2006 Pontiac Solstice Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2006 Pontiac Solstice

Pontiac's mission in the General Motors family is to make performance-oriented cars, and what could be better a better way to draw attention than a sports car? Especially a small, nimble, and affordable sports car that emphasizes handling and finesse over brute force.

When the Solstice concept car debuted at the Detroit Auto Show in January of 2002, it was a hit. And it's been a hit with the buying public since then, with early production selling out quickly. Pontiac can't build Solstices fast enough to keep up with demand.

That's a ``problem'' that GM is likely to be happy to have these days, and it's not hard to see the appeal of the Solstice. It has style, with a unique Pontiac interpretation of classic medium-displacement sports car looks, and substance, on GM's new front-engine, rear-wheel drive Kappa platform. It looks, and is, a little more substantial than its competitors, and can hold two large adults in comfort. GM vice chairman and Solstice godfather Bob Lutz is six foot four, and wanted a car he could fit into.

Power - 177 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque - comes from the 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine through a five-speed gearbox, either manual or automatic, to the rear wheels, as befits a proper sports car. It's a convertible, with an interestingly-designed manually-operated cloth top, and can be equipped in any manner from near-Spartan basic to semi-luxury. The Solstice features a four-wheel independent suspension and a chassis structure made largely of hydroformed tubing for excellent strength and rigidity. The body also takes advantages of the unique abilities of sheet metal hydroforming for its sleek lines.

The result is a fine example of a true sports car, and I enjoyed my week with the Solstice. It's competitive right out of the box, and there is plenty of development potential for the future. As it is currently, handling is emphasized over straight-line acceleration, as has been the case with small sports cars since the beginning. Still, it was quick enough to be exhilarating, especially on the right road with the top down, and it also was comfortable on the highway. Its unique styling drew attention wherever I went. My test car had nearly all possible options, which made it very comfortable and convenient. Future development? Well, the chassis can easily handle more power, and more power will be available for the 2007 model year in the form of the Solstice GXP, which adds turbocharging for 260 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, plus suspension upgrades. Stay tuned.

APPEARANCE: With the Solstice, Pontiac got the styling absolutely right. It doesn't consciously attempt to copy anything else, but its proportions and lines are suggestive of some classic 1950s sports cars. The result is a car that is fresh and original, with a fine balance between the contemporary and historic. The twin-port Pontiac grille and low, ``wide-track'' look establish its parentage, while the faired headlights, long, low hood, high, well-defined fenders, and large wheels with wide, low-profile tires give it the look of performance. In side view, the gentle curve of the top of the front fender rises over the rear wheel in the classic manner, and the wheels and tires fill the wheel arches. The front and rear are rounded but not bulbous, and overhangs are short. An interesting taillight treatment gives character from the rear. The Solstice looks great whether the top is up or down. Top-up, it's not at all ungainly, and the flying buttresses at the rear of the top and the top's small, flat backlight are definitive. Top-down, the long hood, short deck proportions are emphasized, and the twin headrest cowlings stand out.

COMFORT: Good news for anyone who doesn't fit into most small sports cars - the Solstice's width and relatively long wheelbase mean that you don't have to be a jockey to fit comfortably inside. On the other hand, anyone under 5-5 might want to bring an extra cushion, as the seats are not height-adjustable, and the seat cushions are very low. The seats do offer good comfort and support, including lateral support. Cloth upholstery is standard, with leather part of the Premium Package. The driver gets a good office, with a tilt-adjustable steering wheel (leather-wrapped with the Premium Package) and short-throw leather-knobbed shift lever close at hand. The red-on-white instruments are a very Pontiac touch, and the optional air conditioning cools the cockpit quickly on a hot top-up day. An AM/FM/CD audio system is standard, with an MP3 CD-capable six-disc in-dash changer, a Monsoon premium audio system, and XM satellite radio all available to provide high-quality entertainment.

