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(08:30 May 03, 2004)
Winter Solstice
Our first drive in Pontiac's new Drop-top leaves us longing for more

By ROGER HART

2006 PONTIAC SOLSTICE
ON SALE: Fall 2005
BASE PRICE: $19,995 (est.)
POWERTRAIN: 2.4-liter, 170-hp, 170-lb-ft I4; rwd, five-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT: 2860 pounds
0 TO 60 MPH: 7.2 seconds

The steady, cold rain from the night before had dried up, but heavy gray skies still threatened, giving us a taste of a typical late-winter day in southern England. The weather can be dicey-temperatures can climb into the 50s in the afternoon but just as easily drop to near freezing. Add in for good measure the aforementioned rain. Weather was important because we had come to Surrey and Sussex counties south of London to drive convertibles, and unless the skies opened back up and unleashed another deluge, we were determined to drive with the top down. We brought an extra wool sweater and a Gore-Tex jacket, just in case.

So why go to England, where in February you can go days-maybe even weeks-without seeing the sun, to drive convertibles? The simple answer is because that's where General Motors offered us the first drive of the Pontiac Solstice.

Solstice is the hot project at GM. Talk all you want about all the other cars GM has in the pipeline, from Chevy's new Cobalt small car to the sixth-generation Corvette, but inside the company Solstice is the one everyone is watching. It represents a new way of doing business for GM. It is the first car to be built on a new rwd (Kappa) architecture, and it's the first car, from concept to production, with product czar Bob Lutz's fingerprints all over it (AW, Feb. 2). Also, the car is 18 months away from production, so we're driving it very early.

Solstice had one of the shortest gestation periods in GM's (and much of the car world's) history, going from computer math design to foam model in 21 days. Just 15 weeks later it rolled onto a Detroit stage as a concept car. It was the darling of the 2002 North American International Auto Show, snagging our Best in Show award. We weren't the only ones who liked the car. The public loved it, too, and GM began the process to make the concept a reality.

"THE F WORD STILL HAUNTS THE halls of GM," said Doug Parks, chief engineer for small cars, referring to the Pontiac Fiero, the two-seat, mid-engine sports car that lived a short, unfulfilled life from 1984 to '89. "The Solstice absolutely has to perform as well as it looks. That was the Fiero's problem... it never delivered on its looks until it was too late. The expectations are higher for this project than for anything I've been associated with at GM," Parks said. "Expectations are through the roof. It has to be right, right out of the box."

Those great expectations were what brought us to England, driving a car that won't go on sale for quite some time yet. Parks said a typical new car program allows just three months from the time testing cars made with production tools is finished, until actual production begins. With the Solstice he will have nearly a year.

"We're changing a lot of paradigms within GM-doing things a lot differently with this car," Parks said. "Everyone is watching."

A couple of weeks before our arrival, two engineering cars and a couple of engineers were sent to the United Kingdom to test chassis and suspension on narrow, twisty, undulating country roads, adding to the thousands of development miles Solstice has covered on tracks and public roads in Europe and the United States.

Our mission was to evaluate the ride and handling, with one of the cars at "85 percent of what we believe will be the finished setup," according to Parks, and the other at about 75 percent. The interior panels were crude, to say the least, and the flat-black-painted steel body panels were merely window dressing-the final tooling has not been done-but this was our first look at the car's folding convertible top. Although a prototype, it gave us a good indication as to how it will look and function. And as we said, despite the mercury hovering in the mid-30s, we came to England to drive a convertible-with the top down.

With just two Solstices for five journalists wanting wheel time, there appeared to be a scheduling problem. Being in England, where sports roadsters flourished in the 1950s and '60s, GM arranged for four examples of British roadsters to occupy our time between Solstice drives: a 1960 Triumph TR3a, a 1967 Triumph TR4a, a 1969 MGB and a 1971 Lotus Elan Sprint. And while we looked forward to driving these classic cars, it was the Solstice we wanted.

Our first look at the two Solstices we would drive came at Brooklands, site of the world's first closed-course auto racing track. It opened in 1907, two years before the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Long since closed as a track-the racing surface was torn up and trees planted to camouflage the area from German bombers in World War II-Brooklands is now the site of a museum housing a collection of race cars, airplanes and memorabilia.

