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frogger

Solstice Review/Toronto Star's Jim Kenzie drives i

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This is the same journalist who waxed poetic about the new Impala a few weeks ago. Sounds like its screaming for a better manual tranny

Sunrise for Solstice
Wheels is first into the driver's seat of Pontiac's production sports car. So what's it like on the road?

The sexy Solstice is intended as a halo car for General Motors, but the Mazda Miata isn't sweating yet


JIM KENZIE
WHEELS PREVIEW

KELOWNA, B.C.—It's about time somebody took a shot at the Mazda MX-5 Miata.

The classic little Mazda reinvented the affordable two-seat sports car segment over 15 years ago, and through various refreshes and one complete redo this past summer, has remained first in a field of one ever since.

General Motors revealed the Pontiac Solstice as a concept car at the 2002 Detroit auto show. As far as anybody is letting on now, it really was just a concept, that they really did not have plans to produce it or anything like it. For starters, they had no platform upon which to base it.

But the public and press reaction was so strong, so positive, that GM's hand was forced.

Three and a half years later, here it is, and soon to be followed by a Saturn version called the Sky.

Solstice's styling has survived virtually intact from the car-show concept stage, complete with the cool head-restraint extensions into the rear deck, and bumperless face and tail.

The voluptuous lines and huge 18-inch wheels make the car look larger than it really is — overall, it is almost exactly the same length and height as the new Miata, although Solstice's wheelbase and width are both about 80 mm larger.

Solstice also reminds me a little of the lovely BMW Z8 roadster, especially from the rear three-quarter view.

It is an absolute traffic-stopper everywhere it goes. "The best lines I've ever seen on a GM car!" said one admiring onlooker.

That's a bit of a stretch maybe, but suggests that the car's real role in GM`s plan for financial recovery — that of a halo car — might just work.

The platform they needed to build this car had to be pretty much created from scratch. Fortunately, hydroforming (a Canadian Magna process, by which elements are pressed into shape using hydraulic pressure rather than mechanical action of steel on steel) made design and fabrication of the Corvette-resembling central tunnel chassis a relatively easy process.

Hydroforming also is used for the first time in a volume production car for stamping virtually all the body panels, whose deep contours would have been almost impossible to "draw" using conventional metal pressing technology.

Hydroforming is more time-consuming than conventional pressing, but the simpler tools mean it took less time to engineer and develop, and was largely responsible for the car's short gestation period.

Fully-independent double wishbone suspension front and rear with Bilstein monotube dampers, fast-ratio hydraulic power rack-and-pinion steering and big four-wheel disc brakes complete the chassis basics.

Scandalously, ABS is an option ($600). Really, GM, do you want us to take you seriously or not? I know, I know, ABS isn't standard on Miata either. That doesn't make it right, or justify your mistake.

The engine is an Ecotec 2.4 litre twin-cam four-valve four-cylinder with twin counter-rotating balance shafts and variable valve timing, a modestly-revised version of the engine used in various small GM cars worldwide.

Output here is 177 horsepower at 6600 r.p.m. — and GM points out not too strenuously that it is using the new Society of Automotive Engineers procedure for reporting horsepower, meaning these are real horses, as opposed to the inflated numbers some manufacturers continue to use.

Peak torque is 166 lb.-ft. at 4800 r.p.m., with 90 per cent of that value being available from 2400 to 5600 r.p.m.

These are considerably higher numbers than the new Miata (170 hp and 140 lb.-ft.) but Solstice has some extra 165 kg to lug around.

With a power-to-weight ratio similar to Miata, we expected a zero-to-100 km/h acceleration time in the low seven-second range. But an impromptu hand-held sprint yielded numbers in the low 10-second range.

Then again, we were at altitude with two adults in the car, but subjectively it just doesn't feel like a seven-second car.

A five-speed Aisin manual is the only transmission available at launch; a five-speed automatic will be offered next spring.

The interior is roomy by two-seat sports car standards — taller drivers shouldn't have much trouble fitting in. The high belt line and bulbous hood again give the impression that the car is larger than it really is; shorter drivers might get that "too deep a bathtub" feeling, as opposed to Miata, which was engineered to feel small and nimble.

GM describes the interior as "minimalist." "Drab" might be another way to put it. A cliff face of grey plastic forms the instrument panel, with what are said to be motorcycle-inspired gauges. The optional two-tone interior is much nicer.

Deeply-contoured bucket seats are designed to provide good support in brisk cornering.

Solstice's top is manually deployable, and folds beneath the rear-hinged clamshell rear deck. The idea is to make the car look sleek — no "top stack" on the rear deck.

