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Variance

Edmunds: Long-Term Test: 2006 Pontiac Solstice

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Introduction

By editors at Edmunds.com

Date posted: 04-03-2006

When the Pontiac Solstice first appeared at the 2002 North American International Auto Show we knew we had to include this gutsy little roadster in our long-term fleet. It was named our Most Significant Car of 2006 even though it lost after going mano a mano with the current champ in this class, the Mazda MX-5 Miata.

What is it about the Solstice that so quickens the pulse? Driving dynamics? Fuel economy? Practicality? A resounding "No" to all those questions. What seems to drive Solstice fever is summed up in this quote by one Edmunds.com executive who took the little ragtop for a weekend: "If I had an extra $20 grand lying around and I wanted a little roadster to run around town in, I'd probably buy one of these just for fun." In short, the Solstice will rarely be your only car. It will occupy the extra space in your three-car garage and, like a sundial, will only record the sunny hours.

The pint-size convertible seems to offer a sort of frivolous appeal with an equally small price tag (once the current feeding frenzy of over-sticker prices dies down). For around $20,000, the Solstice features a four-wheel independent suspension, standard 18-inch wheels and a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission. But if you want power windows, cruise control, or even air conditioning, you'll have to pay extra.

Our search to be the "first on our block" to own a Solstice lead to Desert Buick, GMC, Pontiac, in Las Vegas, Nevada. There, Lou Gordon, put our name on a deep-blue Solstice moving down the line in GM's assembly plant in Wilmington, Delaware. Since time was of the essence we were not in a strong negotiating position and agreed to pay $24,425, $2,000 over MSRP. However, reports of $8,000 over were circulating so we swallowed our pride and paid the markup.

Gordon patiently fielded our weekly check-in calls and one day we heard the words we were waiting for: "It's here." We drove up to Las Vegas from our Santa Monica, California, offices in the pouring rain. With Gordon's help we were in and out of the dealership in record time.

Senior Consumer Advice Editor Philip Reed was the first one behind the wheel and reported that he felt a bit vulnerable driving the little car in the rain. "I was envisioning a top-down, wind-in-my-hair drive through the desert," he wrote in the logbook. "Instead, I was hemmed in by 18-wheelers and SUVs. Obviously, I can't fault the Solstice for my reaction, but I was reminded that practicality is not part of the Solstice equation."

Mike Hudson, consumer advice editor, was more partial to the convertible. He reported, "You can't really enjoy this car until the top is down. Then it makes sense. Everything is better — even the engine sounds better. I like it." With this in mind, Phil drove it, top down, and found that Mike was right. The exhaust sounds throatier and the convertible experience — wind and flickering sunlight — overloads the senses and makes up for any other deficiencies.

Later, Phil got a chance to put the top down and pick up his son at school. Unfortunately, there was precious little room to fit his son's backpack anywhere in the trunk and there is no room anywhere else to stash it. Further, Phil reports that Pontiac designers were disappointingly unimaginative when creating the environment inside the car. Even the window buttons are hard to reach with your left hand. "Instead," he wrote, "you need to perfect a crossover maneuver with your right hand to reach the switch."

Inside Line Road Test Editor John DiPietro had a number of criticisms of the Solstice. "The engine makes good power, but suffers from what feels like a heavy flywheel. It revs up and down too slowly. It doesn't feel sporty." About the interior, John wrote: "The fuel gauge is ultrarecessed and hard to read in the daylight. There is no storage at all except the hard-to-access compartment between the seatbacks. There is no inside unlock button; you have to use the key fob or pull up on the knobs."

On the other hand, John loved the Solstice's athletic handling and the large, easy-to-use climate control knobs. About the exterior design he wrote that "the styling and proportions are perfect — not a wrong line here."

A check of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) Web site found four Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs).

So, with only 3,200 miles on the Solstice, we took it in to the dealer to look at the TSBs and the powertrain clunk. We went to Boulevard Buick Pontiac GMC in Signal Hill, California. The service advisor said he only showed one open TSB for our car based on its vehicle identification number (VIN). This involved torqueing down the engine harmonic balancer (which was not properly seated at the factory). We described a low-speed clunk we had heard in the drivetrain, and he agreed to check it out.

