is that the sound is sharp and clear. It lacks real separation and there's only a little bass, but what comes out of the speakers is clear even at higher volumes.

Best Feature: Top-up and top-down modes.

Worst Feature: Lacks separation.

Conclusion: Overall, this is a decent system for an inexpensive car. Although the upgraded Bose system does sound a little better, this base system is fine considering the car's affordable price and the fact that this stereo comes as standard equipment. — Brian Moody

Final Rankings

Final Rankings
2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata 2006 Pontiac Solstice
Personal Rating
(10% of score)
100% 50%
Recommended Rating
(10% of score)
100% 50%
Evaluation Score
(20% of score)
76% 62%
Feature Content
(10% of score)
87% 40%
(30% of score)
99% 92%
(20% of score)
100% 100%
Total Score 94% 74%
Final Ranking 1 2

Scoring Explanation

Personal Rating: Purely subjective. After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the vehicles in order of preference based on which he or she would buy if money were no object.

Recommended Rating: After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the vehicles in order of preference based on which he thought would be best for the average consumer shopping in this segment.

24-Point Evaluation: Each participating editor ranked every vehicle based on a comprehensive 24-point evaluation. The evaluation covered everything from exterior design to cupholders. Scoring was calculated on a point system, and the scores listed are averages based on all test participants' evaluations.

Performance Testing: Both cars were put through a comprehensive battery of instrumented tests including 0-60 acceleration, quarter-mile runs and panic stops from 60 mph. They were also run through a 600-foot slalom course to test transitional handling. The vehicles were awarded points based on how close they came to the best performing vehicle's score in each category.

Feature Content: For this category, the editors picked the top 5 features they thought would be most beneficial to the consumer shopping in this segment. For each vehicle, the score was based on the amount of actual features it had versus the total points possible. Standard and optional equipment were taken into consideration.

Price: The numbers listed were the result of a simple percentage calculation based on the least expensive vehicle of the two. Using the "as tested" prices of the actual evaluation vehicles, the least expensive vehicle received a score of 100, with the other vehicle receiving its score based on how much more it cost beyond the first vehicle's price.

