This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Sun, Jun 4, 2006
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Â© All photos by Harvey Schwartz
Simply put, the Solstice is just what Pontiac and GM need more of - economical, well-built, fun-to-drive cars. The Solstice competes against the likes of the all-new 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata and Honda S2000, although its primary nemesis will be the Mazda. We spent some time in the Solstice recently, bombing along the Pacific Coast, and found it holds its ground well, even surpassing in several instances. Solstice is the quintessential touring sports car that Mazda reintroduced in 1990, reigniting the passion for driving light, agile and affordable two-seat roadsters-after a considerable breathing spell that gave American buyers time to forget the Italian and British roadsters of the 1970's that, while undeniably fun, were fun only when they ran properly, and that wasn't often. Solstice has a long hood to cover the longitudinal-mounted engine, and a short deck. It is classic sports car architecture, accented with big 18-inch wheels pushed out to the corners. There are minimal gaps between the tires and fenders, plus the face of the tires matches the width of the fender edges, giving the Solstice a low, aggressive stance.
The Solstice's presence gets even better as an integrated appearance is achieved, whether the top is lowered or raised. When lowered, a body-color inset blends seamlessly between the interior and exterior. The top is manually operated and, unfortunately, you do have to stop, park and release the rear compartment by clicking the key-fob, then be sure that it is securely re-attached - not an easy, raise-or-lower-on-a-whim operation. The glass window comes with a defogger, standard. It is well worth the trouble, because I turned heads wherever I drive the Solstice.. At almost every red light, the occupants from the vehicle sitting next to me ask "what car is that?" "who makes the car?" or "how much does it cost? Around $40,000.00 is what they guess. When pumping gas, someone always comes over to ask the same questions. It's fun turning people on to this great new sporty roadster from Pontiac. The inside is very comfortable for two, six-foot tall passengers. The cabin emphasizes a back-to-basics, driver-focused theme. This is evident by the prominent motorcycle-inspired gauge cluster straight-ahead, as well as the overall cockpit layout with controls canted and wrapped around you. The instrument panel carries few controls, even the power windows/door locks are packaged with the 'power' optional trim level. The all-new Solstice is not bare-bones. It comes well equipped with race-inspired high-back bucket seats, with extra side bolstering to firmly support you and your passengers during spirited cornering fun. The seats also feature clever storage pockets. More storage can be found in the locking glovebox, and there is a storage bin in-between the seatbacks with a door to keep your items from tumbling out. Leather covered seats are optional. The tilting steering wheel is thick, and the diameter is designed for performance driving. The stick shifter for the standard five-speed manual transmission is leather covered and delivers smooth, precise and quick shifts.
Additional features include a standard AM-FM stereo with CD player and six speakers. An MP3-capable audio system, a premium Monsoon audio system, air-conditioning, OnStar, XM Satellite Radio, cruise-control, a driver information center and fog lamps are optional. The Ecotec 2.4-liter, DOHC four-cylinder, all-aluminum engine is rated at 177 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 166 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm. That power is available throughout much of the rpm band, as approximately 90 percent of peak torque is available from 2,400 rpm to 5,600 rpm. With a base curb weight of just 2,860 pounds for the vehicle, the Ecotec engine gives the Solstice a weight-to-horsepower ratio of nearly 16.2 to 1, and moves the Solstice from 0-60 mph in 7 seconds flat. Other features include electronic throttle, chain-driven camshafts, coil-on-plug ignition, piston oil-cooling jets, integrated engine oil cooler, and a full-circle transmission mount to reduce noise and vibration. The camshafts have phasers that support the continuously variable intake and exhaust valve timing. They also have cam position sensors so that the electronic module can accurately control valve timing. An Aisin five-speed manual transmission is standard. It features a 3.75:1 first gear, along with closely stepped higher gears that help keep the engine at the sweet spot in its power band during shifts. The clutch pressure is just right for a small sports car. The advanced Hydra-Matic 5L40-E 5-speed automatic is also offered as an option.
The transmission channels torque to the rear that features a 3.91:1 axle ratio. The gears are housed in a rear axle derived from the Cadillac CTS. A limited-slip rear differential is optional. This terrific powertrain combination gives me a solid push into the high-back bucket seat every time I up-shifted gears. That's what I like in a sports car, feeling the power pushing you back as the car gains speed. When I down-shift, the wheels tighten and the already growling exhaust note grows louder. Solstice is built on GM's new global rear-wheel-drive compact performance architecture, which uses a hydroformed chassis as the foundation of a strong structure. Independent short/long arm-type suspension in the front and rear are mounted to the chassis and gives the Solstice a direct, road-gripping driving feel. The foundation for Solstice's responsive suspension system is a lower-dominant tube structure for the chassis. Hydroformed frame rails, which run the full length of the Solstice, are the basis of the chassis, while additional stampings form a rigid structure onto which the body work is attached. The hydroformed tube structure runs from the front bumper, through the left-and-right-hand frame tubes, and all the way to the rear bumper. Solstice is only one of two vehicles to feature an entire hydroformed chassis; the other being the rock-solid Chevy C6 Corvette-indeed, the Solstice's chassis is-in many ways, a three-quarter-scale Corvette. A tunnel at the center of the chassis, which houses the transmission and driveshaft, is internally reinforced and enclosed at the bottom to enhance stiffness.