The top is manually operated and stows under the rear cowling. Operation is straightforward, but you do need to get out of the car for part of the procedure. Travel light. Luggage space is tight with the top up, due to the position of the fuel tank, and nearly nonexistent with the top stowed. Also due to space constraints, there is no spare tire. A pump and can of sealant are stowed in the luggage area.

SAFETY: The Solstice meets all safety requirements for the foreseeable future, and protects occupants with dual airbags. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard, with antilock available. The OnStar telematics system is available.

RIDE AND HANDLING: A combination of hydroformed frame rails, a large-diameter internally-reinforced and fully-enclosed central backbone tube, and sheetmetal gives the Solstice's chassis structure exceptional rigidity. Cowl flex was not noticeable on my local tooth-rattling and poorly-paved roads. This rigidity allows a relatively soft suspension tuning, for very good real-world comfort with no compromise in cornering ability. The fully-independent short-and-long arm suspension, with Bilstein monotube shocks, keeps the contact patches of the P245/45 VR18 Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires solidly in contact with the pavement. Weight distribution is close to 50/50 front/rear, and mass is well-centralized, for optimal handling response. Steering is quick, but never too light. The Solstice is great fun to drive on hilly, twisty sports car roads, and, because of its rigidity and good soundproofing, it's also comfortable on the highway.

PERFORMANCE: The Solstice does pay a price for its first-rate chassis structure - weight. With a base curb weight of 2860 pounds, it outweighs its competition by several hundred pounds, and options and amenities can add more. Such are the tradeoffs of life. The Solstice, in its present form, is more about handling than raw acceleration. The twincam, 16-valve 2.4-liter alloy Ecotec engine makes 177 horsepower at 6600 rpm, with torque peaking at 166 lb-ft at 4800 rpm. It pulls well from 3000 rpm, and starts to scream above 4500. Drive it moderately, and it can be uninspiring. Drive it like you stole it, as the saying goes, and it gets up and moves. An available, and highly recommended limited-slip differential ensures traction. With power characteristics like that, quick shifting is a must, and the Aisin five-speed gearbox's linkage obliges. Competition-prepared Solstices have been doing well in showroom-stock classes. And for those who feel the need for more power, the GXP, with 50 percent more horsepower and torque, ought to be just the answer.

CONCLUSIONS: Pontiac has a winner in its new Solstice sports car.

SPECIFICATIONS

2006 Pontiac Solstice

Base Price			$ 19,915
Price As Tested			$ 26,490
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 16-valve aluminum

				 alloy 4-cylinder
				  with variable cam phasing
Engine Size			2.4 liters / 145 cu. in.
Horsepower			177 @ 6600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 			166 @ 4800 rpm
Transmission			5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		95.1 in. / 157.2 in.
Curb Weight			2860 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		16.2
Fuel Capacity			13.8 gal.
Fuel Requirement 	91 octane premium unleaded gasoline
				 recommended
Tires				P245/45 VR18 Goodyear Eagle RS-A
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 antilock optional
Suspension, front/rear		independent unequal-length control
arm/ 
				independent unequal-length control arm
Drivetrain			front engine, rear-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		20 / 28 / 22
0 to 60 mph				7.3  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Premium Package - includes: leather seating surfaces,
  leather-wrapped steering wheel with auxiliary
  audio controls					$ 690
Convenience Package - includes: cruise control,
  driver information center, front foglamps		$ 465
Power package - includes: power windows and
  outside mirrors, remote keyless entry 		$ 625
Air conditioning					$ 960
OnStar service						$ 695
18-inch polished aluminum wheels			$ 545
AM/FM/CD changer audio					$ 495
4-wheel antilock brakes 				$ 400
Monsoon premium audio system				$ 395
XM satellite radio					$ 325
Limited-slip differential				$ 195
Premium acoustic headliner				$ 150
Carpeted front floormats				$  60
Destination charge					$ 575

Complete specifications on the 2006 Pontiac Solstice Roadster and other vehicles are available at the New Car Buyers Guide!

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