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MSN Autos: 2006 Pontiac Solstice Review

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Link: http://autos.msn.com/research/vip/jedlicka...e&src=reviewers

Dan Jedlicka's Rating:
8 out of 10.

Bottom Line:
New, under-$20,000 genuine sports car is creating lots of excitement for General Motors' Pontiac performance division.

Pros:
Racy styling
Decent acceleration
Low price

Cons:
Little standard equipment
Tiny trunk
Likely price gouging


Expert Review
The fact that General Motors rather quickly has produced a 2006 production version of Pontiac's sexy 2002 Solstice auto show concept sports car is almost a miracle.

GM has had a sad history of killing promising 2-seaters just when they got good. (Remember the Pontiac Fiero and Cadillac Allante?) And a nifty sports car proposed by Pontiac was shot down in the 1960s by GM because it feared the car would eat into Chevrolet Corvette sales. The Solstice thus is Pontiac's first sports car because the 1980s Fiero coupe was initially developed as a two-seat commuter car.

Dream Car
But GM didn't have its product czar, Bob Lutz, around then. A veteran of BMW, GM and Ford European operations and the old Chrysler Corp., Lutz arrived at GM U.S. headquarters in 2001. One of his first projects was making a genuine Pontiac sports car—not a slick, costly two-seat cruiser like the Ford Thunderbird. His dream was to build an affordable, desirable sports car.

The Solstice is just such an auto with a $19,420 list price—or $19,995 after a $575 freight charge. There were more doubters than believers that Lutz could pull off the car for less than 20 grand.

The main Solstice rival is the iconic Mazda Miata, which arrived in 1989. It's been redone for 2006 and starts at $20,435. Ironically, Solstice show car designer Franz von Holzhausen from GM's California studio has left GM for Mazda, a Ford Motor affiliate.

Exciting Styling
The latest Miata retains its familiar handsome shape, but the Solstice has a more exciting look. Its rakish styling features Pontiac's twin-honeycomb grille, sexy curves and two retro-style head fairings on the trunk lid that look as if from slinky 1950s sports-racing cars now considered works of art.

Pontiac is able to introduce the Solstice for less than 20 grand because it dipped into GM's vast global parts bin for such things as the engine/transmission, seats, mirrors, switches, controls, fog lights and even back-up lights.

Parts came from GM vehicles ranging from sedans to sport-utility vehicles, but everything works in harmony in the Solstice. There's no shame in parts sharing because it's common in the auto industry to hold down vehicle costs.

Little Standard Equipment
Standard items include power steering, an adjustable steering column and an AM/FM/CD sound system, but not a heck of a lot else.

Optional items include air conditioning, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, an AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, polished steel wheels, an Onstar and XM satellite radio, remote keyless entry and power windows, locks and mirrors.

Of course, a Solstice buyer doesn't really need some—or any—of those options. They add performance-robbing weight and complexity, but only hard-core sports car buffs will do without many of them.

Most buyers will want at least air conditioning and power windows and locks. And they'll probably get them because it will be hard to find a Solstice at a Pontiac dealer that doesn't have lots of options—let alone get a kind of deal on the in-demand car.

Dual front airbags are standard, but forget side airbags or an anti-skid system because they're not offered.

Draws Stares
My bright red test Solstice drew more stares than any car I've driven in a long time, regardless of cost. It especially drew favorable reactions in downtown Chicago with its top down at lunch hour on a sunny late-summer day. One person asked if it were a Mercedes-Benz, but many mouthed the word "Solstice" because the car has gotten lots of pre-sale publicity, including appearances on NBC's "The Apprentice" and "Las Vegas."

The Solstice is the first car built on GM's Kappa small-car, rear-wheel-drive platform and has a rigid, mostly hand-welded chassis because Pontiac will annually build only 20,000-30,000 Solstices and such welding saves money. The plusher Saturn Sky two-seater arrives next year and will use the same rigid platform, which doesn't allow convertible rattles and cowl shake.

Fairly Quick Acceleraton
Powering the new Pontiac is GM's 2.4-liter dual-overhead-camshaft 4-cylinder engine, tucked under a large hood that opens in clamshell fashion—as does the trunk. This aluminum 16-valve engine produces 177 horsepower, which is enough to propel the fairly heavy 2,860-pound Solstice to 60 mph in a fairly quick 7.4 seconds if you rev it hard.

A 5-speed automatic transmission won't be offered for the Solstice until 2006, and the car's 5-speed manual gearbox must be shifted a lot to get the best performance. GM said a 6-speed manual—available for the Miata—didn't improve the Solstice's performance.

