First seen in concept form in 2002, the Pontiac Solstice roadster debuted in near-production form at the 2004 North American International Auto Show. At the Detroit presentation, Bob Lutz — the energetic chairman of General Motors North America — drove onstage in a Solstice. Lutz called the car a "back-to-basics" roadster, adding that strong response to the original 2002 concept led to the decision to turn it into an affordable production model.
When the Solstice finally went on sale in the fall of 2005, it was the first production vehicle on GM's Kappa architecture. Equipped with a 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine featuring variable valve timing, the Solstice is manufactured in Wilmington, Del.
Pontiac press information says the Solstice's lightweight engine construction improves the rear-wheel-drive roadster's weight distribution. Initial models will be equipped with a five-speed-manual transmission.
Judging by early orders, the Solstice could become a popular model. That's exactly what GM needs to help offset sluggish sales and financial losses early in 2005. According to The Detroit News, a high-output version could emerge later.
According to Pontiac, designers sought to preserve the "clean lines and taut proportions" of the concept when creating the production version. Among the most notable styling features are the reverse-hinged forward-opening "clamshell" hood, matched by a similar setup for the trunk lid at the rear. Sporting a hunkered-down look, the Solstice has Pontiac's characteristic dual-port grille. The rear clamshell hides the top when it's down, thereby preserving the car's sporty look. Nacelles that sweep behind each seat are shaped to match the headrests.
Some components are all-new, while others already existed in the company's parts bin. The GMC Envoy's rear corner lamps are installed, while the door handles and seats — among other items — are used on other GM vehicles. Reflectors in the taillights take the place of side marker lights.
The four-wheel-independent suspension has forged-aluminum control arms and monotube shock absorbers. Five-spoke aluminum wheels hold 18-inch tires. With a space frame structure and a 95.1-inch wheelbase, the Solstice is 157.2 inches long overall, 71.6 inches wide and 50.2 inches tall. Its track width is 60.5 inches in front and 61.2 inches at the rear.
Two passengers fit inside the Solstice's cockpit, which has a wraparound instrument panel. Deeply recessed round gauges, including an 8,000-rpm tachometer, have red numerals. The pedals are positioned to allow "heel-and-toe" footwork, and the gearshift's throws were shortened.
Under the Hood
A new 2.4-liter four-cylinder Ecotec engine with variable valve timing delivers 177 horsepower and 166 pounds-feet of torque. An Aisin five-speed-manual gearbox is standard.
Four-wheel disc brakes are standard, and antilock brakes are optional.
The Solstice isn't quite as appetizing as it appears. Performance falls short of the car's visual promise, due largely to the engine's lack of low-end torque. When pushed hard, engine noise is more annoying than alluring. On the other hand, the ride isn't bad at all.
Some drivers will like the short, notchy gearshift lever, which sits atop a large center tunnel. Others won't be as pleased. There's lots of clutch-pedal travel before engagement, which can make matching engine revs difficult. The clutch also is on the heavy side.
Snug inside, the Solstice has ample headroom when the top is up but very limited elbow space. Entry and exit aren't easy. Visibility with the top up is awful, and oddly positioned mirrors don't help all that much. The dashboard features thick chrome bezels, which can produce reflections. Trunk space is next to nonexistent.