National Post (Canada) October 7/05 has two new driver reviews that are an interesting read. As a Solstice owner I have to agree that they are pretty accurate. Sexiest car on the road but lousy storage space.
Sexy Solstice has small flaw -- and we mean small
Friday, October 07, 2005
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::*Of air bags, both smart and dumb*
::*If you think oil is trouble now, just wait awhile*
An open letter to Bob Lutz, vice-chairman, global product development, General Motors:
Our cherished editrix wanted controversy. You know what I mean. The kind of riotous behaviour you get when you invite Jon Stewart to Crossfire or Montel Williams to your Thanksgiving feast the same year your football-team- captaining, prom-queen-dating 19-year-old nephew suddenly reveals he secretly desires to be a lesbian with Maori tats and 42FFF implants.
So she sent her faithful Motor Mouth out to test your new Pontiac Solstice while at the same time assigning the same story to Driver's Edge's new-young-punk-on-the-block, John LeBlanc. She figured that the competition between the two huge egos was sure to produce fireworks, if not exactly Pulitzer prize-winning journalism.
All that she got was the ultimate nightmare for talk show hosts, the one thing that Jerry Springer fears more than having to atone for the ultimate sin of shamelessly chasing ratings --consensus. Even wet-behind-the-ears-in-comparison Mr. LeBlanc couldn't miss that the new Solstice is a brilliant little roadster, full of style and pep and marred only by a few, yet not quite trivial, faults. In fact, the major bone of contention between our two treatises was in looking for a metaphor to ascribe to the depth of the Solstice's beautiful lines. I chose Marilyn Monroe while the punk went for Tyra Banks, which just goes to show you that the young are, well, just plain wrong.
So the Solstice is achingly beautiful, inside and out, well crafted and as well engineered as any twentysomething-thousand- dollar roadster can hope to be. But, Bob, seriously now, what the hell were you thinking with that stupid trunk? You're telling me the only place you could put the gas tank was in the cargo area? And then you claim that you can put golf clubs back there? Probably true, but only if you broke them all into three-foot lengths and scattered the bits around that gi-normous hump SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TRUNK! With the roof down, I had to completely empty my boxing gym bag, spreading smelly sneakers and even stinkier gloves around the trunk's outer edge. As for that Loblaws Superstore-sized box of good-good-whole-wheat Shreddies, it had to ride up in the front seats with me.
What happened, Bob? You engineered that beautiful, hydroformed-steel, Corvette-inspired frame, tacked on the wheels, suspension and brakes and then went: "Oh, oh, we forgot the gas tank." Or was it some nefarious plot by a Mazda mole, deep inside Pontiac's engineering underground lair, who sketched in the hump at the last minute in a desperate attempt to bolster sales of the new 2006 MX-5?
Certainly, the Mazda needs to be a better car because it fairly disappears when the two are parked side-by-side. Yes, the Solstice, especially in flaming red, is that gorgeous. In fact, it's the sexiest car on the road today.
Of course, that title is probably short-lived. Almost assuredly, something will come along even flashier. The North American International Auto Show is just around the corner in Detroit and there will no doubt be a wide variety of voluptuous automobiles all vying for the public's attention. Besides, "sexiest" is, by definition, a fleeting throne, unless your name is the aforementioned Marilyn Monroe (and, Mr. LeBlanc, let's see who remembers Tyra Banks 50 years from now).
Nonetheless, that doesn't change the fact that the Pontiac Solstice, in this not-so-humble autoscribe's eyes, wears that crown for today. It may be fleeting, but when is the last time the most alluring car wore a Pontiac badge?
Long on fun, short on room
Friday, October 07, 2005
Knowing Mazda has had the affordable, rear-wheel-drive two-seater market to itself for more than a decade didn't stop Bob Lutz from putting his reputation on the line when he drove the Solstice concept on-stage at the Detroit auto show in 2002. The vice-chairman of global product development for General Motors promised the production version would compete against the Mazda Miata in performance and price.
Forty-six months (and one appearance on The Apprentice) later, Lutz's promise is here, and the number of affordable roadsters on the market has just doubled.
Seeing the Solstice on the horizon, Mazda has redesigned its own roadster for 2006. It has a little more power, a bigger cabin, more aggressive styling and a new/old name -- the MX-5.
