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Motor Trend October 2005

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MOTOR TREND . . . . 2006 PONTIAC SOLSTICE * 2006-2007 NEW CAR BUYER'S GUIDE * RED ROAR! NEW CORVETTE Z06: FIRST DRIVE . . . . OCTOBER 2005 VOL 57, NO. 10

Article follows:
Motor Trend

(first test) 2006 pontiac solstice

* words todd lassa * photographs david freers

MOVE
OVER,
SUNSHINE


This is no Fiero; this is the Pontiac of sports cars

THIS IS IT. The first car you can use to measure Bob Lutz's success or failure as GM's Car Guy Number One. He tried at Chrysler and Ford, and even though he began ripping the cheesy cladding off the sides of Grand Prixes and Bonnevilles from the moment he arrived at the General, there was precious little in Pontiac's past or current portfolio to indicate it could build a believable Miata-fighter, let alone an affordable BMW Z3/Z4 or Honda S2000. But it has. If the Solstice is a halo car that represents the new Pontiac, GM's excitement division still has a pulse.

Forget you ever heard of the Pontiac Fiero. Forget that 22 years ago, when British and Italian roadsters were being reduced to oil puddles in our automotive Zeitgeist, Pontiac introduced a mid-engine, four cylinder plastic-bodied hardtop aimed at the sports-commuter subsegment. The fiero was a fun, practical daily driver with good fuel mileage. But enthusiasts with foreign-car sensibilities were drawn to Honda's CRX, even though its front engine drove the front wheels, and the Fiero gave way to, well, nothing. You might migrate to a Firebird Trans Am, if you were willing to share your automotive tastes with mullet-wearing Burt Reynolds fans.

Park the Solstice next to an early 1990's Miata, and it looks like a Big Healey next to a Bugeye Sprite. Drive it blind folded, and you won't mistake it for anything but American. Eyes open behind the wheel, you might take it for a Z3; it's that long hood and the feeling you're sitting low in the back. The feeling sharpens on mountain roads. Its suspension—control arms with anti-roll bars, front and rear—is on the supple side of the sports-car scale, with long suspension travel aparent when rising over bumps and small hills. Its mud-and-snow tires are grippy and handling is neutral. You'll find no hint of impending oversteer on sharp turns and you can't steer with the throttle at reasonable speeds unless the pavement is wet. You'll miss hanging the tail out if you like the Miata or S2000, but that doesn't make the solstice slower or less fun—just different.

The Solstice is a legit sports car just because it fist like a glove and melds with you to become one on a mountain road, despite nearly 350 pounds it has on the new Mazda MX-5. It hunkers down into quick third-gear turns, and its tail feels like it's biting down on the back tires, the rear suspension compressing a bit. We found the Solstice pulled a maximum lateral g cound of 0.90 close to Pontiac's claim. Steering is light, quick, communicative, and up to the best moves the stiff chassis has to offer.

The Solstice's 177-horse, 2.4-liter, 166-pound-foot twin-cam four is adequate, with a great deal of midrange torque, so you won't feel compelled to race it up to its 6750-rpm redline. Our 60 mph time of 7.0 seconds was slightly quicker than expected, shading Mazda's claim for the new MX-5 by two tenths of a second. With the quarter mile taking 15.6 seconds at 88.2 mph, it's no rocket ship, but like the MX-5, the balance, the handling, and the joy derived from finding the perfect second-, third-, and fourth-gear road make up for it. Lutz says he's pleased engineers killed an induction noise from early development models and added a bit of brrrrapppp to the exhause note under throttle. It still sounds subdued, capable of more ruckus without violating noise-level laws. The only transmission is a five-speed manual, with snick-snicks worthy of an MX-5, but longer throws. Sports car heretics will be able to order a five-speed automatic in 2006. GM hasn't decided whether the 2007 turbo model will get five or six speeds. Lutz says a two-seat coupe is also coming.

Our photo car, in the same interior/exterior color scheme as the 2002 Detroit auto show concept, is $23,500 with optional ABS, leather, A/C, a convenience package that features power windows, and a stereo upgrade that includes a subwooferbehind the driver's seat. Order a $19,995 base model—no power windows, air-conditioning or leather seats—and weight drops to roughly 2800 pounds. Probably not worth it for most drivers, although it'll make an interesting SCCA racer.

The 240-horse 2.2-liter turbocharded Ecotec-powered version coming in about a year, when Saturn launches its Sky sports car, will be the enthusiasts' Solstice, and the one that'll push pricing up past the MX-5 and closer to S2000/Z4 territory. For now, the only thing that could keep you from considering the Solstice over the
* this much I know *

* Bob Lutz *
Vice Chairman, globar product developemnt, GM

BOB LUTZ has served in the top jobs at BMW, Ford, and Chrysler. A car guy's car guy born in Switzerland, he's best known as the impetus behind the Dodge Viper. Lutz was at General Motors from 1963 to 1971, a stint that overlapped with his 11 years in the U.S. Marines. Rick Wagoner hired him back in 2001, and now the first all-Lutz project—the Pontiac Solstice—has just launched.

