Two Hot New Convertibles

Mazda enhances its Miata; Pontiac delivers open-air thrills

Sunny Solstice
At the 2002 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, General Motors debuted the Pontiac Solstice concept car, promising an open-air thrill ride on a budget. The 2006 Solstice is on its way, and it looks like the General will deliver on its promise.

The heart of the Solstice is GM's Kappa platform, which engineers created to develop a family of compact, rear-wheel-drive sports cars that would marry function--power and stability--with form, to create a vehicle that would handle well and please both the beholder and the budget. The Kappa Architecture features hydroformed frame rails, creating a vehicle that is wider and low to the ground, melding a distinct appearance with stability and responsive handling. With the new Kappa Architecture and component set, GM will be able to rapidly and efficiently design and develop more variations. For the Solstice, the configuration generates a compact car that provides power without sacrificing the concept's curvaceous beauty.

Weighing in at 2,860 pounds, the Solstice is powered by a 2.4-liter variable-valve Ecotec four-cylinder engine that produces 177 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, moving the car to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, with a top speed of 143 mph. The wide wheel stance enhances handling, providing a smoother, more responsive ride. The Pontiac Solstice arrives in dealer showrooms this fall.

2006 Pontiac Solstice
Base price: $20,000
Engine: 2.4-liter DOHC Ecotec inline-4
Horsepower: 177 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 170 @ 4,400 rpm
0â€60: 7.2 seconds
Top speed: 143 mph

Mini Mazda
The Mazda MX-5 Miata debuted in 1989, and since then it's been pushed by Mazda as a lightweight sports car meant to be powerful and fun to drive. Sixteen years later, the latest version is the most refined MX-5 yet.
It sports a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 142 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. To get the most out of the diminutive power plant, engineers worked on improving airflow in the cylinder head, cutting intake restriction by 57 percent to keep the engine torque nearly level, even at high rpm.

On the handling side, the ultrahigh-tension steel chassis increases stiffness and rigidity over its predecessor, while adding only about 22 pounds to the curb weight, bringing the vehicle to just 2,473 pounds, with an evenly split 50-50 weight distribution that keeps it poised on the road. Available Bilstein struts and a limited-slip differential will enhance the handling even more, and the new MX-5's wheelbase is two and a half inches wider than the previous generation's.

Mazda sought to improve both safety and comfort with its new roadster, equipping it with side airbags and a larger-volume head-protection airbag. As for comfort, mesh air deflectors behind the seats slash cabin wind noise. Expect the 2006 MX-5 in dealer showrooms in the fall.

2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Base price: $20,435
Engine: 2.0-liter inline-4
Horsepower: 170 @ 6,700 rpm
Torque: 125 @ 5,000 rpm
0â€60: 7.6 seconds
Top speed: N/A