The Sun Shines on Pontiac: A Solstice for 2006

One thing that’s immediately apparent about the Solstice roadster–it’s drop-dead gorgeous. From any angle, and inside and out, this is not only the most beautiful thing to come out of Pontiac, but probably GM itself, in thirty-plus years. And one thing that you won’t notice upon laying eyes on this machine–it’s dirt cheap. The starting price is under twenty grand; we tested a $21,995 model that seemed very well-equipped.

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Pure sex. It’s so good-looking that the Solstice doesn’t even have to be good; people will buy this droptop based upon appearance alone–and for once, such shallow shopping is justified. (You can almost feel the much-needed enthusiasm humming along the hallowed halls of GM’s ‘excitement division.’) Almost catlike, the rear haunches are lithe and muscular, and look ready to pounce. The front end is curvaceous in the best Hollywood bombshell tradition. Shod in extra-wide 245/45 meats, even the four 18″ rims are powerful-looking.

Fortunately, even a short spin behind the wheel proves that it *is* good. It’s *darn* good. 177 horses is the output rating from the 2.4-liter Ecotec four, and while that sounds rather mild, it’s plenty of oomph for this lightweight (2860 lbs.). A 250-horse model is being quietly promised within a year (which will certainly be enough to beat the grandaddy of the segment, the Mazda Miata, with its 170 horsies underhood and 300 fewer pounds). Even the base model, though, boasts enough juice to hit 60 m.p.h. in about seven seconds, plastering a permagrin upon the driver’s face in the meantime. The standard five-speed stick adds to the fun–an automatic will follow in several months, for amputees only we hope–it’s smooth, precise, and “snick-snicky” in the best tradition.

Heck, you don’t even have to drive the Solstice to recognize that it’s a whole new kind of Pontiac. When Bob Lutz voiced his vision for Pontiac as sort of a bargain BMW, this is what he was talking about. Merely sitting inside, you realize that this is something special. Organic and curvy–like the exterior–the interior design is as good as any roadster in the “costs less than a house” segment. Seats are heavily bolstered, yet comfortable, and covered in some heavenly hides. Audiophiles will be pleased to note that the optional Monsoon stereo–shared with some of GM’s best new offerings–not only sounds great, it looks great, too.

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and daisies. A few laps around the track revealed some suspension issues; it can feel disconnected especially out back–this isn’t a pure sports car, really. Further, the top is manually operated, and although one person can put it up or down, it’s kind of an awkward process. Not to mention the fact that top takes up the entire trunk, save for maybe a couple square feet suitable only for a soft-sided duffel bag–this is also no everyday automobile.

All that aside, though, the Solstice is fun, attractive, and well-made. Behind the wheel is joy; comfort, style and convenience are just icing on the cake. It’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed with one of these, short of a hard-core SCCA club racer, or maybe a soccer mom–it is a roadster, after all. But it’s the best damn roadster to come out of GM, or even America in…maybe ever. When’s the last time you heard that about a Pontiac, or even a GM product?

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Production delays seem to have been ironed out, finally. Customer deliveries–the first 1,000 at any rate–have begun, and dealers should be stocking the Solstice by the time you read this. If you’ve got an extra $20,000 lying around–or even if you don’t–go out, find that Buick-GMC-Pontiac dealership you’re always passing by, and get your name on that list. If you appreciate engaging drives, good looks, sunshine and sex, you’ll be glad you did.

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