Happily the Solstice transmission is fun to shift. Its gearshift has fairly short, easy throws and works with a decent light clutch that has only a moderately long throw.

But third and fourth gears must be used most of the time because overdrive fifth gear is strictly for highway cruising; floor the accelerator pedal in fifth gear at low speeds and acceleration is virtually nonexistent.

Estimated fuel economy is 20 mpg in the city and 28 on highways. One might think such a small car would get a few more miles per gallon, but its weight and numerically high (for quick acceleration) 3.91:1 axle ratio don't allow higher fuel economy.

More Power Coming
The Solstice needs more power for passing maneuvers on highways, but Pontiac likely will introduce a turbocharged or supercharged version with more than 200 horsepower later next year. A coupe version also may surface, although a removable hardtop is more likely to initially be offered.

Occupants sit very low in the Solstice, with elbows sticking up when arms are placed over the sides of doors. It almost feels as if you're wearing a metal collar. The high body sides don't present visibility problems, but they also don't stop a fair amount of wind rush from entering the car with its top lowered at even 40 mph.

One must get out of the car to open the decklid to operate the manual top, which has a glass window and defroster. But top operation is fairly simple, and the top folds neatly into the clamshell rear deck area. It fits snugly when raised, although it creates rear blind spots in that position and thus could use larger outside rearview mirrors.

Go-Kart Agility
Steering is nearly perfect, with superb feel. It's quick, but not so darty that a sneeze almost puts a driver in an adjoining lane. The Solstice also has nearly race-car reflexes, thanks to a nearly 50-50 weight distribution, wide tires on 18-inch wheels and a sophisticated all-independent suspension with anti-sway bars. Quick lane changes can be done with no tire squeal, body lean or instability. It's almost like piloting a go-kart.

The ride is smooth for a car with only a short 95.1-inch wheelbase, although rippled roads cause the Solstice to get a little jittery. The brake pedal has a progressive action, and stopping distances are short with the all-disc brakes.

Sporty Interior
The minimalist interior looks plenty sporty and has good room for two tall occupants, although some budget-grade materials are used. The "motorcycle-inspired" gauges, though are sometimes hard to read quickly because they're too deeply recessed.

The comfortable bucket seats are supportive, but their controls need to provide a larger range of comfort settings. The controls are mostly large and easily reached. There are three cupholders, but little interior room for small items. The glove compartment is tiny, but a small covered storage compartment with a flimsy cover is between the seatbacks.

Poor Trunk Space
Trunk space is poor with the top down, partly because a high fuel tank occupies a large center area of it. Solstice owners should plan on traveling light with a few pieces of soft luggage—even with the top raised.

There's no room for a spare tire, so one ends up with a "fix-a-flat" can of spray sealant that won't be appreciated if one of the large tires goes flat.

The Solstice comes in red, silver, blue, green, black, white and gray paint. Whatever the color, buyers of the car should be prepared to pay a premium price.
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Now this may be just me but I don't think "likely price gouging" should be counted as a con against a car.

[post="16523"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]

I'll agree with that. No way it's a "default" from the vehicle's specs.
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What the F*ck does it take to get a 10 out of 10?!?!?!?!

Oh, yeah that's right.... It takes an "H", "L", "A" or "T" badge.

The price gouging line is a bullsh*t stretch because this loser couldn't come up with another con. If people can't pay the price gouging then they can wait a year and buy a Solstice then. Besides it's not like were talking about a $55,000 car here. GM has no control over it's FRANCHISED dealers, yet it is counted against the Solstice. Not to count the price gouging is "likely" in the first place.... So now a "variable" is counted as a con in a "professional" review.

Gimme a break!
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What the F*ck does it take to get a 10 out of 10?!?!?!?!

Oh, yeah  that's right.... It takes an "H", "L", "A" or "T" badge.

The price gouging line is a bullsh*t stretch because this loser couldn't come up with another con. If people can't pay the price gouging then they can wait a year and buy a Solstice then. Besides it's not like were talking about a $55,000 car here. GM has no control over it's FRANCHISED dealers, yet it is counted against the Solstice. Not to count the price gouging is "likely" in the first place.... So now a "variable" is counted as a con in a "professional" review.

Gimme a break!

[post="17223"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]



I can understand where they're coming from, though, from a consumer standpoint.

Say you're looking for an affordable sporty convertible roadster. Your choices are the Mazda Miata or the Pontiac Solstice. If the Mazda's selling at sticker and the Pontiac's got $3-8K dealer markup, which one would you choose?

