Solstice romps as a slinky new roadster convertible
that seatbelt cinched because we're working the
stubby shifter stick on a two-seat roadster with
the soft top stowed as the sports car charges through
Oregon's picturesque Columbia River Gorge.
Our romp along the river becomes so much play time,
one hand plying the five-speed manual's lever and
the other gripping a leather-wrapped steering wheel,
right foot tapping the go-pedal and the left one
pumping brake or clutch in racer fashion as the
vehicle carves clean and quick lines through apexes
of endless curves.
This new roadster convertible, riding on a rigid
platform rigged with a broad track and long-drawn
wheelbase, employs independent suspension systems
fore and aft with monotube shocks connecting to
18-inch wheels and sticky Goodyear rubber to handle
every contour of the convoluted river course.
Perfect weight balance -- the engine mounted up
front and all power directed to rear wheels with
half of the vehicle's load resting on front wheels
and the other half on the rear ones -- sets up that
sports car magic of predictable vehicle control
for a driver.
And this one looks so keen and swift with that prominent
long prow, mid-ship cockpit and a roly-poly rump
capped by twin nacelle blisters trailing behind
Considering the sharp body styling and precise handling
traits of this sporty rear-wheel-drive (RWD) roadster,
one might reasonably conclude that we're driving
the latest exotic mega-bucks sportster out of England,
Germany or Italy.
That's not the case, however, because we're steering
the Solstice, Pontiac's new made-in-America sports
car in open-top roadster format that brings seats
for only two and uncompromising manners but also
affordable price tags.
Just how affordable is the Solstice?
The bottom line for a Solstice with reasonable standard
equipment nips down to $19,995.
But here's the catch: Constraints at a GM assembly
plant in Wilmington, Del., limit the production
of Solstice to 7,000 units by the end of 2005, while
advance orders of the sports car amount to double
Thus, as Solstice comes to market in the fall of
'05 as a 2006 product the initial demand for Pontiac's
sports car far outstrips the factory's capacity
and shoppers should expect a waiting list.
GM obviously scores an instant hit with Solstice,
which our seat-time tests reveal is a serious and
pure sports car that's not only fun to drive but
quite appealing in both design and execution.
Roots of the production version trace to 2002 when
a slinky Solstice show car became the star concept
at the North American International Auto Show in
Detroit. GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz subsequently
tapped that show car for a production blitz while
demanding that the street version adhere to the
vision of forging an "affordable" sports
To meet such constraints -- a quick development
schedule consuming only 27 months plus a price point
pitched below $20,000 -- GM's designers turned to
the company's extensive network of product resources,
meaning they raided the vast GM parts bin.
first, a new RWD platform had to be developed. Codenamed
Kappa, the new GM architecture is a flexible and
adaptable structure designed to support a number
of future GM vehicles. The platform incorporates
single-piece hydro-formed rails stretched from tip
to tail, which forge an incredibly firm chassis
and set up a nimble drive.
For an engine, the design team chose to modify a
variable-valve version of the 2.4-liter Ecotec in-line-four
plant out of Chevrolet's Cobalt, but adapt it to
mount in the engine bay for a RWD application. In
Solstice, the Ecotec engine produces 177 hp at 6600
rpm with torque tuned to 166 lb-ft at 4800 rpm.
For a transmission, GM turned to its Japanese supply
partner Aisin with the impressive short-throw Aisin
five-speed manual stick. Later in the production
cycle, Solstice will also offer an automatic shifter
using GM's Hydra-Matic 5L40-E five-speed automatic.
Mechanical assets include independent suspension
designs front and rear with SLA arrangements using
lightweight aluminum for upper and lower control
arms to pare the unsprung mass.
Bilstein monotube shock absorbers and coil springs
are also in place to set up Solstice's precise handling
The rack and pinion steering system has power assistance
for quick response and the brakes show a disc at
each wheel with rotors measuring 11.7 inches up
front and 10.9 inches in the rear.
Standard safety systems aboard Solstice include
dual frontal air bags and built-in roll bars tucked
behind the two seatbacks. A computer-controlled
anti-lock brake system (ABS) with dynamic rear proportioning
(DRP) is on the slate of optional gear, along with
a limited-slip rear differential (LSD).
The driver-oriented cockpit in Solstice adds instruments
inspired by easy-to-read motorcycle gauges, with
two sport bucket seats flanking the console and
a stereo system in the dash with AM/FM/CD and six
The soft top on Solstice contains a glass backlight
with defogger element added. It stows out of sight
below deck in the trunk. Lowering the top is easy
and quick: Touch a switch on the dashboard and the
rear-hinged clamshell truck lid pops open. You must
fold the canvas top in accordion fashion into the
well of the trunk, then snap the decklid down.
Optional gear for Solstice extends to three packages
of equipment labeled Power, Convenience and Premium.
The Power Package brings power controls for door
locks, mirrors and windows, plus a remote keyless
entry device. The Convenience Package adds foglamps,
cruise control and a driver information center.
The Premium Package installs leather seats (either
Ebony or two-tone Steel/Sand), a leather-wrapped
steering wheel and radio controls on the steering
Other options include AC, a Monsoon audio kit with
seven speak-ers, OnStar telecommunications and XM
satellite radio service.
|For more information visit the Pontiac website here.
|Compact roadster convertible
DOHC 2.4-L I4
rack and pinion