Even though the car is a two-seater, Solstice seems bigger than what you'd expect, and in comparison to the British roadsters mentioned above, it's a giant. In reality, Solstice is big for a car in its class. Compared to the Mazda Miata, Solstice is two inches longer, more than four inches wider and two inches taller. Solstice's wheelbase is nearly six inches longer than Miata's. And just to put Solstice into perspective, it's just one inch narrower than the new Corvette, with a track just two inches narrower.

Before letting us slip in behind the wheel, the GM engineers folded down the mechanical top. The process starts by twisting a latch on the inside that releases the top from the header, and then opening the trunk in reverse fashion. There are a couple of wings at the rear of the top that fold inward, and then you're ready to fold the top down into the trunk. After the top is stowed, the trunk lid can be closed and the finished look is clean with no need for a boot. There is very little cargo room in the car, even with the top up. There is no space behind the seats for any storage, so unless a cargo rack is added, judicious packing is required for even weekend trips. Don't even think of bringing your golf clubs.

Solstice's larger size was welcomed when getting behind the wheel. At a bit more than six feet tall, we had no problem finding a comfortable driving position with decent legroom and great shoulder room. At no time did we feel cramped or uncomfortable.

With the top secured in the trunk and after a brief talk with Steve Padilla, our co-driver and Solstice's vehicle dynamics performance engineer, we lit the 2.4-liter I4 Ecotec, found first gear and set off into the chilly English countryside.

One of the first things you notice is a rather bulbous hood that limits your ability to see the edge of the road, a minor irritation compounded by driving left-hand-drive (American) cars on the left-hand side of the road. The co-driver on this trip was as important as in the World Rally Championship. Also, with the flared headrest bumps behind the seats, rear vision is blocked while looking over your right shoulder. Seats in our test cars were not production units and seemed a bit too low, further increasing our inability to see out.

While the chassis and suspension still had work to be done on them, the driveline is set. The 2.4-liter engine produces 170 hp at 6400 rpm and 170 lb-ft at 4400 rpm. The engine is mated to an Aisin five-speed manual transmission we enjoyed working through a short-throw shifter. The clutch take-up was good and while the shifter action wasn't quite the snick-snick movement of a Honda S2000's, it's the best-feeling GM shifter-short of maybe a Z06's Tremac T56-we can remember operating. It is worth noting this is the first north-south installation of an Ecotec powertrain, so there is no need for the extensive shift linkage as in a fwd, transverse-mounted installation. Another reason to love rwd.

The engine felt strong, easily propelling the 2860-pound car, with an aggressive exhaust note. The 2.4-liter is a good starting point, especially for a car that will sticker at $19,995. At no time did the car feel underpowered, and we drove many miles on the twisty roads in second and third gear, keeping the revs in the sweet spot, enjoying the engine noise echoing off the trees and rolling hills. At speed, we were able to carry on a conversation with our passenger.

GM engineers wouldn't reveal details, but they let on there will be more thrust available at some point. The 2.0-liter, 205-hp supercharged version of the Ecotec, now available in the Saturn Ion Red Line and the upcoming Chevy Cobalt SS Supercharged, could be offered. And when we reminded the engineers a 2.0-liter turbocharged Ecotec is making more than 1000 hp in the NHRA's sport compact series, they just smiled. We smiled, too, at the thought of even half, or a quarter of that power in this little car.

The Surrey and Sussex roads were a good choice to test the chassis and suspension, with lots of off-camber turns that twist the chassis and a lot of undulations that work the suspension hard, keeping the driver busy with the wheel. Solstice has four-wheel independent suspension with coil-over monotube shocks, and 18-inch alumi-num wheels shod with Goodyear Eagle RS-A P245/45 rubber. In the 85 percent car, we found the suspension firm but not harsh, easily smoothing out much of the roughness of the road. The setup needs to be firm enough for sporty driving but comfortable enough for simple cruising, a balance that still needs to be worked out. Turn-in was crisp, but it still was not quite as nimble as the aforementioned Miata or S2000. And Padilla noted S2000 is a target for Solstice handling.

