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Here's a new review published 9/19...

Solstice sizzles for Pontiac

September 19, 2005


American sports car fans have been waiting for a car such as the Pontiac Solstice, which has sexy styling, cat-like handling and a low price.

The $19,420 Solstice was rushed to market after appearing as a popular 2002 auto show concept car and has become an instant hit -- something that troubled General Motors and its high-performance Pontiac division really need.

The Solstice is the first genuine sports car from Pontiac. It wanted to build such a car in the 1960s, but was shot down by GM because the corporation thought such an auto would steal sales from the Chevrolet Corvette.

GM had a bad habit of dropping promising two-seaters as soon as their design bugs had been eliminated. (Remember the Cadillac Allante and Pontiac Fiero?) But that was before the 2001 arrival of colorful car buff and seasoned auto executive Bob Lutz, who's now GM's vice president of global development.



Low list price. Racy styling. Decent acceleration. Sharp handling.

Scant cargo space. Just basically equipped. No spare tire. Likely price gouging.

The Solstice is Lutz's baby, and there were many doubters when he promised that it would be an attention-grabbing sports car with a list price of less than $20,000. A low-cost serious sports car long has been Lutz's dream.

Pontiac was able to introduce the car at $19,420 (not including a $575 freight charge) partly because it dipped into GM's global parts bin for such things as the engine/transmission, seats, mirrors, switches, controls, fog lamps and even back-up lights.

The parts came from GM vehicles ranging from sedans to sport-utility vehicles. But parts sharing is common in the industry to hold down costs, and everything works well together in the Solstice.

Power steering, adjustable steering column and an AM/FM/CD sound system are among standard items.

However, the Solstice doesn't come with standard air conditioning, cruise control, leather upholstery, anti-lock brakes, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, Onstar and XM satellite radio, polished alloy wheels, remote keyless entry or power windows, locks and mirrors.

Those are options and can raise the Solstice's price to more than $24,000. Not that a buyer really needs some, or any, of them. To true sports car buffs, they add complexity and performance-robbing weight, although it's hard to picture a car without, say, air conditioning during a Chicago summer like this one.

Dual front air bags are standard, but no side air bags or anti-skid system are offered.

The closest rival to the Solstice is Mazda's iconic Miata, which starts at $20,435 and ends at $26,700. The Miata arrived in 1989, with the latest version redesigned for 2006. (Ironically, Solstice show car designer Franz von Holzhausen from GM's California studio left GM for Mazda, a Ford Motor affiliate.)

The Solstice's styling is more rakish than the Miata's, with Pontiac's twin-honeycomb grille, sexy curves and two retro-style head fairings on the trunk lid that look as if from 1950s sports-racing cars.

I tested a bright red Solstice, which drew more stares than any car I've driven in a long time. It especially drew reactions with its top lowered in downtown Chicago during a weekday lunch hour. 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 new Kappa small-car, rear-drive platform and has a rigid, mostly hand-welded chassis. Pontiac says it will annually build only 20,000-30,000 Solstices, and hand-welding makes economic sense with such a relatively small number of cars.

The plusher, pretty, but less sporty Saturn Sky two-seat roadster that arrives next year will use the same rigid platform, which doesn't allow annoying convertible cowl shake.

The Solstice uses GM's 2.4-liter, dual-overhead-camshaft four-cylinder engine shared with the Chevrolet HHR. It's housed under a large hood that opens in clamshell fashion, as does the trunk. This aluminum 16-valve engine generates 177 horsepower and propels the fairly heavy 2,860-pound car to 60 mph in a reasonably quick 7.4 seconds if revved hard.

Only a five-speed manual gearbox is initially available, and you must shift a lot to get lively performance. GM said it found that a six-speed manual transmission -- used by the Miata -- didn't improve the Solstice's performance. A five-speed automatic transmission will be offered later in the 2006 model year.

The gearshift is a snap to use and helps make the car fun to drive, with fairly short, easy throws. It works with a light-effort clutch with only a moderately long throw. However, third and fourth gear must be used most of the time because overdrive fifth gear is strictly for highway use. Floor the accelerator in fifth gear at lower speeds and nothing much happens.

Estimated fuel economy is 20 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway. One might think the car would get a few more miles per gallon, but its weight and numerically high (for fast acceleration) 3.91:1 axle ratio work against higher fuel economy.

Some might feel the Solstice needs more power for fast highway passing, but Pontiac probably will introduce a supercharged or turbocharged version with more than 200 horsepower later next year. A coupe version also might surface, although a removable hard top probably will be offered first. (Convertible and coupe versions were at the show car's 2002 debut.)

Occupants sit very low in the Solstice, with elbows sticking up when placed over the sides of the 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 prevent a fair amount of wind rush from entering the car with the top own at even 45 mph.

One must get out of the Solstice to open the decklid to operate the manual top, which has a glass window and defroster. However, top operation is fairly simple and the top folds neatly into the clamshell rear deck area.

The steering is nearly perfect. It has excellent feel and is very quick, without being so fast that a sneeze almost puts the car in an adjoining lane.

A nearly 50-50 weight distribution, wide tires on large 18-inch wheels and sophisticated all-independent suspension with anti-sway bars give the Solstice nearly race-car reflexes. Quick lane changes can be done abruptly, with no tire squeal, body lean or instability. It's almost as if you're in a go-kart.

The Solstice also delivers a smooth ride for a two-seater with only a short 95.1-inch wheelbase, although rippled roads cause the ride to become a bit jittery. The brake pedal has a progressive action and stopping distances are short with the all-disc brakes.

The sporty looking, minimalist interior has decent room for two tall occupants but has some budget-grade materials. The "motorcycle-inspired'' gauges are deeply recessed and thus can be hard to read quickly.

The bucket seats are supportive but their controls should allow a larger range of comfort settings. Mostly large controls are easily reached. There are three cupholders, but little interior room for small items; the glove compartment is tiny, and there's a small, covered storage compartment between the seatbacks. Outside mirrors also should be larger.

Trunk space also is tight, especially with the top lowered, partly because a high fuel tank occupies the center of the cargo compartment. However, several soft duffel bags fit. There's no room for a spare tire, so the car has a "fix-a-flat'' can of spray sealant.

The Solstice comes in red, silver, blue, green, black, white and gray paint. The car is in great demand. So, whatever color, buyers should be prepared to pay a premium price.

Senior Member
5,600 Posts
It's almost as if you're in a go-kart.
That's what I want to hear, baby! :thumbs:

Thanks for the great post.
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