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Autoweek reviews the Solstice

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What a Concept: Solstice gives Pontiac—and GM—a much needed shot in the arm

ROGER HART
Published Date: 8/29/05

2006 PONTIAC SOLSTICE
ON SALE: Now
BASE PRICE: $19,995
POWERTRAIN: 2.4-liter, 177-hp, 166-lb-ft I4; rwd, five-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT: 2860 lbs
0 TO 60 MPH: 7.2 seconds (est.)
FUEL MILEAGE (EPA COMBINED): 23.6 mpg

Ever since it was revealed at the 2002 Detroit show, the Pontiac Solstice has been more than just a car for General Motors. Brainchild of GM’s then-new product czar Bob Lutz, the two-seater became an experiment for how quickly the automotive giant could conceive a car that would ignite the public’s interest, and then bring it to market.

Shortly after the show car was given the green light for production, the Solstice became the project everyone within GM was looking at. To everyone’s best recollection—and despite a well-publicized delay late in the process— this is the quickest GM has moved from approval to production.

In concept form Solstice promised a lot of fun and sportiness. With a Lutz-mandated, etched-in-stone, read-my-lips base price of $19,995, well, many doubted the promise could be delivered for the price. More than one GM engineer noted the “F-word,” meaning Fiero, still echoed in the halls at GM. The budget two-seat Pontiac Fiero of the 1980s had a sporty shape that promised a spirited ride, but it didn’t deliver until after the car had been killed by the company.

But Fiero didn’t have Lutz— the Solstice team’s trump card and spiritual father.

“There were a lot of times the accountants would look at something I wanted in this car and tell me I could get a similar piece cheaper,” says vehicle line director Darren Post. “I’d tell them we tried that and the cheaper one wasn’t as good, and if they wanted to call Bob [Lutz] I had his number on my cellphone speed dial. I always got the parts I wanted.”

While Lutz, now GM’s vice chairman for global product development, has had a hand in several other GM cars since his arrival at the company, Solstice is really the first car developed entirely under his watch.

“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to build an affordable two-seat roadster,” Lutz said.

In September 2001, just 15 weeks before the auto show, Lutz wanted a show car for Pontiac, and he staged a sketch-off among GM stylists that was won by designer Franz von Holzhausen from GM’s California studio (von Holzhausen has since left
GM for Mazda). Solstice has been a fast-track project from the outset.

“Our goal here was not to duplicate an [Honda] S2000 or [BMW] Z3,” says Lutz. “Little would be gained in making another $30,000-to-$40,000 roadster.”

But that didn’t mean the Solstice couldn’t ride and handle like those more expensive cars.

“While everyone will compare the Solstice with the Miata,” says chassis engineer Steve Padilla, the man who has logged more miles behind the wheel of Solstices than anyone else, “the ride dynamics we were shooting for were more like the S2000, only a bit less twitchy.”

Delivering on the car’s sporty looks has been the target of everyone working on the project. Solstice is the first car built on GM’s Kappa small-car rear-drive platform, and because it is being done in relatively small volume (the Saturn Sky, Solstice’s platform sister, will debut next year), the chassis is mostly hand-welded.

Engineers raided the corporate parts bin to speed up the gestation period. Everything from SUVs to midsize sedans contributed components, and while the end result could have been a nightmare, it works.

Solstice’s heart is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder Ecotec positioned north-south for the first time. The aluminum engine with overhead cams and four valves per cylinder—mounted transversely in front-drive cars such as the 2006 Chevy HHR—makes 177 hp at 6600 rpm and 166 lb-ft at 4800 rpm in the Solstice. Down low, the engine has good pull—a couple of 4500-rpm drop-the-clutch launches proved that, as well as producing some tire smoke—and the exhaust note is tuned for a throaty growl. We will always take more power, especially in a car that looks like this, but we are not disappointed with the Solstice’s performance.

GM officials are tight-lipped about offering a Solstice with more punch, but insiders confirm a more potent, turbo­charged or supercharged model will be offered later.

The Ecotec mates to a five-speed manual gearbox that operates with nice short throws. Its action is not lightning-quick, like that on the S2000 for example, but it is tight, and engagement is crisp. The clutch takeup on the cars we drove was just perfect, and the brake and throttle pedals are position­ed for heel-and-toe downshifts. An automatic will be offered early next year.

Unlike Mazda, which offers a six-speed manual on the Miata, GM makes only a five-speed manual for Solstice.

“A six-speed looks good on paper,” says Post, “but in this car it would just be overkill. We tried it, and it made no difference to the performance of the car. In fact, it just made you shift more, and it wasn’t any quicker 0 to 60.”

We did notice some mild driveline lash, which Post says his team is working to correct.

Our test drive included some city driving, freeway stints and long stretches of tight, twisty two-lane roads under sunny skies—perfect roadster weather. While there are a lot of things we like about the Solstice— its looks and price at the top of the list—after several hours in the saddle we came away most impressed with the car’s ride and handling. We were left wanting just one thing: more seat time.

Solstice rides on standard 18-inch aluminum wheels fitted with P245/45 Goodyear Eagle all-season tires. With four-wheel independent short/long-arm suspension, the ride is firmer than that in the new Miata we sampled about a week later. Yet at no point did we perceive the Pontiac’s ride as harsh. The chassis feels rock-solid, with no unwanted vibrations or cowl shake. At freeway speeds the car has a solid, boulevard-cruiser feel, but spot an opening in traffic and you can slot into it with go-kart quickness. The steering action is quick, but not so darty as to change lanes on you if you sneeze. In a car full of pluses, the responsive steering is a delight.

