107.6 cubic feet! That's almost twice as much as in my SUV with the seats DOWN! The 3.8 litres must refer to the glove box, though. :glol:if a weekend trip is on the agenda. Space is limited to just 3.8 litres (107.6 cubic feet) with the top upright and out of the way. Drop it and... well... enough said.
The General's Getting Oh-So Sexy
Let's get one thing straight. I really like this car. I like its styling. I like its overall driving dynamics. I like its entry-level to full-load price range. And I especially like the fact that it comes from a brand that some prognosticating naysayers had previously left for dead.
Pontiac, rather, is realizing a bit of a brand revolution as of late. While its top-tier Bonneville might not be as competitive as it once was, the recently upgraded Grand Prix is much improved and wonderfully aggressive in V8-powered, toggle-shift actuated GXP trim. The new G6 is as roomy as anything in its segment, quite well finished inside, surprisingly economical, and now available in a stylish coupe configuration only to be followed up by an even more enticing retractable hardtop version. The baseline Pursuit, a rebadged version of the Chevrolet Cobalt, is smooth and quiet, unusual for its compact class, and Pontiac's subcompact entry is literally making "waves" among small car buyers. Pontiac even has a new crossover SUV in the Equinox-derived Torrent, and rumblings of a next-generation GTO coming north of the 49th have got "We Build Excitement" enthusiasts salivating at the mouth.
GTO or not, Pontiac's latest offering is probably more suited to Canada's fuel conscious and environmentally focused consumer than the 400-horsepower V8-equipped coupe. After all, while the big rear-drive Australian-built two-door might seat more passengers, in theory at least, most personal coupe buyers never use the back seats, making the much prettier Solstice the self aggrandizing vehicle of choice.
Pontiac invited the Canadian automotive media establishment to take part in a ride and drive event in and around the hot, sunny, desert-like locale of Kelowna, BC, the centerpiece of that westernmost province's rich, fertile, wine soaked and Ginseng rooted Okanagan region. Ironically the hotel chosen was right next door to one which hosted many such journalists the week prior, during the 2006 Mazda Miata, or should I say MX-5 press launch.
Why bring up the now legendary Mazda? As if I need to explain myself. Since the bargain-basement drop-top debuted in 1989, and by so doing ignited what has commonly been referred to since as the "roadster renaissance", it had enjoyed a rather open field in the entry-level category. Only Toyota's final-generation MR2, only available in the U.S., put up much of a fight. Mercury's ill-fated Australian-made, front-drive Capri (also only available south of the border), was a hapless also-ran that found a smattering of tasteless owners, offence intended, while both Honda and Nissan have brought roadsters to market but at base prices well north of Mazda's entry, even when the Miata was fully loaded in "Speed" guise.
Getting back to the MR2, I also find it ironic that in the very same year that it has been pronounced officially dead in the U.S. market, the only company to put up a fight against the original Toyota wedge is now back in the compact sports car market. And by all intents and purposes, the Solstice looks to woo more buyers and hopefully enjoy a longer tenure than the mid-engine Fiero ever could have even if Pontiac had kept it in production.
Once again I'm back to my unabashed Solstice fawning. Yes, I know such banter is rather pathetic, but what kind of response do you expect from a self-proclaimed sports car enthusiast who happens to make his living writing about four-wheeled conveyances. What I wasn't expecting, mind you, was how good the Solstice's four wheels would feel on the road.
My first thoughts were how un-sports-car-like the ride is. Now don't get me wrong, I have no complaints about handling, a topic that I'll address in a moment, but I wasn't prepared to enjoy myself as much as I did in the passenger's seat. Normally, riding shotgun in a sports car is akin to enduring turbulence in a Piper Cub, hardly endearing. Most automakers opt for aggressively taut chassis tuning, which often includes rigid spring settings, limited wheel travel, ultra-low-profile tire sidewalls, etc, making the car look as if prepped for an import tuner sound-off show and ride like a Mormon handcart crossing the Rockies. Not so for the Solstice. Rather, due to a sophisticated short-long arm independent suspension system, front and rear, plus Bilstein coil-over monotube shocks at each wheel, it rides comfortably, with enough suspension travel for soaking up road irregularities with grace, even when under pressure.
