Memo to Mazda. Be scared. Really scared. Why? Because the General has conjured up a nifty roadster to out-MX-5 the MX-5.
This review was first published in MOTOR magazine's December 2005 issue.
The Solstice from GM’s Pontiac division looks sexier, handles sweeter, rides smoother, yet costs a bundle of bucks less. You must have heard about the Solstice. This was the concept two-seater that appeared at the Detroit motor show back in 2002, the creation of GM’s then newly-appointed car supremo, Capt’n Bob Lutz.
Rapturous applause and cries of ‘gotta build it’ prompted GM, against its better judgement, to green-light it for production. Fast forward 36 months and the first Solstices are being delivered to jubilant US punters. And, amazingly, GM kept its promise not to screw with the original concept.
It has two seats. It has rear-wheel drive. It’s powered by a spunky, four-banger motor. And its price starts under $20,000US (roughly $26,000 Aussie dollars). Heck, Elton John spent more than that on his rug.
In the metal, Solstice looks fun and funky; it’s all roundness-and-curves with strong, muscular haunches over the wheels, and big 18-inch rims pushed way out to each of the corners. Size wise, it’s 3988mm nose to tail, which is almost identical to the Mazda.
But it boasts an extra 76mm in its wheelbase, and 86mm in the waistline for more accommodating interior space. And the ergonomics are outstanding. You don’t so much as sit in the car as wear it. The stubby gearshift is right where you want it. The salami-thick wheel is at just the perfect angle.
The pedals are spot-on for heel-and-toeing. Yes, some of the trim looks like it came from a Coles’ bargain bin, and GM’s designers could have been more creative in factoring in some extra storage space (essentially there isn’t any).
The top works well but – unlike the Mazda’s roof which can be raised or lowered from the driver’s seat – you have to climb out of the Solstice. But a hand-timed 20 seconds saw us drop and stow the top. At the heart of the new Ponty is GM’s latest 2.4-litre four-cylinder Ecotech motor.
It’s an all-aluminium lump with overhead cams and four-valves per cylinder. Cranking out 132kW, its power output betters the new MX-5’s 118kW. But where the Pontiac scores is its torque output, packing 222Nm compared to the Mazda’s relatively meagre 188Nm.
Twist the key and the Solstice barks nicely into life. It isn’t a zingy revver, like a Honda S2000, but it spins eagerly and easily to its 6900rpm redline without sounding like a chainsaw in a biscuit tin. Off the line, it races to 100km/h in just 7.4 secs (beating the MX-5 by four tenths) and runs to a top speed of 198km/h.
It’s the Pontiac’s meaty mid-range thrust that impresses the most, though. Slot the stubby lever into fourth and the Ecotech will pull like a Nullabor roadtrain from almost walking pace. Thrashed hard, this pint-sized Pontiac is nothing short of brilliant.
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Its super-stiff backbone chassis feels rock solid, showing no signs of the shakes, even over pock-marked blacktop. With meaty 245/45 18-inch Goodyear Eagle rubber at each corner, the level of grip is terrific. You can push hard and fast into a corner and it’ll cling to a white line like Kate Moss, helped by the car’s neat 52/48 front/rear weight distribution.
Will the Solstice ever find its way Down Under? Don’t hold your breath. While Opel will get a version to sell in Europe, there are no plans for putting the steering wheel on the right just yet. Shame. And GM calls itself a bloody global company.
Pontiac Solstice specs:
ENGINE: 2.4-litre, DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder
ON SALE: not in Australia
PRICE: $26,000 (est)