The 75 percent car seemed a bit softer, with Padilla admitting they didn't bring as many suspension components to England as they would have liked to, with only one car getting all the updates. The mostly aluminum chassis seemed superb, with no indication of any flex over the rough roads.

Full Article Here

 

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Geeze, winter in friggin' England, and we still don't get a clear picture of the Solstice with the top up! (The smallish, odd-angled photos in the article somehow leave me wanting).
 

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wow... sounds like GM is going to do something right. the only thing they need to do now is keep up with this trend. they can't make one good car, and expect it to be enough. high quality, expressive cars that are fun to own and drive will sell, regardless of the nameplate. they just have to be spot on, from concept to production. Solstice looks like a great start to a new path for GM. bravo.
 
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Sounds cool. But the headlight assembly and fixture looks like what they have been putting on ALL the Pontiacs. I was expecting something different because this IS a new direction for 'em. Like say, more metal in the headlight fixture.

I hope the Pontiac nameplate and other exterior decorative parts are real metal. That will help it to stand out also.

Can't wait to see it in my local dealership !!!!!!!!

:p B) :D :rolleyes: :angry: :blink: :blink: ;) :lol: :eek: :mf_boff:
 

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The ONLY thing I don't like is the 7.2 second 0-60 time. I guess I'd have to wait for the supercharged version.
 

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Originally posted by chev454ls@Apr 26 2004, 10:31 PM
The ONLY thing I don't like is the 7.2 second 0-60 time.  I guess I'd have to wait for the supercharged version.
Well they did say that this was simply a starting point. There was a 2.4L Supercharged Ecotec that makes 250HP in the Nomad concept :D The most important thing right now is to get the suspension right.
 

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Originally posted by Butta@Apr 26 2004, 08:41 PM
(08:30 May 03, 2004)
Winter Solstice
Our first drive in Pontiac's new Drop-top leaves us longing for more
this scared me. thought they were about to give it a bad review. even though its so long away, lots of room for improvment. hopefully they will get it under 7 sec 0-60 before its released...
 

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Originally posted by nikivee@Apr 27 2004, 12:35 AM
Why is every car measured by the 1/4 mile? Yes, it's nice go have a fast car, but a 1/4 mile does not make the entire car.
you have to have something to measure by,
 

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Originally posted by Smilingoat+Apr 27 2004, 12:52 AM--></div><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (Smilingoat @ Apr 27 2004, 12:52 AM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'> <!--QuoteBegin-nikivee@Apr 27 2004, 12:35 AM
Why is every car measured by the 1/4 mile? Yes, it's nice go have a fast car, but a 1/4 mile does not make the entire car.
you have to have something to measure by, [/b][/quote]
I remember it was either car and driver or motor trend who did a test that combined both acceleration and handling in one test. I remember it being something about driving in a figure 8. I thought that was a great test of overall rating of a car.
 

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Originally posted by nikivee@Apr 26 2004, 07:35 PM
Why is every car measured by the 1/4 mile? Yes, it's nice go have a fast car, but a 1/4 mile does not make the entire car.
Because most of us like cars that can get out of their own way. :p
 

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is this turbo miata available allready?
I don't know what they need a turbo for 100hp/l: the yamaha powered celica gt-s has allready 100hp/l n/a.

the 2.4 from the solstice is a torque monster compared with the 1.8 n/a from the miata...
 

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Sounds like a great review. I love the Solstice, and I hope that the "smile" they got fromt the talk about a turbo 2.0 was a prelude to what will come in the future! I want a Solstice, along with my 5th gen Z28, and my Caddy STSV. :D
 

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Originally posted by jsb57@Apr 27 2004, 06:51 AM
turbo miata (much more money: ~26,500) goes 0-60 in 6.5-6.7 according to most mags.
yeah i just kinda found that out, i was going by a japanees fanboy website. still when this hits the floor it should be doing about the same, and for so much less cash.
 

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Blah Blah Blah Blah - over half that article was a waste and boring as hell. Just skip to the good stuff - I hate it when Autoweek does that, because for they most part they do a fair job reviewing products. All GM needs is to throw a turbocharger on that 2.4L and they will have more than enough sales - eclipsing the Honda and Miata.
 
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