But it is also the car's major failing because one of Miata's most endearing qualities is that you can reach up with one hand and either drop the top or pull it back up. With Solstice, you have to stop, pop the rear deck with the remote (or an in-glove-box button), lift up the deck and fold the thing down. Reverse above procedure if it starts to rain.

The press information bravely says that there are 107.6 litres (3.8 cubic feet) of storage space with the top up. That assumes you're carrying loose sand or water; a huge hump in the middle of the trunk, presumably covering the fuel tank and rear suspension, means nothing much bigger than a small sports bag is going to fit in there. I had to remove half the stuff from my small roller-equipped carry-on bag to get it in there.

Golf clubs? Only if you saw them into tiny little pieces. Which is probably a good idea anyway.

The press info also conveniently forgets to mention how much space there is with the top down. As in approximately, none.

This drastically diminishes Solstice's utility as a real world sports car, and reduces it to a sunny Sunday afternoon play toy. Really, with 15 years of Miata to learn from, you think they'd have come up with a better solution. It's a textbook case of style over substance.

Driving the Solstice is a study in contrasts. I can't remember a car that I wanted to love more than this one. But there are ups and there are downs.

The steering is lovely: direct, linear, light yet full of feel. On the twisty roads of the B.C. interior, the handling feels flat, nimble and secure; a full analysis will have to await the inevitable racetrack opportunity.

Ride quality is also first-rate: firm but well-composed.

So, full marks to the chassis chaps (except for the ABS brakes, but we must blame the marketing dudes for that).

The Ecotec engine has always been a torquey little number, but the car cries out for a six-speed manual. Despite claims that the ratios are closely spaced for linear acceleration, the engine falls into a huge trough between fourth and fifth gears, and struggles to climb its way out.

And despite various vibration-reduction techniques like the balance shafts and direct-mounted ancillaries such as the alternator, the Ecotec will never be the poster child for refinement. It sounds coarse when revved hard, which is exactly what you need to do to overcome the gaps in the transmission, not at all like the sweet revving powerplant of the Miata.

The transmission itself is decent, with short, crisp throws. Again, not quite as good as Miata, but then no other transmission is.

Solstice pricing starts at $25,695, around $2,000 less than the new Miata. Solstice offers three option packages: the useful Power (locks, mirrors, windows, remote keyless entry) for $1,040, the easily-ignored Convenience (cruise, driver information centre, the dreaded fog lamps) for $710, and the marginal Premium (leather upholstery, leather-wrapped wheel and steering-wheel audio controls) for $2,110.

Incidentally, the automatic power door locks are even more irritating in this car than in most, first because there's no way to shut this damned feature off, and second, because unlike virtually all other cars, there is no unlock button you can push — you have to reach over your shoulder and pull up on the door lock plunger. Huge pain in the butt.

Air-con ($1,200), ABS , a variety of audio upgrades and GM's OnStar communication system are stand-alone boxes on the order form. Check them all and the price tag will approach $32,000; be a little circumspect and you'll have a properly equipped car for under 30K.

I wish Solstice were a closer match to Miata, especially in usability and engine refinement. As it is, it represents a very stylish and fine-handling competitor to the brilliant little Mazda sports car.

And that's more than anybody else has been able to accomplish in the last 15 years.

