When we originally wrote our Miata “cut-away tour” section, we started looking at the engine compartments of three then-current sportscars: the Honda S2000, Pontiac Solstice, and Mazda Miata. And we noted that the visual differences under the hood were directly related to the driving characteristics of the engines. These differences were very apparent: by appearance along its apparent which car has the engine you’d most want to drive, and which has the engine you’d most want to show your friends.
1) Honda S2000
We’ll start with the S2000: very technical, showing everything, and functionally laid out. And featuring a red-hot aluminum valve cover that provides more than a hint of the nature of the engine: 240 HP, 120 HP/liter, 9000 RPM redline and 9300 cut-off. Lets take an inventory of what’s visible: *huge* air intake, enormous intake manifold, long-tube header, and clearly a DOHC all-aluminum engine. Check, check, check, and check.
Would you want this technological gem, the best engine Honda has ever designed, covered up by plastic?
2) Pontiac Solstice
By contrast, the Solstice engine is covered by a large piece of plastic – you can’t see it or anything else of technical interest under the hood at all (note that the air intake in this example is aftermarket, otherwise it’d be a dull black hose). The appearance of this engine compartment matches the driving characteristics of the engine: dull and agricultural. Fail.
3) Mazda Miata
And the Miata engine compartment is a mess of covers and plastic. And a maze of hoses – looking mor elike an emissions-laden 70s engine that something from this day and age. There are interesting details here; note the placement of the battery: given the extreme attention that Mazda paid to the handling dynamics of this car, the battery is obviously in the best possible place for weight distribution. And the radiator is slanted forward at an extreme angle. So there are all sorts of interesting details under here, but with the mass of hoses and the big plastic engine cover, you can’t find much of interest to discuss under here. And when you drive it, you realize it’s just a slightly warmed over Ford Focus engine.
Of course, the most important element is the driving dynamics – not appearances. And the S2000 wins hands-down there again.
When you are done with the driving, and people wonder what kind of engine you have, it’s a pleasure to show it off. Sportscar fanatics want to examine engines in detail – compare and contrast parts, look for differences, imagine ease of modification. Only the S2000 engine compartment is inherently designed to that purpose.