And to that end Pontiac's little roadster doesn't let its pampering ride quality interfere with road-hugging handling. Again I was surprised. Not because I found it difficult to believe that "amazingly" GM could deliver a drivers' car to rival the imports, but because its team of engineers not only found a way for its upstart two-seater to master tight, circuitous roadways, also thanks to its near 50:50 weight distribution, fast-ratio power-assisted rack and pinion steering setup and standard 18-inch aluminum wheels and P245/45R18 Goodyear Eagle RSA all-season performance tires, yet once again, to also do so in such a refined, mature manner.
And maturity in mind, despite the TV, print and online ads that are targeting young, self-absorbed single adults, Pontiac will find many Solstice buyers in the above 55 crowd, a demographic that doesn't want to get beat up by some overzealous engineer's chassis tuning project while on the way to the cottage.
That crowd may have something to say about the Solstice's lack of storage space, mind you - as will the younger set. Pontiac would be smart to offer standard contoured luggage, especially designed to fit into the rather oddly shaped confines of its sports car's trunk. Due to a mid-mounted fuel tank, which juts upward into what would otherwise be an accommodating cargo area, plus the need to stow the fabric top under the decklid, you'll need to get creative if a weekend trip is on the agenda. Space is limited to just 3.8 litres (107.6 cubic feet) with the top upright and out of the way. Drop it and... well... enough said.
On the positive, the clamshell trunk nullifies the need for an awkward, clumsy tonneau cover, the likes of Toyota's Solara convertible or even more cumbersome, Volkswagen's New Beetle Convertible. Simply raise the rear decklid and plop the ragtop out of sight, lower the decklid and you're off to the races. That said, you need to get out of the car to do this, which makes dropping the top at a stoplight out of the question. The MX-5's top, for instance, is much easier to stow away and raise up again, only requiring one hand/arm combination and a little muscle while sitting in the car to do either job.
And racing was what it felt like during my daylong sojourn with retired Le Mans, Sebring, etc, Porsche pilot turned automotive journalist-TV personality Jacques Bienvenue. Before I get him in trouble with the law for breaking any speed limits, I should mention that when I refer to "racing" per se, Jacques admits to having no need to prove himself at the wheel of a car anymore, but rather he took to the road in a careful, conscientious manner, eclipsing each apex with the smooth professionalism of a motorsport veteran. It would be difficult to find a more congenial travel companion, and one who could offer looks anywhere near as kind and sympathetic when my driving line resulted in a less than ideal corner exit. To defend myself, I'm a pretty good driver overall, having been trained by some of the world's best and on a number of top-tier racetracks. But comparing myself to someone like Jacques is akin to believing I'm ready to practice open heart surgery due to my skills carving the turkey before twice-yearly Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. I simply haven't enjoyed enough seat time on a racetrack, case closed.
Why all this talk about my co-driver? Normally I only bring up my drive partner if he or she scares the ruddy daylights out of me (see 2005 Ford Mustang Road Test), but in the case of Jacques I'm relying on his skills as a driver and experience as an automotive critic to relay a comparison between the Solstice and the MX-5. So, to try and tidy up an extremely long personal introduction and in no way attempt to put words in his mouth, Jacques was as impressed with the Solstice's nimble balance as I was. He even intimated that, due to its more compliant ride and forgiving nature when pushed through the corners, the Solstice was more palatable to his driving style. I'll have to reserve judgment until after I've taken the new MX-5 for a spin, as I was double booked for events and therefore chose to send our ever-cheery Alexandra Straub on the Mazda event.
