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Edmunds Reviews Solstice

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http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/Drive...eline.promo.3.*

Let the Sun Shine In
By Dan Kahn
Date posted: 09-15-2005

The sun is beating down, wind is whipping over a raked-back windshield, and our slinky steed is swallowing asphalt at one-and-a-half miles per minute. We're driving a 2006 Pontiac Solstice from Northern Oregon to Los Angeles in a single day, and life is good.

After 1,000 miles, we can safely say that GM's sporty little roadster is a rolling grin machine. It's like one of those quarter-operated mechanical spaceships in front of the supermarket, only for grownups.

And the best part: The fun starts for only $19,420, and a fully loaded model like the one we're driving costs a tick under $25 grand. That's less than half the cost of a Corvette convertible, and the Solstice roadster is more than half the fun.

Concept to Reality
Shortly after GM product czar Bob Lutz signed on to help enhance the company's product line, he asked Pontiac designers to come up with a rear-wheel-drive roadster concept.

They called it the Solstice, and response was so positive at the 2002 North American International Auto Show that Lutz made it his mission to see the concept translated into a production vehicle. And 27 months later (a blink of an eye in automotive terms), Pontiac's first rear-wheel-drive, two-seat roadster is rolling into showrooms.

Downright Sexy
The first thing people notice about the Solstice is its curvaceous body. It's downright sexy. If you don't believe us, ask the half-dozen people who flagged us down just to look at the car.

Part of the car's appeal is that it doesn't have a single flat panel or hard corner. Compound curves and flowing lines give the Solstice a fluid, futuristic look. One-piece body panels like the tilt-up hood and rear deck are unbroken by parting lines or panel gaps. This effect is achieved by hydroforming the sheet metal panels, using water pressure and a single die to form the complex shapes.

Perhaps the most interesting of the car's cosmetic features are the dual cowl bumps on the back deck, a styling element borrowed from 1950s racers. The entire panel flips backward to expose the manual-folding soft top, which is an inconvenient but interesting victory of form over function.

Creative Engineering
In order to finish the car on time and attain a sub-$20K starting price, Solstice designers and engineers had to borrow a few things from the GM parts bins. Things like the rear independent suspension and large 11.7-inch front and 10.9-inch rear disc brakes were all borrowed from the Cadillac CTS.

Although its hydroformed steel chassis is very similar to the backbone of the Corvette, it's an all-new platform, called Kappa, and was designed specifically for the Solstice. The result is a very solid car that doesn't suffer from much cowl shake or flex despite the lack of a solid roof.

The front suspension, which consists of unique short/long control arms and Bilstein coil-over shocks, is also exclusive to the Solstice, as is the steering system. The bulk of GM's current crop of passenger cars uses electrically assisted steering, but engineers on the Solstice project decided to go with a Borg Warner hydraulic rack and pinion unit to maximize precision and road feel.

Also adding to the car's sporting feel are massive 245/45R18 Goodyear Eagle all-season tires mounted on 18-by-8-inch alloy wheels. That's a lot of tire for a 2,860-pound four-cylinder roadster, and they make the Solstice feel glued to the ground.

The Other Roadster
Unlike the Mazda MX-5 Miata we recently tested, the Solstice doesn't feel like a razor-sharp racer with some luxury thrown in for the street. It's a cruiser with sporting tendencies, but we took the car through a few aggressive Southern California canyons and walked away impressed by its grip and fun factor.

When thrown into a corner, the Solstice exhibits little body roll and moderate understeer until you hammer the throttle, then the car rotates slightly. It won't swing its tail out on command like the Mazda, but for most drivers the car's substantial lateral grip and quick steering make it a fun and engaging canyon companion.

That impression was backed up at the test track, where the Solstice ran the slalom at 64.3 mph, a fair bit faster than the last MX-5 we tested at 61.5 mph. The trend reversed itself during the brake test, however, when the Mazda stopped from 60 mph in just 115.9 feet, beating the Pontiac's 121.5 feet.

It should be noted that we tested the cars at different tracks under different conditions, and a more precise head-to-head comparison test is coming soon.

Under the Hood
Parts sharing didn't stop with the Solstice's chassis. Power comes from a normally aspirated 2.4-liter Ecotec inline four borrowed from the Chevy Cobalt, and it's partnered with a five-speed manual transmission borrowed from the Chevy Colorado pickup.