The advisor also recommended an oil change but we declined since, according to our information, only the severe maintenance schedule calls for an oil change at that mileage. Two hours later the service advisor told us the TSB was addressed and a safety check performed.

"The technician heard the clunk but he said he thought the noise was normal," our service advisor told us. We didn't feel completely confident with this assessment but we did accept it for the time being. The engine felt a little smoother to us with the engine harmonic balancer securely seated. So we agreed to keep our ear tuned to the transmission to see if the clunk got any worse.

Meanwhile, we continue to get envious looks from other motorists and people on the street who respond to just the same thing that hooked us in the first place: a great-looking little car. With the top down it has that catlike "coiled and ready to spring" look. Despite its shortcomings in other ways, that stylish design keeps our interest revving at an enthusiastic level.

Current Odometer: 3,281

Best Fuel Economy: 19.2 mpg

Worst Fuel Economy: 14.6 mpg

Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 16.5 mpg

Body Repair Costs: None

Maintenance Costs: None

Problems: Clunking in the drivetrain at low speeds.

Posted Image

Link: http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/Drive...42/pageId=67756

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March 2006 Update

After living with the 2006 Pontiac Solstice for four months now, we're starting to feel like we're walking in extremely attractive shoes that everyone compliments us on, but that hurt like heck to wear. The curvy convertible roadster is provocative enough to inspire whoops and whistles from passers-by, and it leaves its driver feeling gorgeous just to be associated with it. But in reality, our long-term two-seater's sluggish performance and small interior had us saving it for quick loops and errands rather than weekend getaways or Costco runs.

With its long nose, knockout curves and speedster looks, the Solstice never wanted for attention. "The car is a head-turner and conversation starter. I was amazed at the number of people pointing, waving and asking questions. Whether parked in the driveway or cruising with the top down, the Solstice is anything but discreet," said Vehicle Testing Assistant Mike Schmidt.

Senior Content Editor Erin Riches went so far as to call the Pontiac the "only GM car I've ever found beautiful." However, she conceded that she had "just got beaten by a Camry — and a four-cylinder at that — pulling away from a traffic light."

And that's the rub: When asked to be more than just a pretty face, the Solstice falls short. In a comparison test against a formidable opponent, the best-selling affordable sport roadster for the past 15 years, the Mazda MX-5 Miata, the MX-5 spanked the Solstice with its "true sports car" personality.

Executive Editor Scott Oldham wrote, "The Pontiac, although fast, just doesn't offer the same connection to the machine. It feels distant, more like a boulevard star than a true two-seat sports car."

The Pontiac's extra 350 pounds over the Miata likely contributed to its comparatively detached feeling. Even though the MX-5 had 170 horsepower versus the Solstice's 177 hp, the Pontiac was a bit slower off the line: 7.7 seconds zero to 60 vs. 7.5 for the MX-5.

Our long-term Solstice's best 0-60 at the test track was 7.8 seconds, with a 15.9-second quarter-mile. Not all that impressive for a car that looks so fast. But despite its tall gearing and its tendency to whine under light throttle, editors have remarked how fun it is to drive.

Erin said, "The car's suspension and tires really hold on during semi-hard cornering. As a result, the Solstice is easy to drive relatively fast and it never makes the driver feel stupid. It doesn't talk to you like a Miata but it behaves well enough to give its driver a sense of mastery — most GM cars don't do this, so the Solstice is really something special. But it's not a friend like the Miata."

Other editors shared this sentiment but were irritated by the car's small interior. Brent Romans, senior automotive editor, said, "The lack of interior storage is really annoying. I'm always having to put my stuff on the passenger seat. Which is fine unless someone else has to ride in the car."

Most regarded the tiny trunk as a novelty rather than something useful. "Hey, guess what? I just used the trunk. Top up because it was cold outside. I put three small bags of groceries in there," one editor enthused.

