- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Solstice means a turning point in seasons. With the all-new 2006 Pontiac Solstice roadster, it could mean a new type of turning point in Pontiac’s excitement.

When you see it, you’ll understand what I mean; it’s a designer’s dream come true. The attractive body styling wasn’t compromised to make the underbody parts fit. It still retains the same beauty of the concept car that was showcased at 2002 auto shows — and is now ready to drive.

During a walk-around, Pontiac engineers explained how the sheet metal is hydroformed in their plant in Ontario, Canada, by using a blank sheet of metal that is pressed downward under water pressure, producing curves and indents not possible with ordinary stamping methods. It also uses hydroformed tube structure for extra strength. These components are sent to Wilmington, Del., for assembly.

The Solstice is built on GMs rear-wheel-drive compact performance architecture. It has Bilstein coil-over monotube shocks on all corners, rack-and-pinion steering and large four-wheel disc brakes. It rolls on huge 18-inch Goodyear Eagle tires that were specifically designed for the Solstice and mounted on beautiful aluminum wheels, making the package exceptionally stable.

The Solstice is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces a modest 177 horsepower, yet delivers reasonably good acceleration.

And it’s conservative with gasoline: EPA mileage ratings are 20 city, 28 highway. A short-throw leather-wrapped five-speed shifter is most enjoyable.

Storage is minimal, but two small golf bags fit in the trunk that also houses the canvas top. This top contains a glass window with heating bars for defogging and is easy to get up or down.

There’s storage space behind the seatback, but Solstice is a roadster, not a U-Haul.

When I saw the two-seat cockpit, I couldn’t wait to get in and drive. I made the seat adjustments and also used the rake-adjustable steering column, then got underway.

Because the contoured leather seats held me firm and secure during a 300-mile journey over wiggly roads, I didn’t become fatigued. Also, the Solstice has a great suspension system. Small and as light as it is, (2,860 pounds) it’s not a hippity-hop vehicle; the ride is exceptionally solid and comfortable.

The dash has two large recessed instruments: a tachometer and speedometer. A smaller, central instrument shows the gas gauge, plus various other information that I accessed by using buttons on the leather-wrapped steering wheel.

The sound system is also controlled with steering-wheel buttons.

With 50/50 weight distribution, the roadster is very well balanced. The large four-wheel disc brakes provided well-modulated braking when I purposely made a hard, quick stop.

The overall length of the Solstice is only 157 inches, and with a 71-inch width, it’s very stable when making quick, sharp turns. The 35-foot turning circle makes it easily maneuverable.

The rack-and-pinion steering allows for very agile, precise turns. It’s a vehicle that allowed me to feel in command by doing precisely what I wanted it to do.

Options are available, but I preferred the manual transmission to an automatic and listening to the muffler’s tone rather than XM Satellite Radio.

Pontiac people consider the Solstice a low-volume car, but they may be in for a surprise.

When people see the Solstice, I suspect they’ll feel as I did with a strong urge to drive it.

And when they learn it’s priced under $20,000, the demand for Solstice could become very exciting.

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