Although the engine features an aluminum-block, dual-overhead camshafts and variable valve timing, it doesn't feel much like a sports car engine. With 177 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 166 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm, it makes more power than the Miata's 2.0-liter, but the Ecotec revs slower than Mazda's four and crudely hangs on to revs when you back off the throttle.

Gear spacing in the transmission is also very wide, which exacerbates the engine's lazy acceleration. It seems to take forever to need the next gear, and on tight mountain roads you often find yourself at the bottom of one gear or the top of another when you should be in the middle of the engine's power band. For those who don't like to shift gears, an automatic will be available in April 2006.

While not exactly a rocket ship, the Solstice performs well. We clicked off zero to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds, and eclipsed the quarter-mile in 15.8 seconds at 87 mph. In contrast, the six-speed Miata, which is about 350 pounds lighter and geared shorter, is a bit faster, running zero to 60 in 7.5 seconds and sprinting the quarter in 15.3 seconds at 89 mph.

On the Road
With 42.7 inches of legroom and 38.5 inches of headroom, the Solstice feels roomy with the top up or down. Although the Miata offers 43.1 inches of legroom and 37.4 inches of headroom, it feels much more cramped than the Solstice, which is nearly 4 inches wider.

You sit relatively low in the cabin. The Solstice has a wraparound dash and high door sills that surround the driver like the cockpit of a fighter jet, and its bolstered seats are comfortable and supportive.

A thickly padded leather-wrapped steering wheel always feels sporty, so Pontiac includes one standard. A short-throw shifter, large speedometer and tachometer, and an optional driver information center add to the effect.

Overall interior fit and finish is very good, with tight gaps and smooth seams. The climate control system is effective and easy to use with three big knobs, and the optional seven-speaker Monsoon stereo is outstanding, even with the top down at highway speeds. See our stereo review for more on that.

Speaking of the retractable top, we found the Solstice's little bonnet looks a lot better hidden in the trunk. The top's "flying buttress" design looks similar to the one on the Ferrari 430 Spyder, but it doesn't seal very well along the back edge. This looks a little funny and creates wind noise on the highway.

Putting the top down requires the driver to turn a latch on the windshield, pop the rear deck lid with a button in the glovebox, then get out of the car and manually fold the top down into its well before slamming the rear deck closed. Putting the top back up requires a similar process, with the added chore of snapping the buttresses into place by hand. It's not difficult, but is a bit tedious compared to the MX-5's one-handed operation.

Conclusion
As we write this, GM has just revised its 2006 Pontiac Solstice total production run to 18,000 units. The company claims to have orders for over 15,000 cars, but if you really want one, there should be a few left at local dealers by the time 2006 rolls around.

The Solstice is going to be a very popular car, and we can understand why. It's a sexy, affordable and truly American sports car. In other words, it's just what most roadster buyers are looking for.
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C/D had similar carps about the wide gear spacing and slow-to-rev engine... said it felt like the flywheel was too heavy. Overall, nice to see the positive reviews.
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They called it the Solstice, and response was so positive at the 2002 North American International Auto Show that Lutz made it his mission to see the concept translated into a production vehicle. And 27 months later (a blink of an eye in automotive terms), Pontiac's first rear-wheel-drive, two-seat roadster is rolling into showrooms.


Read it... and read it again. Applause for GM. :cheers:
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Isn't it more like 45 months? Edited by CSpec
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See GM, even the press can get behind you when you build appealing top of class cars.
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Great--I'm glad to not really hear anything bad about the car--it's surely a winner!
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I'm just bumed that I missed all those great cars being out here.
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2 questions:

In order to finish the car on time and attain a sub-$20K starting price, Solstice designers and engineers had to borrow a few things from the GM parts bins. Things like the rear independent suspension and large 11.7-inch front and 10.9-inch rear disc brakes were all borrowed from the Cadillac CTS.


1. The explanatin for the on again off again RWD programs(sigma, sigma lite, zeta,and ?) is often that the sigma architecture and its derivates are too expensive. Since the Solstise/sky is using the CTS's rear sustpension -- what gives?


2. Since these cars are using the Colorado transmission, and the most complaints in the article were about the ecotec engine, why wasn't the colorado's 185? hp motor used here.
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I give GM and Pontiac a standing ovation in getting this car to market so quickly and so good. Keep that momentum going.
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