Do we hate this car because it's beautiful? If anything, its beauty, $20K price tag and top-down fun, help us see past its mediocre performance and usability shortcomings. Let's face it: The 2006 Pontiac Solstice was made for pleasure, not for the business of hauling groceries.

And with many other rides in our long-term program to fall back on, the Solstice should continue to be a fun supplement to the other more practical company cars.

Current Odometer: 7,045

Best Fuel Economy: 24.9 mpg

Worst Fuel Economy: 15.3 mpg

Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 21.7 mpg

Body Repair Costs: None

Maintenance Costs: None

Problems: None.

Posted Image

Link: http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/Drive...42/pageId=69333

Edited by Variance

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It's unfortunate it had the clunking noise, but I guess there are going to be some bugs in something that was rushed to market.

The GXP will address any performance problems, and probably under cut the MazdaSpeed MX-5 by quite a bit.

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Guest Josh

Senior Content Editor Erin Riches went so far as to call the Pontiac the "only GM car I've ever found beautiful." However, she conceded that she had "just got beaten by a Camry — and a four-cylinder at that — pulling away from a traffic light."

She obviously does not know how to drive a stick and for that I'd HATE to be her husband!

I've taken SRT-4's through 3rd (stop light to stop light) and it was a breeze.

Also, the clunking noise is just that, a noise. And I"m going to be honest, I hardly ever hear it because of the fantastic audio system in the Solstice makes me always turn the volume way up.

Nice counter there, 'eh? See It's easy to be biased. But no, the clunking is not bad at all and GM has already acknowledged it and has said there is no drivetrain loss regarding the noise.

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Quote: Senior Content Editor Erin Riches went so far as to call the Pontiac the "only GM car I've ever found beautiful." However, she conceded that she had "just got beaten by a Camry — and a four-cylinder at that — pulling away from a traffic light."

Okaaaaaaaaay! A Solstice that does well under 8 seconds 0-60 got beat by a Camry 4 banger that does 9.2 seconds to 60. Sounds like someone forgot how to drive a stick! I have never driven a single 4 cylinder Camry that impressed me with it's power. Even the 3.0 liter LE and XLE models don't feel particularly fast. And what pray are they doing to get such horrid around town fuel economy?

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Obviously, I can't fault the Solstice for my reaction, but I was reminded that practicality is not part of the Solstice equation."

So, you can't fault the Solstice; yet you just did?!?!?!

Other editors shared this sentiment but were irritated by the car's small interior. Brent Romans, senior automotive editor, said, "The lack of interior storage is really annoying. I'm always having to put my stuff on the passenger seat. Which is fine unless someone else has to ride in the car."

WHAT?!?! Do these guys carry a friggin' purse or something?!?!?! Jesus! GET OVER IT!!!!! IT'S A ROADSTER

Oh, and the reason the chick got beat by the Camry is probably because SHE CAN'T DRIVE!!!! A "TRAIT" she shares with MOST females!

(FOG looks to see if his G/F is anywhere near---for fear of being slapped)

Besides... her statement about NOT finding *any* GM cars beautiful SHOWS her bias... Ever hear of CLASSIC cars b*tch?!?!

As others have said... It's a pretty sad f-in' day when AUTOMOTIVE JOURNALISTS don't know how to effectively drive a stick. And that TOO could explain the fuel economy.... 10 MPG, tht's a HUGE DIFFERENCE.

Sometimes I think editors just dog the hell out of GM cars to try and get them to break, just so they can have a piece of news. EVIDENCE the "beat up" Lucerne CXL in EDmunds latest slander piece... OR the "beat up" Pontiac Torrent in Majeta's (I think he wrote it) article a few months ago.... And notice: these problems are only complained about in 1) divisions known for quality such as BUICK and 2) WEAK divisions such as Buick, Pontiac or Saab.

*** AND not ONE MENTION of the forthcoming GXP during all of the bitching about the driving experience!!!!*** You know, the one that is going to go BMW hunting and absolutely KILL the MX-5 (But it'll still win the Comparos on "FEEL" and SUBJECTIVE BULLSH*T) Gee, I wonder why?

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