As I've taken a great deal of time talking about ride quality and handling prowess, I'll try to be brief with regards to the car's powertrain. This will be difficult, mind you, as its engine (yes, there's only one being offered at this time) is anything but boring. I suppose if you just look at the specs it isn't necessarily overtly special, what with 177-horsepower at 6,600 rpm, 166 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm, dual-overhead cams, sixteen valves and 2.4 litres of displacement at its disposal. But to leave it there wouldn't be fair, as GM's engineers, who have paid a great deal of attention to making this engine as smooth and refined as possible, yet endowed it with a sports car's snarling authority when the throttle gets blipped, deserve a heck of a lot of credit.
This 2.4-litre mill has received the same attention to detail that all of GM's Ecotec four-cylinder engines have enjoyed, in particular upgrades to reduce noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels, immediately noticeable during hard acceleration. Incidentally, its pistons feature a polymer coating and skirt design to reduce noise during cold startup, while a new, two-layer acoustic engine cover has been added, which reduces noise. Then twin counter-rotating balance shafts were added to smooth out the inherent roughness any four-cylinder produces, as well as an electronic throttle control, a low-friction roller-finger follower valvetrain with hydraulic lash adjusters, low-maintenance chain-driven camshafts, direct-mount accessories, that latter to reduce or eliminate traditional sources of noise and vibration, a full-circle transmission mount to reduce NVH, GM's Oil Life System, to reduce the frequency of oil changes, a cast-in oil filter housing, which eliminates the need to crawl under the Solstice to perform routine oil changes while, even more important to some, landfills will never receive another throwaway oil filter can from your car. GM also positioned a catalytic converter next to the exhaust manifold to accelerate catalyst "light off," reducing hydrocarbon emissions. Yeah, this technical material is hardly lightweight rambling but it needs to be said if only to show that Asia and Europe aren't the only continents building sophisticated four-cylinder engines these days.
If I have to find a negative about the engine, it's possibly a tad noisy when pushed to the rev limited redline, but being a sports car this is hardly a problem that would concern most owners. What I found must more to its credit was a rev limiter that holds the line without cutting out or getting choppy. Few cars, deliver such sporting behaviour.
The standard short-throw five-speed manual transmission (made by Aisin which is a Toyota-owned Japanese brand that incidentally also provides six-speed automatic transmissions to Ford, Mazda and others) mates up to the engine nicely, offering fairly smooth gear changes with some "notchiness" when being coaxed into fifth. Its intervals are nicely suited to the engine's powerband though, allowing quick acceleration by optimizing the engine's sweet spot between shift intervals. Its fifth and final gear felt a bit too tall, however, making for sluggish acceleration unless dropped down a cog or two, but what might be more important to those using their Solstice for commuting purposes, the lanky fifth gear enhances the car's fuel economy, which can only be a good thing these days. Also positive, the placement of the three foot pedals is ideal for the "heal-toe" technique, preferred by many experienced drivers. By the way, a five-speed automatic transmission will become available later this year for those who'd rather do less work.
The car's chassis is also unique, in that it ushers in a frame hydroforming process that uses water at high pressure to bend steel tubes into shape, replacing the costlier stamping technique. The overall structural rigidity brought about by this method is why Pontiac can deliver such a compliant ride without sacrificing performance.
But it's not perfect. While I've already harped on and on about its diminutive cargo capacity, there are other items that could be improved. For one, the interior door latch won't open without turning around awkwardly and unlocking the door knob. Normally the first time you tug a car's door latch it unlocks the door, and the second time it opens it. This proved more annoying as the test day progressed. Also, the clamshell trunk lid doesn't stay open when the car is on a downward incline. There's no notch to keep it in place, or prop to hold it up.
I liked the interior design though, and was relatively impressed with its build quality. Why do I say relatively impressed? Well, I think that some imports still do a better job when it comes to plastics quality and overall fit and finish, but this said keep in mind that the version I spent the day with was a preproduction model that should have improved now that saleable versions are on the road. What impressed me, mind you, were the extremely well-designed and high-quality centre stack controls, which include an easy-to-operate audio interface and equally simple heating and ventilation system functionality. The chrome-rimmed circular air vents are also well engineered for ample aeration while looking appropriately sporty, and they feel solidly built and therefore suitable to hard use over many years of operation.