The short/long arm suspension features forged aluminum upper and lower control arms that are strong and low in mass. The rear suspension also features a toe control link and the rear differential housing has an optimized three-point mounting design. Bilstein coil-over monotube shocks are used at each corner, complemented by 17.2 mm front and 24.2 mm rear stabilizer bars. Weight balance is near perfect 50/50 ratio. The Solstice's unique short/long arm, independent suspension is indeed sport-tuned, and the big 18X8 cast aluminum wheels that are wrapped with 245/45R18 Goodyear rubber only enhances the handling fun and excitement. When I'm challenging sharp hairpin turns on mountain roads, the Solstice feels like it's on rails. It feels so well planted with its wide, 8-inch tires gripping the road. My heart hasn't beat this fast since last year when I tested the new C6 Corvette convertible. The Solstice is indeed a 'baby Corvette' for fun and thrills behind the wheel. When I push it harder and reach the edge of adhesion, the rear end doesn't drift the way I like, but I'm able to quickly bring the Solstice back in line when I eased off the throttle. Just a small flick of my wrist quickly changes my direction - just like a finely tuned and more expensive sports car. On the highway, driving straight-ahead at speed, the ride is rock-solid.
The standard power-assisted rack & pinion steering system is a perfect match and precisely guides the Solstice on the road with very fast reaction to your inputs, and gives a confident on-center feel for the road. It features a 16.4:1 ratio, and requires only 2.7 turns, lock-to-lock. Perfect! As for slowing the Solstice down from speed, four-wheel disc are standard. Up front are 12-inch vented discs clamped with dual piston calipers, and 11-inch rear solid discs that are clamped with single piston calipers. ABS and rear brake proportioning are optional. The all-new 2006 Pontiac Solstice is an excellent choice if you are looking for an economically priced sports car with bold, unique styling. It will turn heads your way, is comfortable and ergonomic inside, and is fun and exciting to drive. Another way to put it is that the Solstice is a well-built 'seat-of-your pants' driving machine that can easily quicken your pulse. Â© Words (supra) by Harvey Schwartz
SIDEBAR COMMENTS Solstice's Unique Body Panels Solstice's steel body panels are made with a specialized hydroforming process - a first in the industry for a regular production car. Hydroforming is a relatively new process that uses water pressure to help form the desired steel body shapes. Sheet metal hydroforming is used to create the car's unique clamshell hood, outer door panels, rear deck lid and quarter panels. More precise than conventional body panel stamping, sheet metal hydroforming allows the much deep draw-or depth of the component-necessary for creating panels with complex curves. The process allows the body curves of the original Solstice concept to be reproduced on a mass production scale. Many of the Solstice body panels such as the clamshell hood and its compound curves, could not have been formed by conventional stamping methods. The only conventional stamped portion of the car's exterior is a small flat panel between the front wheel-well and door edge. - Harvey Schwartz The Solstice Design The Pontiac Solstice has the best-looking body to adorn an American car since the Ford GT. The latter will cost you about $140,000. The Solstice, on the other hand, you can buy for the price of an average family sedan. The Solstice design is so good that even if GM built it out of lawnmower parts, its future collector status is still guaranteed. Thankfully, the Solstice innards and execution are pretty darn good, considering it's a brand new car from the General. It lacks the ultimate refinement of the newest Miata MX5, but Mazda's had over 25 years to get that car right. And, as good as the newest Miata is, it looks nowhere near as nice as the Solstice. Whereas Mazda chose the Lotus Elan for its inspiration, GM reached higher - going back to the Ferrari and Jaguar racing cars of the 1950s and 1960s for the Solstice design. If you buy one, please resist the temptation to guild it with ground effects and spoilers. It's simply not possible to make this car look better. - Roy Nakano SUMMARY JUDGMENT Drop-dead gorgeous - and, yet, affordable and easy to live with. For more information on Pontiac products, go to www.pontiac.com. More photos from Harvey Schwartz can be found at www.autofotos.com
SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2006 Pontiac Solstice Price: $20,490.00 Engine type: 2.4 liter DOHC, all-aluminum Horsepower: 177 at 6,600 rpm Torque: 166 lb.ft. at 4,800 rpm Drive configuration: Front engine/rear-wheel-drive Transmission type: Five-speed manual, five-speed automatic optional Front suspension: Independent short/long arm, gas-charged shocks, coil springs, 27.2 mm stabilizer bar Rear suspension: Independent short/long arm, gas-charged shocks, coil springs, 24.2 mm stabilizer bar Wheels/tires: 18X8 five-spoke painted alloys/245/45R18 Goodyear Eagle RSA tires Brakes: Front-11.7-in. vented discs with dual-piston calipers Rear: 10.9-in. solid discs with single-piston calipers, optional ABS with dynamic rear proportioning Total length: 157.2 in. Total width: 71.3 in. Total height: 50.1 in. Curb weight: 2,860 lbs. EPA mileage: 20 mpg/city, 28 mpg/highway