Edited by frogger
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Mazda has had so long now to tweak the perfect British roadster recipe that the Solstice has to rely on styling and value to win. I've said this on old C&G, but conceptually, the MX-5 and Solstice are too different animals. One is a light, agile, wind-in-your-hair roadster, while the other is a poor man's version of a high performance sports car (Z4, SLK, etc). Both are very appealing.
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0-60 in 10 seconds? I think they weren't driving correctly or something. Autoweek had a VERY positive review on it, and if I remember correctly said the ride was more firm than the Miata but didn't ever feel harsh. I think I'd listen to an Autoweek review more than a Toronto star review.
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My one big problem with the Solstice IS the lack of luggage space. (Please no arguments about "if you're looking for space, buy a minivan...") One of the nice things about having a fun-to-drive roadster is the chance to take it on weekend trips, etc. With the 3.8 cu/ft with the top up, that's barely enough room to take small bags....and with the oddly shaped trunk space, maybe not even that. AND, IF you can get stuff in the trunk, you can't drive on your weekend trip with the top down! It's not like you can even take the Solstice shopping around town! I feel strongly this is one of the main reasons the last generation MR2 failed. You can't use the vehicle for any sort of trip away from home. Mazda was able to give you a decent amount of space.....and so has GM with the Corvette (bigger car, I know.) The car may be good....but GM better not underestimate the negative impact this one failing could have on the car. They have time (maybe) to do something about it for the SKY.
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For me the big disappointment is the lack of storage space. This is not a car I could take on more than a day trip with the GF :-(. Nor go golfing, to the cottage, etc etc. My ex had a Miata and we easily packed two duffel bags, a small cooler and a tent in the back and had the top down when going away for weekends in the summer. The Solstice seems to have less storage space than a big Harley.
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I've seen Jim Kenzie doing editorials on TV and I have to say, he's boring, and presents himself in a sloppy way, bad haircut, old man glasses from the seventies and insignificant to anything in the automotive world. He's small potatoes. 'He does 0-60 in 60 seconds'. Thats my review of Jim. Edited by HarleyEarl
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Honestly, you guys... The "if you want space, buy a minivan" statement is completely necessary here. The Solstice wasn't meant to have much cargo space. It's a roadster for Christ's sake... Who buys one for trunk space? No one. People buy them for the styling, folding roof, performance and/or the sheer fun of the things. If you want the space, don't buy it. Get a larger car... a coupe; whatever. It's easy. You can't have everything you want, so either deal with it or do that. Jeesh... :rolleyes: As for the actual review... Of course the Solstice is not going to be as perfect as the Miata. So, overall, it wasn't a bad review but the 0-60 time is BS.
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The Solstice should have as much luggage space as the Miata, seeing as how it is a bit bigger than the Miata. I don't think it does have as much luggage space because my Uncle's '92 Miata can easily fit a golf bag, and the only golf bags I've seen put into a Solstice was a tiny bag WITHOUT clubs. BTW, I heard C&D picked the Solstice over the Miata in a comparo in the Oct. issue (haven't gotten it yet so I don't know for sure, but that's what someone posted on another forum).
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For me the big disappointment is the lack of storage space.  This is not a car I could take on more than a day trip with the GF :-(.  Nor go golfing, to the cottage, etc etc.  My ex had a Miata and we easily packed two duffel bags, a small cooler and a tent in the back and had the top down when going away for weekends in the summer.  The Solstice seems to have less storage space than a big Harley.

[post="5492"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]



Yes...that is a big dissapointment..one of joys of sports car ownership is the weekend getaway with the GF/SO/wife... my girlfriend & I love taking late spring/summer/fall weekend getaways to the mountains (Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, etc), and usually take my M3 or her 330Ci convertible...lots of fun driving up in the mountains with the top down...3-series have enough trunk space for a couples' soft luggage. If we go up in the mountains to do mountain biking, though, we take my Grand Cherokee or her Wrangler to haul the bikes....

Then again, GM built Corvettes for decades without useful trunk space, so maybe the lack of trunk space won't hurt sales much.. the 5-speed was dissapointing, though (why not a 6-speed manual?) Edited by moltar
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Honestly, you guys... The "if you want space, buy a minivan" statement is completely necessary here.

[post="5533"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


That's true for me- the last time I even lookedin the trunk of my car was to get the spare out when I had a flat.

I looked at the MR2 at the Auto show last year, and the friend I went with mentioned the lack of luggage space- he said "but what if you wanted to go away for the weekend with your boyfriend?" I had to say, when was the last time I either had a boyfriend or went away for the weekend? Besides, anyplace I'd want to go would involve a backpack wiith an extra pair of shorts, a t-shirt and swim trunks.

For me, the whole point of this car (besides being fun to drive) is that it says "No, I don't shop at CostCo and I can't take you to the airport.."
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Honestly, you guys... The "if you want space, buy a minivan" statement is completely necessary here. The Solstice wasn't meant to have much cargo space. It's a roadster for Christ's sake... Who buys one for trunk space? No one. People buy them for the styling, folding roof, performance and/or the sheer fun of the things. If you want the space, don't buy it. Get a larger car... a coupe; whatever. It's easy. You can't have everything you want, so either deal with it or do that. Jeesh... :rolleyes:

As for the actual review... Of course the Solstice is not going to be as perfect as the Miata. So, overall, it wasn't a bad review but the 0-60 time is BS.

[post="5533"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]



I'm sorry....IMHO, that "excuse" is complete crap....and smacks of trying to make excuses for GM's lack of insight in this area....

See the above posters that agree with me.....if Mazda can design and execute a tiny roadster that has a more-than-adequate trunk (WITH the top DOWN I might add...) then GM should have been able to.

I love the car....BUT, unfortunately I would never buy a Solstice because of this factor. What's the point of buying a car I can never take on any sort of overnight trip...? OR, can't even drive around town running errands because there's nowhere to put anything?

The Miata has decent trunk space.....

The Z4 has decent trunk space (maybe more expensive, but still a small convertible).....

The Corvette has decent trunk space.....

