Solstice one perky little roadster
Mazda MX-5 Miata's going to be in pretty tight race for popularity
Keith Morgan - The Province - September 28, 2005
Watch out, Mazda, the all-new Pontiac Solstice is out to chase the tailpipe of your MX-5 Miata.
The General Motors soft-top will have to rack up many, many thousands of sales to mount a serious challenge to the world's best-selling roadster.
However, the competitively priced two-seater may nibble at its market share in the coming years.
It's Pontiac's first production roadster, built on the new global-market rear-drive Kappa platform.
The Solstice was first shown as a concept at the 2002 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where it had gone from idea to driveable concept vehicle in four months.
General Motors insiders fell in love with it and, more importantly, it seemed car-show goers around North America also gave it the thumbs up.
Less than two years later, the production model is riding the roads and drawing stares from all who clap eyes on it, as yours truly discovered during a four-day test drive around town.
It's truly a looker. It's got that brawny, classic sports car look -- interestingly the same design direction that Mazda has gone with the new more macho Miata. It also has an unmistakable Pontiac front-end and grille.
It has a forward-opening clamshell hood and a rear-opening trunk. When stowing the soft-top for the first time you get quite a shock when you hit the remote to open the back -- the corners of the top spring out with a loud thwap - to use a Batman comic-like expression to describe the sound!
The Solstice has the low, wide stance that suggests power and is set off beautifully by five-spoke aluminum wheels.
Costs were doubtless kept down by the judicious sourcing of such as door handles, fog lamps, seats, engine and transmission from other GM vehicles. The back-up lamps are from the very unsporty GMC Envoy.
Inside, there's a cockpit-style instrument panel that sweeps around the driving position with gauges that were actually inspired by those typically found on motorcycles.
The tester came with a $2,100 leather-seat package, which seemed a little excessive for me. The standard ebony cloth would have suited just fine.
Both bucket seats provide ample and comfortable room for driver and passenger. Stowage space is limited and the cupholders -- important features -- are placed to the rear of the central console, which makes it difficult to steal sips at the lights.
The roof has to be manually lowered, and once it's in that trunk, forget the luggage -- there's about enough room for a change of knickers and a shaving kit.
The 2.4-litre engine provides a perky ride, if not dramatic. I'm driving a Miata through California next week, so it will be interesting to compare on-road performance -- watch this space.
However, if memory serves me well, the Mazda, with seven fewer horses under the hood, offers comparable performance.
The short-throw gearshift added to the sport-driving feel. Nice five-speed manual transmission, forget the auto available from next year. You won't win any races with this motor, but you will get the full ragtop, roadster experience.
The tester had a $755 audio system that provided a great soundtrack to a longer drive I took on Highway One out to Fort Langley.
Its performance was enhanced by the relative quietness of the ride, an audio bonus in a roadster.
That was about the only time I had the top retracted, because GM failed to provide decent weather while I had the car.
With the top in place, there is decent headroom, but the shallow side windows do create a slightly claustrophobic effect for those topping six feet.
Around town, it was a nippy little runabout and an absolute cinch to park. Well, at least when its roadside admirers moved out of the way.
Dual frontal air bags, four-wheel disc brakes are standard (ABS is available).
On first drive, this seems a worthy competitor to the Miata with a slight sticker edge of a little more than $2,000 on the base model.
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THE SPECS: 2006 PONTIAC SOLSTICE
Trim levels: One
Sticker price: $25,695
Power: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder, DOHC 177 h.p.
Transmission: Five-speed manual gearbox (automatic next year)
Fuel consumption: 11.9/7.6 L/100 (city/highway)
Basic warranty: Three years/60,000 km
Powertrain: Three years/60,000 km
Rust: Six years/160,000 km
PT Cruiser: $27,415 - $32,390
Ford Mustang: $27,995 - $36,995
Mazda RX-8: $36,995 - $40,995
MX-5 Miata: $27,995 - $35,250
Nissan 350Z: $45,698 - $55,698
On the web: gmcanada.com
The Province: www.driving.ca
B.C. Automobile Association: www.bcaa.com