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With strong performance, a sexy look and a value-oriented price, the 2006 Pontiac Solstice is a very attractive package. But if you're an enthusiast seeking the most driving thrills for your car-buying dollar, test-drive the MX-5 Miata before signing on the dotted line.
Gorgeous lines, lots of legroom, low base price, nimble handling, strong brakes, grippy tires.
Sluggish engine, complicated top seals poorly, hard plastic interior, tiny trunk, no side airbags.
The Pontiac Solstice is an all-new rear-drive roadster for 2006.
Shortly after GM product czar Bob Lutz signed on to help enhance the company's product line, he asked Pontiac designers to come up with a rear-wheel-drive roadster concept. They called it the Solstice, and response was so positive at the 2002 North American International Auto Show that Lutz made it his mission to see the concept translated into a production vehicle. Twenty-seven months later (a blink of an eye in automotive terms), the first rear-wheel-drive, two-seat Pontiac roadster was rolling into showrooms.
The first thing people notice about the Pontiac Solstice is its shapely body. Hyrdroformed body panels give it seductive compound curves and flowing lines. True sports car features include rear-wheel drive, a four-wheel independent suspension, 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels and a near 50-to-50 weight balance. For power, the Solstice relies on a 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine rated at 177 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque. A close-ratio five-speed close-ratio manual transmission is standard, while a five-speed automatic will become available later in the model year. Opening up the car's manually operated top reveals a roomy interior.
Overall, we're impressed by the grip and fun factor offered by the 2006 Pontiac Solstice. It's a sexy, affordable and truly American sports car. Naturally, there are some minor downsides. The top is not particularly easy to lower, for instance, and the car's low price has seemed to have also dictated the use of a lot of low-quality interior materials. And though no one really expects a roadster to be practical, the Solstice's trunk is smaller than usual. Our suggestion is that if you're an enthusiast looking for the best driving experience the budget-roadster category has to offer, go for Mazda's MX-5 Miata. The Pontiac roadster, although fast, just doesn't offer the same connection to the machine.
The 2006 Pontiac Solstice comes in one trim. Standard equipment includes 18-inch wheels, a manually operated top with a glass rear window and defogger, a tilt-adjustable steering wheel and a six-speaker audio system with an in-dash CD player. Available options include air conditioning, power windows and doors, remote keyless entry, leather seats, a couple of upgraded sound systems with MP3 playback, cruise control, OnStar telematics and satellite radio.
Power comes from a normally aspirated 2.4-liter inline four that makes 177 hp and 166 pound-feet of torque. The engine is partnered with a five-speed manual transmission. For those who don't like to shift gears, an automatic will be available in April 2006.
Standard on the Pontiac Solstice is four-wheel disc brakes. ABS is available as an option but side airbags and stability control aren't offered.
With 42.7 inches of legroom and 38.5 inches of headroom, the Solstice feels roomy with the top up or down. Wraparound dash and high door sills surround the driver like the cockpit of a fighter jet, and bolstered seats are comfortable and supportive. Still, the cabin is marred by acres of hard plastic. The retractable top found on the Pontiac Solstice doesn't seal very well along the back edge, leading to wind noise on the highway. Putting the top down requires the driver to turn a latch on the windshield, pop the rear deck lid with a button in the glovebox, then get out of the car and manually fold the top down into its well before slamming the rear deck closed. Putting the top back up requires a similar process, with the added chore of snapping the buttresses into place by hand. It's not difficult, but is tedious compared to the MX-5's one-handed operation. We're also not fans of the Pontiac's trunk, which is so small it's virtually useless.
When thrown into a corner, the 2006 Pontiac Solstice exhibits little body roll and moderate understeer until you hammer the throttle, then the car rotates slightly. It won't swing its tail out on command like the Mazda, but for most drivers the car's substantial lateral grip and quick steering make it a fun and engaging canyon companion. Its engine, however, won't win any accolades from enthusiasts. Though it makes more power than the Miata's 2.0-liter, it revs slower than Mazda's four and crudely hangs on to revs when you back off the throttle. Gear spacing in the transmission is also very wide, which exacerbates the engine's lazy acceleration.
Laura's old car was costing her a small fortune every month for gas and repairs. She didn't even want to drive her kids to the park any more. But buying a new Kia Soul changed all that.
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