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Mazda MX-5 Miata, VW GTI top the charts in Consumer Reports' testing of five sporty cars

Posted Wednesday, May 17, 2006

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Disappointing Pontiac Solstice scores well below competitors

YONKERS, NY — The Mazda MX-5 Miata and Volkswagen GTI posted “Excellent” overall scores in Consumer Reports' testing of five sporty cars for the June issue.

The GTI, which is a sporty version of the VW Golf, is now the top-ranked sporty car under $25,000 among the 11 different coupes and sedans recently tested by Consumer Reports. The Miata ranks best among three roadsters selling for under $35,000.

The test group pitted the latest generation of the venerable Miata against the newly-introduced and boldly-designed Pontiac Solstice, which posted a lackluster overall score of “Good.”

The two remaining vehicles in this test group, the Honda Civic Si and the Ford Focus ST, posted “Excellent” overall scores. The Focus’ overall test score tied that of the previously-tested Subaru Impreza WRX.

Manufacturer’s suggested retail prices for the sports cars ranged from $19,145 for the Focus to $27,095 for the Miata.

“The MX-5 Miata and GTI were both standouts in Consumer Reports’ testing,” said David Champion, senior director of CR’s Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Connecticut. “The Miata is great fun to drive, with extraordinary handling and a slick powertrain. The GTI excels in its refinement, performance, and safety equipment.”

Full tests and ratings of the sporty cars appear in the June issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale May 9. The complete report is also available to subscribers of www.ConsumerReports.org.

Consumer Reports recommends three of the cars in this test group, the Miata, Focus, and Civic Si. The Solstice and its near-twin, the Saturn Sky, are new vehicles and so reliability is unknown. Reliability for this fifth-generation GTI is unknown, too. But previous versions of the Golf have had below-average reliability. Consumer Reports only recommends vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on CR’s Annual Car Reliability Survey of its own subscribers, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested or included in a government rollover test.

The Miata continues the formula that has worked for Mazda since 1989: The sports car has very agile handling, lively performance, and a simple-to-use folding top that can be raised and lowered from inside the car. The Miata Grand Touring ($27,095 Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price as tested) is equipped with a 170-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that revs smoothly and delivers brisk performance. The six-speed manual transmission has a precise short-throw shifter and well-suited, closely spaced gear ratios. Braking is excellent.

The Solstice has bold, aggressive styling with good handling and a decent ride. But its weight hinders its agility, especially relative to the Miata. Raising and lowering the Solstice’s convertible top requires getting out of the car, and the tiny, poorly shaped trunk is even less useful when the top is stowed. The Solstice ($25,895 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 177-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers quick acceleration times at the track but sounds coarse. The five-speed manual transmission has a short-throw shifter but large gaps between gears stifle performance. Braking performance in the Solstice is very good overall.

The GTI is comfortable, well-finished, powerful, and fun to drive. It delivers capable handling, a relatively comfortable ride, a well-crafted interior and a surprisingly roomy back seat. The GTI ($23,975 MSRP as tested) is propelled by a 200-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that is both smooth and powerful. The standard six-speed manual transmission has appropriate gear ratios and is easy to shift. Braking distances are short.

The Civic Si is a performance coupe version of CR’s top-rated small sedan. Revving the powerful engine and shifting the crisp manual gearbox make it a fun car to drive. The Civic Si ($20,540 MSRP as tested) is equipped with a 197-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces abundant power at any engine speed. Its six-speed manual transmission is excellent. Braking is very good overall.

The Focus ST manages to be a fun-to-drive yet practical and affordable sporty sedan. Though not as quick or refined as some of the other cars in this group, the ST has a responsive powertrain, rides comfortably, and has the practicality of a four-door with a large trunk. The ST ($19,145 MSRP as tested) is equipped with a 151-hp, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that feels sporty with good low-speed response and decent performance. The five-speed manual transmission has nice gearing and delivers a good combination of performance and economy. Stopping distances are relatively long, but braking was still very good overall.

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Consumer Reports is one of the most trusted sources for information and advice on consumer products and services. It conducts the most comprehensive auto-test program of any U.S. publication or Website; the magazine’s auto experts have decades of experience in driving, testing, and reporting on cars. To subscribe to Consumer Reports, call 1-800-234-1645. Information and articles from the magazine can be accessed online at www.ConsumerReports.org.

 
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