The roadster's seats are firm, supportive and comfortable, mind you, and while they integrate nifty little storage compartments into their backsides, they could use a little more lateral support. Pontiac will offer sportier versions of the Solstice which should address this issue, plus will most likely offer a six-speed manual transmission, a version of GM's turbocharged Ecotec four-cylinder if not a small-block V8 (OK, that last item is pure speculation "substantiated" by the Internet message board rumour mill, but it's fun to dream), racier suspension tuning and more aggressive wheel and tire options - although I can't see any reason why the car's standard 18-inch alloy rims and low-profile shoes wouldn't suffice.
Other standard Solstice features include a leather-wrapped shift knob, a rake adjustable steering wheel, a glass rear
window with integrated defogger, twin dual-stage frontal airbags, a decent six-speaker AM/FM/single-CD audio system, and three cupholders - which make about as much sense as the eight golf bags that can fit into a five-passenger Ford Five Hundred's trunk.
Optional are three trim packages, the first being the Power Package, which as the name implies adds power locks, mirrors and windows, plus remote keyless entry. A Convenience Package ups the ante with cruise control, a handy driver information centre, and fog lamps. And for the open-top hedonists in the crowd, a Premium Package includes leather seating surfaces, in either Ebony or Steel/Sand two-tone, plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel to match that previously mentioned hide covered shift knob, and steering wheel-mounted audio controls.
Those wanting more can order stand alone options such as a limited slip differential, air conditioning, carpeted floor mats, an upgraded MP3 compatible single-CD stereo head unit, the same audio upgrade with the addition of a six-disc in-dash changer, or a 7-speaker system developed by Monsoon. XM satellite radio is also available, as is GM's fabulous OnStar system - the latter which also includes a pretty slick hands-free voice recognition program.
Top-tier antilock brakes with dynamic rear proportioning can be had for a little extra financial commitment, which might be a good idea considering the high velocities this little roadster is capable of. Also, the four standard discs are large, at 297 mm (11.7 inches) up front and 277 mm (10.9 inches) in the rear, with a total swept area of 1,570 (243) and 1,221 mm (189 inches) front and rear respectively. I found them smooth and progressive, clamping down quickly when called upon and maintaining stable, controlled stops right down to standstill. Of course, I was blessed with dry weather all day long, so its entirely possible slippery conditions could upset the lightweight sports car.
The passenger compartment is also quite roomy, easily accommodating the larger, taller journalists among the group even when the roof was raised. And Jacques and I did put the roof in its place despite the blistering sunshine. After all, how else could I report on its airtight, wind-cheating characteristics? I can't report whether or not it will keep water from seeping in through the seals, something the previous Miata had trouble combating while in a touchless carwash at least, and I'm unsure if water comes pouring into the cabin onto the driver and passenger's outside leg when seated inside for the first time after rainfall - the Miata performed this annoying habit too. But the Solstice's ability to keep air from entering the cabin at high-speed makes me feel confident that it won't cause its owner and significant other to suffer such an undignified experience - what could be worse than attempting to arrive in style albeit for a wet crotch?
And if that last note doesn't sum it up I don't know what could. All said and done the Solstice is a superb little sports car. It exhilarates when called upon but won't make you pay with back pain from the daily commute. And during that daily run around you won't be sweating about the rising price of gasoline, at least not as much as those with full-size sedans, SUVs and even pricier six-cylinder powered roadsters. The Solstice is pretty thrifty, managing 11.8 L/100 km in the city, 8.4 on the highway, and 10.2 when city and highway ratings are combined. It's no Honda Insight, for sure, but it doesn't look like a thirty year old Citroen either.
And that last point will sell more Solstices than any other; it looks fabulous. Its low, bisected grille (that unfortunately gets marred when tacking on the requisite - in my jurisdiction - front license plate) is large enough to be intimidating, although with nice, friendly detailing, complimented by equally high-brow vertical headlamp clusters. But rather than angled like those on a Cadillac, these feature classically rounded edges, mirroring the car's gracefully sculpted hood, deep set ovoid fog lamps and ideally proportioned, only slightly flared wheel arches.