SOLSTICE WILL DRAW ENTHUSIASTS TO OTHER PONTIACS
I have emails saying, "I thought I'd never see the day I'd set foot ina Pontiac showroom, but this is going to make me do it." We experienced the same thing with the Dodge Viper. The Viper buyers, less than 10 percent had some sort of other Chrysler vehicle. After three years, it was something like 35 percent.

WE'LL ATTRACT MIATA BUYERS
But I think it's going to sort of be a Chevy versus Ford pickup thing. We hope we won't see any Calvin and Hobbes stickers. I just know we'll get some import buyers, not necessarily out of Miatas, but all import cars.

WE'RE DIALING BACK ON CLINICS WHEN STYLING IS A HOME RUN
The only time we're going to do clinics is when we do something far-out. We want to make sure we're not talking to our selves. We're not going to clinic the next-generation Saturn Ion because everybody comes into the studio and says, "Holy mackerel!"

THIS IS WHERE PONTIAC HAS WANTED TO GO FOR A LONG TIME BUT LACKED THE NECESSARY ARCHITECTURE
If you could wave a magic wand and have some a four-door version, then maybe stretch the architecture and have sort of a BMW 3 series, that's what the Pontiac guys want. We have to pick our investments and allocate our engineering assets carefully, but that's their desire.

THE SATURN SKY WILL BE MORE LUXURIOUS, MORE REFINED THAN THE SOLSTICE
Its character will be different. It's not quite as sharp a dedicated pure 100-percent sports as the Solstice. It'll have a gran turismo character to it. The Saturn is sporty, but with more sophistication.
* todd lassa
the sum of its parts

Like all affordable sports cars, the Pontiac Solstice borrows stuff from unexpected places.
  • FIVE-SPEED MANUAL GEARBOX: CHEVROLET COLORADO/GMC CANYON
  • REAR DIFFERENTIAL: CADILLAC CTS
  • SEAT FRAMES: BRAZILLIAN CHEVROLET/OPEL CORSA
  • HVAC CONTROL MODULE: HUMMER H3
  • DOOR HANDLES: CHEVY COBALT
  • SIDE MIRRORS: FIAT BARCHETTA
MX-5, then (beyond any lingering foreign sports-car bias), is styling. Its advantage over the MX-5 is that it's a fresh design, not one that has to borrow cues from an old model. The production car is cleaned up, less Rubenesque than designer Franz von Holzhausen's 2002 concept (ironically, Mazda has since hired him away).

Despite its Big Healey stance, the head lamps are Bugeye-like. The twin-kidney honeycomb grille is the biggest love-it-or-hate-it design element and the deep draw body panels, with flowing, organic hydroformed sheetmetal, hint at 1960s GM design exuberance. The view over the rear deck is the most pleasing angle of the car, and as von Holzhausen point out years ago, it does pay homage to the 1953 Corvette—the only obvious retro cue.

The interior is minimalist, but lacking in storage areas. The backbone chassis allows for no console compartments and there are no map pockets in the doors. Pontiac proudly showed off its body0color plastic valance panel between the seats above a cheap, plastic covered cubbies with no lock. Under that, you'll find two cup holders, and a third pops out of the center console on the passenger side. Fit and finish generally is good, although the gaps for the rear deck, which serves as a hard tonneau, are big. You flip the hard donneau back to lower or raise the manual top, which means that, unlike for the MX-5, you have to get out of the car to do it. What little luggage space there is , top down, is between the top and the rear deck. With the top up there's only 3.8 cubic feet of space and that shirnks to virtually nothing with the top down. There's a fix-a-flat container back there, with no spare.

This is a serious sports car. Is it a match for the MX-5? That'll take a head-to-head test to determine. For now, we can say it's good enough that we'll never have to mention the Fiero ever again. *
2006 PONTIAC SOLSTICE
BASE PRICE:. . . . . . . . . . $19,995
PRICE AS TESTED: . . . . . . . $23,500
VEHICLE LAYOUT:. . . . . . . . Frone engine, RWD, 2-pass,
2-door convertible
ENGINE:. . . . . . . . . . . . 2.4l/177-HP/166 LB-FT dohc
16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSIONS: . . . . . . . . 5-speed manual; 5-speed auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST):. . . . 2870 lb, 52/48%
WHEELBASE: . . . . . . . . . . 95.1 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT: . . . 157.2 x 71.3 x 50.1 in
0-60 MPH:. . . . . . . . . . . 7.0 sec
QUARTER MILE:. . . . . . . . . 15.6 sec @ 88.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH: . . . . . . 113 ft.
LATERAL ACCELERATION:. . . . . 0.90 g avg
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON:. . . . 20/28 mpg
 
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