On a closed stretch of hilly switchback road we pushed the car as hard as we would have on a racetrack, and its road manners impressed. The balance is far more neutral than we expected, with the rear end only wanting to step out when you near the limit. That can be credited some to the car’s 52/48 front/rear weight balance, and the big tires gripping the road. The four-wheel disc brakes—11.7 inches up front, 10.9 inches in the rear—did everything we asked of them without complaint. Several hard runs couldn’t bring about any sense of fade. After a couple of runs up and down the hill, there were grins all around, especially on the face of Lutz.

We started our test with the car’s top down. Without a doubt, the Solstice looks much better with the roof stored below the rear deck so its clean, rounded lines are undisturbed by the manually folding cloth top. At freeway speeds, top down, there is a bit of wind buffeting, but you can still easily carry on a conversation with the passenger.

As the day wore on and the temperatures rose toward triple-digits, we gave up style for comfort, raised the top and switched on the air conditioning. The top, fitted with a glass window with standard rear defroster, can easily be handled by one person. It is not as simple as a Miata top, because you need to get out of the car and open the decklid to operate it.

Top up, there’s enough cargo space to hold a couple of pieces of luggage, enough for two people for a long weekend. But with the top stowed, storage space is at a premium. And whatever is stored had better be soft-sided in order to conform to the cramped space. Pontiac officials boasted about getting two sets of golf clubs in there, and they did, but they were the smallest golf bags we ever saw. If you’re planning a golf trip, we’d suggest shipping your clubs—and maybe some luggage—to your destination.

The cockpit is simple and functional. All controls are straightforward. Materials look and feel nice, and the panels fit well. The manual seats are supportive and have decent side bolstering. There is enough leg-room, even for drivers taller than six feet.

At 2860 pounds, Solstice is 300 pounds heavier than the Miata, but it has a bigger interior and a bit more horsepower. Pontiac is said to be working on what might be dubbed a track model, stripped of all sound-deadening, air conditioning and other weight additives.

Lutz also hinted a removable hardtop for the roadster could be available soon and a coupe version is being considered (both roadster and coupe concepts were shown at the car’s 2002 debut), in part because there are some racing classes in which the Solstice could compete that require an enclosed cockpit.

At 20,000 or 30,000 cars annually, Solstice won’t do a tremendous amount for GM’s bottom line. But with 10,000 orders in hand before the first production car rolled off the Wilmington, Delaware, assembly line, the Solstice seems to signal an attitude shift not only inside the company, but also by its customers. A production car nearly identical to its concept that hits the market just a few years after inception at the announced price. What a concept indeed.

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Full gallery: http://www.autoweek.com/files/specials/gal...ce/pages/01.htm
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<single tear rolls slowly down cheek>
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Wow, that's excellent photography.

[post="6095"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]



Yeah, I love the driving-across-a-bridge photo...looks great in read (and I usually don't like red)...and the green...wow..
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I got the new Car & Driver and Road & Track in the mail today..both have Solstice test drive articles.....the Solstice is on the cover of R&T and C&D has a Solstice vs. MX-5 article also.. Edited by moltar
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I wish they could make that top more taut.....it's too wrinkled....and it seems like all the Solstices have that characteristic.

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That sea of gray plastic is a little scary, though.
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"(IMG:http://www.autoweek.com/files/specials/galleries/solstice/images/11.jpg)" whats up with the passenger seat on this one? is that like a wind deflector to help with milage if you are just by urself?
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it just looks so damn good in these pictures. This review is perfect too. Sounds like an incredible car.
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While the Solstice is almost identical to the concept, it's sad that GM didn't do the same thing with the G6, the concept was so nice.
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"(IMG:http://www.autoweek.com/files/specials/galleries/solstice/images/11.jpg)"
whats up with the passenger seat on this one? is that like a wind deflector to help with milage if you are just by urself?

[post="6516"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


I'm guessing it's either so that you don't have to put the top in the trunk if you're alone or so you can haul more stuff in the trunk if you're going to the grocery store or something.
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While the Solstice is almost identical to the concept, it's sad that GM didn't do the same thing with the G6, the concept was so nice.

[post="6632"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


Very true, that G6 concept was so incredible. It is too bad they didn't capture that like they did with the beautiful Solstice.
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awesome car (no duh), but why have I not seen any in So Cal? Have they not shipped yet, or is it because there aren't that many?
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I wish they could make that top more taut.....it's too wrinkled....and it seems like all the Solstices have that characteristic.

Posted Image

[post="6181"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


same goes for the interior...look at the seat in the first interior shot...you can also see it a bit in the second interior shot...
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awesome car (no duh), but why have I not seen any in So Cal?  Have they not shipped yet, or is it because there aren't that many?

[post="7214"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]



GM has been very slow to ship them out. Less than 100 have been delivered across the country and most of those are in the middle and eastern parts of the country (the cars are coming from Deleware).

I am still waiting to find out what Vin # my First 1000 Solstice will have.

Some reliable sources have said that all of the 1st 1000 Solstices will be built by the end of this week and they will start large shipments on Sept. 6th.

Many solstice owners are getting really frustrated will GM and the lack of quickness in shipping the Solstices. Check out solsticeforum.com for more info.
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I got the new Car & Driver and Road & Track in the mail today..both have Solstice test drive articles.....the Solstice is on the cover of R&T and C&D has a Solstice vs. MX-5 article also..

[post="6144"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]



Can't wait to see C&D destroy the Solstice... :rolleyes: <_< :angry:
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Can't wait to see C&D destroy the Solstice... :rolleyes:  <_<  :angry:

[post="7850"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]



:rolleyes: <_< :angry:

The Solstice wins.
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