Dan Neil - 2006 Pontiac Solstice

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Dec 1, 2005.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Bold and beautiful - The long-awaited Solstice is a lively roadster with style. Not perfect, but a big step for GM.

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    It's a head-turner

    DAN NEIL

    THE Pontiac Solstice is a real car, with tires and a horn and windshield and some modicum of an engine, and not merely a figment of GM executives' imagination. I was beginning to wonder. Not that the car took unusually long to reach market — 31 months from the concept car's boffo unveiling in Detroit in 2002 to the first deliveries in August — it's only that the promotional zeppelin went up months earlier. The Solstice had its red-carpet moment on "The Apprentice" in April. Orders for the otter-sleek sports car poured in and eager buyers waited by their phones. And waited.

    And most will wait some more. According to Automotive News, of the 13,000 or so orders in-hand for the Solstice, only half of those customers will get a car this year. Apparently, the Solstice production line in Wilmington, Del., has been slow to ramp up while the quality-control engineers fiddled with the dials. It's been the marketing version of Xeno's arrow.

    Now that the Solstice is in hand, I can tell you, it's a fine little roadster — not the second coming of sliced bread or anything, but within its limits and for its $19,995 price, a little bit of hair-mussing magic. It's pretty enough to turn the head of a parking meter. It's got a proper English burr and burble. It's got the lively feel and accuracy of a carbon-fiber fly rod.

    But is it enough? To the extent that it falls short, it's only because GM has hung such grandiose expectations on it. "We believe this vehicle has the potential to become a complete automotive icon, like the GTO or Corvette," John Larson, general manager of the Pontiac, Buick and GMC divisions, said in August.

    Corvette? Pull up, Luke, pull up!

    For casual observers of the automotive scene who might register only two facts about GM this year — that the company is in financial trouble and that it has built a panting roadster — one doesn't necessarily have much to do with the other. The Solstice cannot save GM from its nine-figure sinkhole. It is, after all, only one car. But it does offer a tantalizing glimpse of what's possible when the company gets serious about design.

    This is a beautiful car, with a harmony of shapes and lines that is almost musical.
    Carmakers like to talk about tension in the sheet metal, but that's often an exercise in the power of suggestion. Not with Solstice.

    The fuselage between the wheel wells looks like a band of stretched latex, ready to snap forward. Its stubby roadster proportions are perfect, with the compact aggression of a Japanese short sword. The twin headrest humps on the rear deck look like they were borrowed from a Zagato-bodied Aston Martin.

    Even with the curiously oversized fog lights and backing lights — ferreted from the Chevy Equinox parts bin — you have to give the car's aesthetic an A+. With the top down, it looks simply terrific.

    Oh, but there's that top. Solstice is the American doppelgänger of the Mazda MX-5, nee Miata, and among its greatest charms, historically, has been the ease of its top operation. The newly redesigned Miata has a top that's even easier to operate: Just twist the header latch and throw it back over your right shoulder like a crushed beer can (please, no drinking, or littering, while driving).

    The Solstice top, which stows under the shapely deck lid, requires a lot more romancing. To lower it, you turn the header latch, pop the trunk release on the key fob, get out, pull the top into its pleated position behind the seats, then slam the deck lid with as much force as you dare without dimpling the hydroformed panel.

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    Tricky handiwork

    Raising it is much the same in reverse, except that you have to lower the windows before the top will seat itself on the window header. Finally, you have to push the spring-loaded canvas buttresses down into catches on the deck lid, which is a novel solution, if you can call it that. Meanwhile, the top consumes an unwholesome amount of the car's limited trunk space.

    This is part of the price you pay for a $20,000 roadster. I wouldn't be surprised if in the future GM offers a power top for the Solstice, but that would run up against the car's other significant liability: weight.

    THE Solstice weighs a considerable 2,860 pounds — it's about 400 pounds heavier than the Miata — and a power-top mechanism would add pounds that it can ill afford. The Solstice's heft accounts for the dynamic difference between it and the Miata: The latter feels light as a wiffleball, hair-trigger and busy — indeed, to a fault. The Solstice has a slightly more stable and sedate feel to it.

    The Pontiac is a little less eager to rotate around corners except in a full chop-throttle maneuver, in part because of its longer wheelbase and wider track. Even so, the car has excellent steering reflexes, very sharp and responsive just off-center, and the lateral grip from the meaty 18-inchers is impressive.

    The Solstice's ride is generally composed, but the car runs out of compliance pretty quickly over rough pavement and then — oof! — it rocks you. The Miata seems to absorb big hits better.

    Under the Solstice's front-hinged hood is a 2.4-liter version of the company's Ecotec four-cylinder engine, mounted north-south and buttoned to a five-speed Aisen gearbox. With its dual-cam variable-valve headgear, you'd expect this engine to be a little more pliant and torque-rich, but in fact, you have to really keep the engine singing soprano to stay in the torque band.

    Also, because of the way the gears are spaced, the Solstice tends to get stuck in the quicksand at the bottom of second through fourth gear.

    Obviously, since GM has in its larder the freaky-good supercharged Ecotec — à la the Cobalt SS — the company has the option to offer a hotter version, the Solstice SS, pretty much at will. If I were a product planner at GM — God forbid — I would package the supercharged Ecotec engine and a power top together. Say, oh, Christmas 2006?

    For the new Solstice, Car and Driver registered a 0 to 60 mph acceleration of 7.2 seconds, but our test car had only about 1,000 miles on the clock, and it felt like the engine was pretty stiff. I don't think ours was turning those kinds of times.

    THE Solstice simply doesn't feel as athletic as the Miata. By way of compensation, the Solstice is easy to drive in a way the Miata is not. The Miata rides like a bumblebee with a saddle, tense and buzzy and, of course, is not all that spacious. The Solstice is not a big car, but I'm able to fit into it without a lot of orthopedic drama — I'm 6 -foot-1 and 180 pounds — and the degree of sports-car hone it surrenders is well worth it, especially when you're lugging around Los Angeles.

    The Solstice's gear throws find their mark — though our test car had an unpleasant gear-lash while coasting off throttle — and the pedal position is perfect. The cabin comfort is commendable, even if some of the plastic inner fairings seemed less than secure, and I love the view from the driver's seat. The hood stretches out so that you can see where the corners of the car are.

    Miata has been on the market for years. Solstice, weeks. Obviously, this car has a way to go, but that shouldn't obscure just how far it's come. The Solstice is a real car, with real soul and style, offering GM's partisans, at least, real hope.

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    Only $19,995

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  2. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Inferior_Light claims to have bought one. :mamoru:
     
  3. Jake!

    Jake! Guest

    think he'll post pics in his yahoo profile?
     

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