Despite the 15-year head start by Mazda, Pontiac's rookie comes out swinging for the fences. Getting more attention than a naked Tyra Banks walking down the 401 handing out $1,000 bills is the Solstice's sexy, show car looks. From the peaked front fenders to the Batmobile-like twin headrest fairings to the perky rear end, not since Audi's TT has a concept car survived the production gauntlet so unscathed.
Compared with the MX-5, the Solstice's cabin is noticeably wider. And with the cloth top up, there's still plenty of headroom for my 5-foot-10 frame. Ergonomics are generally spot-on. The two steering column wands can be accessed with your fingertips without losing your grip on the steering wheel. The climate controls are a simple three-knob affair. The shift knob is stubby, with short throws. The placement of the foot pedals may break GM's engineering rules, but it makes for easier heel-and-toe downshifts. And the Pontiac isn't just a runway queen; it closely matches the smaller and lighter Mazda in acceleration. Especially noticeable are the Pontiac's four-wheel disc brakes -- firm from the outset, with tons of feel.
After a week of tooling around town receiving admiring looks (just the Solstice, not me) and a particularly enjoyable early-morning backroad blast, for the most part Lutz has a winner.
GM created a smaller version of the Chevrolet Corvette's chassis for the Solstice and added various bits from the General's vast parts bin. Cobbled together the Pontiac is not. But it does lack the refinement of the Mazda, which benefits from its years of development.
For instance, the Cadillac-sourced rear suspension combined with the short/long control arms and Bilstein coil-over shocks front setup provides a comfy ride and very stable handling at elevated speeds. Unlike the MX-5, however -- which allows the experienced driver to play with the steering, brakes and throttle when pushed hard -- the Solstice's big tires refuse to let go to the point of permanent understeer. The borrowed, economy-car Ecotec engine puts up good numbers, but it's wheezy under 3,000 rpm, and it's pretty raucous when you do apply the revs. Fifth gear in the Chevrolet Colorado-sourced tranny is looong, with top-gear acceleration suffering as a result.
Perhaps where the Solstice's lack of refinement shows up most is in day-to-day driving.
Except for the glovebox and a paperback-sized cubby between the vertical panel separating the seats, there is virtually no storage space in the Solstice's cabin. No doorbins, no seat pockets, no console cubby, no cellphone bin -- nada, zilch, nothing. The glare from the Pontiac Vibe-sourced instrumentation, the awkward placement of cup holders behind the driver's right elbow and the big, hard plastic transmission tunnel where your elbow rests when stirring gears all make the car feel half-baked.
Then there's the Solstice's raison d'etre -- the ragtop.
Unlike the MX-5's roof, which can be dealt with while remaining seated in the driver's seat, those cool-looking, twin fairings are part of a rear-hinged trunk lid that first must be opened from the outside before the top can be stowed within. Putting the top up is even more tedious. You need to repeat the above in reverse, then latch the individual flying buttresses before hopping back in. Arghh! And because the Solstice uses a downsized Corvette chassis, where the MX-5 has a weekend's worth of luggage trunk space, the Solstice has its rear suspension and gas tank. Great for nudists; for the rest of us, not so much.
Drive the Pontiac after the Mazda and the Solstice's bigger form, hazy controls and indifferent handling make the drive less pure roadster, more boulevard cruiser.
So, Bob, the Solstice isn't an MX-5 beater. But that's not such a bad thing. The Solstice is great to be seen in, comfortable to sit in, affordable to buy and fun to drive. The basics are in place, and Pon-tiac won't have a problem selling every one of the 100,000 units it has planned for the next five years -- discounts, or not. In fact, if you love to drive, along with the Corvette and certain Cadillacs, this is one of GM's best cars to date.
TYPE OF VEHICLE Rear-wheel-drive, two-seat roadster
ENGINE 2.4L DOHC four-cylinder
POWER 177 hp @ 6,600 rpm; 166 lb-ft of torque @ 4,800 rpm
TRANSMISSION Five-speed manual
BRAKES Four-wheel disc with ABS
PRICE: BASE/AS TESTED $25,695/$31,595
FUEL ECONOMY L/100 km 12.1 city, 8.3 hwy.
STANDARD FEATURES AM/FM/CD, cruise control, driver information centre, integrated fog lamps
Overall I think they are very realistic reviews. The only item I would take issue with is the storage issue. I think (and I didn't think this was possible!) that they overstated the lack of storage space. If these reviews were the only information I had about the car, I would be convinced that there isn't enough trunk space to do even an overnight trip.