-RBB

[EDIT] That said, GM's still selling every one they can make, even with the markup. I'm not saying there's no demand, or that the dealers shouldn't charge that if they can get it. But the Miata is a better value right now because it's not marked up at the dealer lots. Edited by RBB
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i wouldn't give it a 10, as it lacks some hp and should have at a minimum a usable trunk. but a 9? sure. Edited by regfootball
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Now this may be just me but I don't think "likely price gouging" should be counted as a con against a car.

[post="16523"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


if anything its a plus, unfortnatly. price gouging resembles the car as a whole, a "gotta have it factor" if you must. if the dealers can raise prices (although they shouldnt and have been warned by GM not to) it shows the car is a good value, and possibly could be a good value at a higher price.
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A roadster is not required to have trunk space, it just makes the car better. However, on its own merits, the Solstice deserves a 10 out of 10. It's damn near perfect.
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Think back to the 50's when Ford came out with a 2-seat Thunderbird, then a few years later redesigned it, added a couple of seats and sales took off. Even in sporty cars, some level of utility helps. Not many people can afford to keep a car around that is only good for driving down to McDonalds on Saturday afternoons.
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in the '50's how many 4 car makes were there? It's an easy formula, you take a wildly successful nameplate and make it even more desirable by making it accessible to millions more, all the while hurting the image of the nameplate. Of course the Thunderbird was gonna be a success, the design was smashing, baby! Solstice is a purpose-built roadster, would a little trunk space help? Sure, but this car is not gonna sell to more than 40k people a year in a very very good year. those few can sacrifice trunk space until the next gen .
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I think it will be interesting to see how many are on their second owners after a year. You know a lot of people are going to buy them without thinking about the fact that they cant carry groceries or golf clubs in it. I'm sure a lot of people are going to buy it intending to use it as a primary car, because it looks good and they cant afford to keep two cars around. Getting tags on two cars every year, two insurance payments, a lot of people cant handle that. And by the time the next gen comes out, how many of those who sell their Solstice after a year or two will be out of their "roadster stage?"
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Cons:
Little standard equipment
Tiny trunk
Likely price gouging

[post="16522"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


Little standard equipment.. What the f*** else do you expect from a $20K roadster?!
Tiny trunk... See above
Likely price gouging... Stereotypical remark. Kiss my white ass, MSN.
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Such a stupid reason to give a vehicle an 8/10. I wonder if these "journalists" give the same credence when they test hybrid vehicles. I've seen the Prius get 10/10 however only achieve 25mpg from the tester. Where's the accountability in that?
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A/C should be standard with an option to delete. Power windows/locks/mirrors would be nice as standard as well, since most people are going to order them and most dealers are going to stock them like this. StabiliTrack should be there as well, at least as an option.
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A/C should be standard with an option to delete.  Power windows/locks/mirrors would be nice as standard as well, since most people are going to order them and most dealers are going to stock them like this.  StabiliTrack should be there as well, at least as an option.

[post="17910"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


I agree power locks and keyless entry should be standard. Even my base Cavalier has it.

For the others, not sure. A/C? Why would you need it when you can open the top? I doubt you'd be driving it on a rainy and humid day anyways. I have it in my car but I hardly use it. Other power goodies? No. Adds weight. I've seen people swapping out power windows from their cars. Especially it's a performance and style-oriented roadster, I would say it's not needed.

If you're looking for a more executive-look roadster, it's coming. It's called the Sky.
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The Solstice is soooo good looking in person, especially in black with black leather! I went to Hillsdale, MI to look at one since the Coldwater dealership didn't have any. The only thing I could wish for would be dash plastics that didn't seem hollow and rock hard, but, to keep prices down, that's just fine with me. A world class sports car is all about the driving dynamics, with other sideline things coming into a relatively distant second.
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I think it will be interesting to see how many are on their second owners after a year.  You know a lot of people are going to buy them without thinking about the fact that they cant carry groceries or golf clubs in it.  I'm sure a lot of people are going to buy it intending to use it as a primary car, because it looks good and they cant afford to keep two cars around.  Getting tags on two cars every year, two insurance payments, a lot of people cant handle that.  And by the time the next gen comes out, how many of those who sell their Solstice after a year or two will be out of their "roadster stage?"

[post="17566"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]



This is why Pontiac needs equally sexy and more capable coupe and sedan versions of Kappa.

B)

Oh and BTW, while 8 out of 10 is good. Just think, that's the same rating the new DTS got. The DTS is impressive, but not nearly as damn impressive as the Solstice.

Sounds like bias to me..... GM "cannot be as good as the asians"

As for the Prius, well that's pretty much BS just like everything else pertaining to the Prius.

To bad we can't line a bunch of them up and run over them with H2's. <----TheFOG's idea of fun http://www.cheersandgears.com/public/style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/AH-HA_wink.gif
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