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April 4, 2006 > Auto Report & Review

Auto Report & Review

The 2006 Pontiac Solstice

by Dick Ryan

Solstice is one of the hottest cars for 2006. This is Pontiac's first ever production two-seat roadster (convertible). The Pontiac brass looked at the other two-seat roadsters in the market (Miata, Honda S2000, BMW Z4, etc.) and wanted a piece of the action. It only took 27 months to bring the Solstice from paper concept to production car driving off GM's Wilmington, Delaware manufacturing line.

Styling of the Solstice exposes its wide-track Pontiac roots. A front view shows a wide stance on its 245/45-18 inch tires and the car's nose has the easily recognizable Pontiac dual-port grills. The lines flow smoothly over the front fenders, up the sides, and around the rear end. It's a very pretty car and becomes more attractive the longer you look at it.

Solstice's 2.4-liter aluminum engine develops 177 horsepower and 166 foot pounds of torque. Its standard transmission is a five-speed manual with a five-speed automatic as an option. Anti-lock brakes are an option included on our test car. It also had the optional limited slip differential.

And how did it drive? I thought you would never ask. When you slide into the driver's seat, the Solstice feels big. The view over the two front fenders reminds me of General Motors' sister roadster, the Corvette. It is impossible to see the road up close to the car. You sit low in the optional leather seats with plenty of adjustment for large drivers. The controls are well-placed and easy to reach.

But fire up the engine and disappointment starts. In the upper RPM ranges, you sense that the Pontiac engineers could have done their homework better. It is noisy and feels crude and harsh. Compared to many modern Asian engines, the Solstice's power plant feels like it was transplanted from a 1970s era MGB.

Another Solstice problem is storage space. With the top up, the Solstice's trunk will hold 3.8 cubic feet of stuff (compared to 5.3 for the Miata). When the top is down, storage space shrinks to one wrinkled up sweatshirt. There is also very little storage space in the cockpit.

The rest of the car is very good. The transmission is smooth and precise. The car corners well and rides like a four-wheel independent suspension sports car should. But, its steering does feel a bit heavy.

The Solstice's base price is $19,915. Due to its price and size, the Solstice is commonly compared to Mazda's Miata. The price of the two cars with similar options is just about the same (in the $24,000 to $25,000 range). The Solstice's 0 to 60 time of 6.94 seconds and its quarter mile performance of 15.5 seconds at 87.4 mph are within tenths of the Miata.

There is also another alternative due in the next few months. General Motors' Saturn Division will soon start to sell its Sky roaster. It shares the Solstice mechanical platform but has a very different look inside and out.

If you are in the market for an economical, two-seat roadster, you need to look at and drive both the Pontiac Solstice and the Mazda Miata. The two cars are comparable but feel very different. The Miata may be the sports car enthusiast's choice with all the competition backing from Mazda, however Solstice will be a good choice for many people; you may have to stand in line to get one.

After a promotional appearance on NBC's "The Apprentice," 1,000 Solstices were sold in 41 minutes. More than 7,100 were sold in the 10 days following the show.

Dick Ryan has been an automotive journalist for 15 years. He and his wife Connie have been racing sports cars for more than 35 years. His current mount is a vintage Formula Vee, a small, open-wheel car that looks like a one-quarter scale Indianapolis racecar.
For more information contact me at RRYAN@FRK.COM or call (510) 886-1581.

Dick is a member of the Western Automotive Journalists.

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