The Solstice (and SKY) are rendered unusable for most overnight trips....especially if you want to drive it with the top down (where luggage capacity goes to about zero.)

IF that still suits you, then fine....you have an inexpensive roadster you can buy that's world-class in most other areas....BUT....the lack of space will be a MAJOR factor in the sale of this vehicle for most people.

That IS a fact...
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This guy is a moron. When I drove the Solstice the shifts were as smooth as I could get them. It was a bit tricky nailing the shifts down at first, however that's due to my rust in the manual department. It's been quite sometime since I've driven a manual. The vehicle is a star and a hit. The media just can't get enough GM bashing out there.
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I'm sorry....IMHO, that "excuse" is complete crap....and smacks of trying to make excuses for GM's lack of insight in this area....

See the above posters that agree with me.....if Mazda can design and execute a tiny roadster that has a more-than-adequate trunk (WITH the top DOWN I might add...) then GM should have been able to.

I love the car....BUT, unfortunately I would never buy a Solstice because of this factor.  What's the point of buying a car I can never take on any sort of overnight trip...?  OR, can't even drive around town running errands because there's nowhere to put anything?

The Miata has decent trunk space.....

The Z4 has decent trunk space (maybe more expensive, but still a small convertible).....

The Corvette has decent trunk space.....

The Solstice (and SKY) are rendered unusable for most overnight trips....especially if you want to drive it with the top down (where luggage capacity goes to about zero.)

IF that still suits you, then fine....you have an inexpensive roadster you can buy that's world-class in most other areas....BUT....the lack of space will be a MAJOR factor in the sale of this vehicle for most people.

That IS a fact...

[post="5960"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


If you're worried about trunk space, you shouldn't even be buying a roadster. Same as if you're worried about fuel economy, you shouldn't buy an SUV. It's common sense. You whining about the lack of trunk space on roadster is like whining that it doesn't have enough space for 4 people. It's a roadster. You don't deserve to have one if you must whine about that crap :rolleyes:

Anyways... The Miata has it, the Solstice doesn't. It looks like it too... The Solstice has a much tighter body. The Miata is for.. secretaries and the Solstice is for enthusiasts. That is obvious. Secretaries whine about stupid things and enthusiasts enjoy its abilities. Simple. Will it hurt sales, probably. But I, for one, would rather it be sold to people who will enjoy it, not whine about it.

Complete crap? Nah...
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I live in Toronto, have a daily subscription to the Toronto Star, and avoid reading the WHEEL section (where the article was front page) since they are anti GM biased, as well have no concept of what a good vehicle is. You slap on a Toyota badge or Honda, they do cartwheels. If its GM, well, nice try GM but aint good enough.... As someone said above, Kenzie is an old sloppy man who writing skills are on par as his dress code. Rand.
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I love how they draw out how tedious putting up the solstice top is ... god forbid you have to stop. Then they mention with the Miata you can just "reach back." We'll I don't know who these people think they are if they can just "reach back" at 30 mph and put the top up w/ their hands. Call me crazy but I think they are going to "have to stop" regardless. Idiots!
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I so want a Sky. Here's hoping they shrink the trunk hump in a few years. I couldn't imagine spending that dough then leaving it at home and going up north in something bland as a sedan because I can't fit food and supplies for 2 for a 3 day weekend in the trunk.
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Yeah, I'd love to see how well things would go if someone tried putting the top either up or down while going 30 MPH. Hmmm, maybe they think its a speed brake system.....
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Are there any other convertibles out there that require you to get out of the car to put the top up or down? Every one I've been in we could close or open it while rolling at parking lot speeds.
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Road and Track said the transmission was perfect, so this review is BS.

[post="6145"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


"road and track has no cred, silly"
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Yes...that is a big dissapointment..one of joys of sports car ownership is the weekend getaway with the GF/SO/wife... my girlfriend & I love taking late spring/summer/fall weekend getaways to the mountains (Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, etc), and usually take my M3 or her 330Ci convertible...lots of fun driving up in the mountains with the top down...3-series have enough trunk space for a couples' soft luggage.    If we go up in the mountains to do mountain biking, though, we take my Grand Cherokee or her Wrangler to haul the bikes....

Then again, GM built Corvettes for decades without useful trunk space, so maybe the lack of trunk space won't hurt sales much.. the 5-speed was dissapointing, though (why not a 6-speed manual?)

[post="5574"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


I guess that the Mercedes SLK will not make it then due to the fact it has virually no truck space with the top down.

It is not fair to compare a 3 series BMW that sets four with a two seater convertible.

I have not seen the trunk of the Solstice. But I owned an MX5 and it was easy to pack a spare pair of clothes and a tooth brush for a week end away and I imagine the Solstice will allow this also.
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