I can't decide which colour I like best, but fortunately there are seven to choose from with oh-so-creative names, including Aggressive (red), Cool (silver), Deep (blue), Envious (green), Mysterious (black), Pure (white), and Sly (gray). I found myself torn between Deep and Mysterious due to constant dark brooding thoughts, ever plagued by an Aggressive nature. I wished I could have found Pure more enticing, and have to admit to being a bit bored with Cool, but now that I've started to see Solstices zipping about local roads I suppose I'm a bit Envious of those Sly enough to have picked up early examples... but I digress into extreme silliness.
The car's bustled rear decklid, sporting twin "bi-posto" bulges that mimic sports cars of the distant past, looks sensational in any The Solstice's bustled rear decklid, sporting twin "bi-posto" bulges that mimic sports cars of the distant past, looks sensational in any colour.
colour. Overall the car boasts an aggressive stance, animalistic in nature, and one that should appeal to those bored of the roadster status quo.
And that last point might be what makes the Solstice, which is obviously a niche model that was designed from the onset to have limited appeal, so important to Pontiac. It represents a turning point for the brand, and shows its current owners, potential customers (and there will be many new Solstice buyers that had never previously considered purchasing a Pontiac), dealers and media types that Pontiac is out to prove it has a place in today's ruthlessly competitive automotive segment. And if the domestic brand can follow up with mainstream models as enticing as this little roadster, its future will be bright indeed.
On a purely Canadian note, the immediate future for this particular sports car is also rosy, with forty percent of those who initially went to the www.pontiacsolstice.ca website having never considered a Pontiac product before, a tally that resulted in significant preorders. The domestic brand has certainly tapped into a market segment that has had little choice for far too long, and due to delivering an impressive product should continue to find enthusiastic new buyers for years to come.
Yeah, that's funny... just a little slip. Should be 3.8 ft^3 and 107.6 liters for those who don't get it.Matt123 said:Space is limited to just 3.8 litres (107.6 cubic feet) with the top upright and out of the way.
They should invest in an editor that can do simple math. 105 ft3 of storage eh? Must be the Harry Potter Limited Edition Solstice that has a magically enchanted trunk. :lol:
I hope you were being facetious. I think I see where your logic MAY have come from... but it is still flawed. maybe you were thinking that a meter is a little over 3 feet? And therefore 1.07 meters is about 3.8 feet? HOWEVER, 1 liter is not a cubic meter, and furthermore a cubic meter is over 30 (no decimal point) cubic feet. Those who understand the metric system understand that volumes can be expressed in liters OR cubic meters, but those figures are far from interchangeable.druid-2 said:it's a misplaced decimal point you noodle heads
1.07 is the correct answer for those who understand the metric system
I haven't read any negative reviews of the Miata. They have all been very positive. There are some that knock the looks, for obvious reasons. But I haven't found one review that hasn't praised the Miata quite highly.bitchindude said:Also interestingly, I don't see this same phenomena with the new Miata. The reviews have been good, but not great. Or maybe that's my impression because I am not thrilled by the car.
I disagree with your opinion here. Adapting the Vauxhall design for Saturn was brilliant, IMHO. There is a rabid following by many who love the looks of the Saturn but really are turned off by the looks of the Solstice. Like you, I think the Solstice is the classic design that will endure and never grow old. But I think the Sky will always have its fans.bitchindude said:I think the Sky will be a somewhat fadish also-ran, sorry to say.
The '63 vette had some Italian design cues, which was unsual for an American car at the time and the design still holds up. Similarly, the Solstice has a European look to it -- a sort of a '55 Porsche 550 Spyder, all grown up.jimbo said:I don't think it is fadish at all, but different in its design appeal. The 1963 Corvette was not exactly a classic curvy design, but it has held up extremely well due to its unique beauty. I don't see the Sky in the same way, but Sky fans just might. If the Solstice didn't exist, I would be more than pleased to own a Sky - a great looking car in its own right.