Model year2006
Base MSRP$22,495
As-tested MSRP$23,995
Drive typeRWD
Engine typeI-4
Displacement (cc/cu-in)2
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)170@6700
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)140@5000
Transmission type6-speed manual
Suspension, frontIndependent w/ stabilizer bar
Suspension, rearIndependent w/ stabilizer bar
Steering typePower rack and pinion
Tire brandMichelin
Tire modelPilot Preceda
Tire size, frontP205/45R17
Tire size, rearP205/45R17
Brakes, front4-wheel disc w/ ABS
Track Test Results
0-45 mph (sec.)4.8
0-60 mph (sec.)7.5
0-75 mph (sec.)11
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)15.46@89.06
Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.)29.61
60-0 mph (ft.)117.2
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)64
Sound level @ idle (dB)49.3
@ Full throttle (dB)81.2
@ 70 mph cruise (dB)77
Test Driver Ratings & Comments
Acceleration commentsThe MX-5's short-throw shifter is perfect. Every gear is easily found with the slightest flick of the wrist. The 2.0 power plant doesn't make much bottom-end torque, but once the engine hits 3,500 rpm it comes to life. Redline is set at 6,500 rpm, and we revved it to 7,000 rpm and it still didn't hit the rev limiter. Power peaks out around 6,400, however, so there's no reason to take it past that. Traction is not a problem on launch because the engine doesn't make enough power to cause much wheelspin.
Braking ratingExcellent
Braking commentsStopping distances from 60 mph in the teens are always good, and the MX-5 offers braking performance to match its sports car heritage. We didn't note any noticeable fade, there was no nose dive to speak of, the vehicle tracks straight and fade was minimal. The pedal was very firm but didn't offer much modulation, and ABS noise and vibration were very subtle.
Handling ratingExcellent
Handling commentsThe car is capable of entering the slalom at very high speeds, and we found the best way to get a decent time was to enter around 70 mph and let the car bleed off speed as it wound its way through the cones. This is mostly due to the fact that the 2.0 engine doesn't make enough power to pull hard out of the cones, especially in fourth gear. Body roll is moderate, but the Mazda exhibits outstanding manners when pushed to the limit. Steering feel is perfect, and when pushed over the line the back end comes out with oversteer that is easily controlled with throttle modulation.
Testing Conditions
Elevation (ft.)180
Temperature (°F)72
Wind (mph, direction)2 mph SE
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)24 City 30 Highway
Edmunds observed (mpg)21
Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.)12.7
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, as tested (lbs.)2498
Length (in.)157.3
Width (in.)67.7
Height (in.)49
Wheelbase (in.)91.7
Turning circle (ft.)N/A
Legroom, front (in.)43.1
Legroom, rear (in.)N/A
Headroom, front (in.)37.4
Headroom, rear (in.)N/A
Seating capacity2
Cargo volume (cu-ft)5.3 cu. Ft.
Max. cargo volume, seats folded (cu-ft)5.3 cu. Ft.
Bumper-to-bumper4 years / 50,000 miles
Powertrain4 years / 50,000 miles
Corrosion5 years / unlimited mileage
Roadside assistance4 years / 50,000 miles
Free scheduled maintenanceN/A
Front airbagsStandard
Side airbagsStandard
Head airbagsNot Available
Antilock brakesStandard
Electronic brake enhancementsNot Available
Traction controlOptional
Stability controlOptional
Rollover protectionStandard
Emergency assistance systemNot Available
NHTSA crash test, driverNot Tested
NHTSA crash test, passengerNot Tested
NHTSA crash test, side frontNot Tested
NHTSA crash test, side rearNot Tested
NHTSA rollover resistanceNot Tested
Model year2006
Base MSRP$19,420
As-tested MSRP$24,940
Drive typeRWD
Engine typeI-4
Displacement (cc/cu-in)2.4
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)177@6600
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)166@4800
Transmission type5-speed manual
Suspension, frontIndepenent w/ stabilizer bar
Suspension, rearIndepenent w/ stabilizer bar
Steering typePower rack and pinion
Tire brandGoodyear
Tire modelEagle RS-A
Tire size, front245/45R18
Tire size, rear245/45R18
Brakes, front4-wheel disc
Track Test Results
0-45 mph (sec.)5.1
0-60 mph (sec.)7.7
0-75 mph (sec.)12
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)15.82@87.01
Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.)29.33
60-0 mph (ft.)121.57
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)64.3
Sound level @ idle (dB)54.7
@ Full throttle (dB)82.1
@ 70 mph cruise (dB)73.3
Test Driver Ratings & Comments
Acceleration commentsThe 2.4-liter inline four in the Solstice makes adequate power, but feels a bit pedestrian for a sports roadster. Redline is set at 6,800 rpm and the rev limiter comes in at 7,000 rpm. We achieved our best times by launching at 4,100 rpm, and there was no traction or stability control to hamper the launches. Giant 245-series tires helped with traction and eliminated wheelspin. The gear ratios in the five-speed transmission are very wide, especially between third and fourth.
Braking ratingGood
Braking commentsWe noted some ABS noise and vibration under hard braking, but nothing unexpected. Pedal feel is very good, firm with progressive action and positive feedback. We did note a bit of front-end dive, although it is acceptable. All three 60-0 runs were uneventful and produced extremely similar numbers, with only 2 feet separating the longest stop from the shortest.
Handling ratingExcellent
Handling commentsThe Solstice feels heavier than its closest competitor (the Mazda Miata), but it can carry more speed because of its larger wheel/tire combo. It takes a lot of speed to get this car to rotate, but it is also very easy to catch when it finally does start to oversteer. It's too bad the engine is weak, with no bottom-end torque and sluggish pick-up, because the chassis feels very tight and dialed in.
Testing Conditions
Elevation (ft.)180
Temperature (°F)72
Wind (mph, direction)2 mph SE
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)20 City 28 Highway
Edmunds observed (mpg)18.6
Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.)13
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)2860
Length (in.)157.2
Width (in.)71.3
Height (in.)50.1
Wheelbase (in.)95.1
Turning circle (ft.)35
Legroom, front (in.)42.7
Legroom, rear (in.)N/A
Headroom, front (in.)38.5
Headroom, rear (in.)N/A
Seating capacity2
Cargo volume (cu-ft)4 cu. Ft.
Max. cargo volume, seats folded (cu-ft)4 cu. Ft.
Bumper-to-bumper3 years / 36,000 miles
Powertrain3 years / 36,000 miles
Corrosion6 years / 100,000 miles
Roadside assistance3 years / 36,000 miles
Free scheduled maintenanceN/A
Front airbagsStandard
Side airbagsNot Available
Head airbagsNot Available
Antilock brakesOptional
Electronic brake enhancementsNot Available
Traction controlNot Available
Stability controlNot Available
Rollover protectionStandard
Emergency assistance systemOptional
NHTSA crash test, driverNot Tested
NHTSA crash test, passengerNot Tested
NHTSA crash test, side frontNot Tested
NHTSA crash test, side rearNot Tested
NHTSA rollover resistanceNot Tested
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