Long Term Kappa review not favorable
Long-Term Test: 2006 Pontiac Solstice
So that's that.
After 12 months and more than 17,000 miles, the sun has finally set on our time with our long-term 2006 Pontiac Solstice. If you've read anything we've written about the Pontiac in the last year, you won't be surprised that we're not terribly broken up about the parting of ways with this little roadster. While it provided us with lots of wonderful photographs, the sexy-looking drop top wore us down over the long haul with high levels of interior noise, a jarring ride around town and a drivetrain that provided more vibration than enjoyable performance.
Bottom line: The Solstice is a bargain-priced beauty, but with a few too many rough edges.
Why We Bought It
On a rare rainy day in Las Vegas in late 2005, we were able to procure what was — at the time — the most sought-after American vehicle in years and certainly the most significant. In the months leading up to its debut, the Pontiac Solstice had built an impressive level of buzz within automotive circles based on marketing drawings, hearsay from General Motors sources and a healthy level of anticipatory optimism for a drop-dead gorgeous roadster first seen as a concept at the 2002 North American International Auto Show.
The dealer gave us a knowing look as he handed over the keys. Certainly we knew someone. Nobody could get these cars. And here we'd driven from Los Angeles and paid $2,000 over sticker just to pick this one up. By the time we were ready to go, nearly half the dealership's staff was peeking around corners, through windows or over cubicle walls to get a look at the new owners of the Pontiac Solstice.
And off we drove in the rain with a heady sense of self-importance.
How It Drove
Within weeks, the buzz was already wearing off. The Solstice was soon the last car taken by our editors virtually every night. By the end of its 12-month run, it often sat idle in the garage for nights and even entire weekends.
How could a car go from Snoop Dogg to Vanilla Ice status in such a short stint? Where do we start? There were major issues like its harsh ride, sloppy transmission and bizarre rooftop retraction design, to minor problems like a lack of storage space and the chassis squeaks and rattles aplenty. Worse still, the Solstice was constantly being compared with the long-term 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata parked next to it in the garage.
"After spending the weekend in our long-term Miata, I've spent the last two days with the Solstice. It hasn't been the easiest transition, and not just because of the difference in their personalities," wrote Senior Content Editor Erin Riches. "It's also the Pontiac's inconsistent fit and finish that's getting me down. Many of the Solstice's plastic dash panels are misaligned, and several have flashing on the edges left over from the molding process. Keep in mind that our Solstice isn't a pre-production car supplied by the manufacturer — it's representative of what a normal buyer would find at the dealership."
It's not that the Solstice doesn't have its positive aspects. It stands as a head-turning beauty everywhere it goes, and its driving dynamics are impressive, with tight handling and peppy acceleration. Sadly, any run through its gears is tainted by an unpleasant and just-too-loud roar from under the hood. The Pontiac's 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder revs too slowly and feels too rough.
Automotive Editor John DiPietro had a number of criticisms of the Solstice. "The engine makes good power, but suffers from what feels like a heavy flywheel. It revs up and down too slowly. It doesn't feel sporty."
The problem is how crude the car feels, because its performance numbers say the Solstice should be a winner. A quick look at the test numbers from the track show impressive statistics — a 7.2-second 0-60-mph time, a 15.6-second quarter-mile at 88 mph and a 66.2-mph spin through the slalom. All are comparable to or better than the Miata.
And you can't help but feel for such a beautiful vehicle. At times, a top-down ride home on a smooth open road would be downright magical, only to be destroyed by a top-up, traffic-filled return trip in the morning.
Road Test Editor Brian Moody summed up the bizarre feelings left by the vehicle with this missive in the long-term blog: "When the top is down, it squeaks horribly and the whine from the transmission isn't getting better with age. Then again, my 4-year-old son says he loves the car so much he wishes we could drive it "everyday." Of course his fondness for the car has more to do with the fact that the top goes down than anything else. What he doesn't know is that there's no shortage of affordable drop tops these days. I love the Solstice, I hate the Solstice — and so it goes every time I drive the car."
Inside the Cabin
Living with the Solstice is a challenge. While its main competitor, the Mazda MX-5 Miata, offers a usable trunk, the Solstice does not. With only 4 square feet of cargo volume with the top up and virtually none (around 1.5 square feet) with the top down, grocery shopping is an impossibility. Editors would have to buy milk today and orange juice tomorrow.
By cannibalizing the trunk space for the rooftop storage system, Pontiac engineers began a series of compromises that eventually put the beauty of the car ahead of the driver/owner/passenger's respective happiness.
While the Miata offers a brilliant top system that folds down with a single over-the-shoulder gesture, locking with a simple push-down — we did it once in 1.5 seconds — the Solstice is cumbersome at best. You must exit the car, pop the trunk, lift the lid, detach the roof, fold down and then shut the lid. Our best time in the Solstice was more than 20 seconds to get the roof down and locked. Thanks to a poor design, the latch hook that secures the roof to the windshield frame can be bent easily when putting the roof down for storage. We did it about a dozen times.
When it came time to sell the Solstice, it became apparent that demand for noisy, jarring, yet beautiful roadsters isn't really all that high.
"We looked at sales data and decided to try for a fairly high sale price on what we thought was a desirable convertible," said Consumer Advice Editor Phil Reed. "We listed it on Autotrader.com for $22,500 and received only one call. Two weeks later we dropped the price to $20,500 and received no calls for two weeks. We felt that $20,000 might be a psychological barrier so we dropped it to $19,500 which was our Edmunds.com True Market Value® (TMV®) price at clean condition. We received one call from a woman who was shopping for a Solstice with an automatic transmission. It was a short conversation."
With winter coming, and the appearance of an AutoWeek article about slow Solstice and Sky sales, we cleaned up our long-termer and took it down to Carmax. It was a very pleasant experience. A sales rep took our information and led us to a waiting area. After a half hour of mindless daytime TV our sales rep summoned us into a nearby cubicle and informed us they were willing to pay $20,000 for the Solstice. We tried hard to contain our enthusiasm, since this was $500 more than our asking price. We have seven days to accept their offer and we certainly will.
So that's that. We won't have a lot of fond memories of the Solstice, but will probably break out her photo once in a while when the MX-5 isn't around and indulge ourselves by wondering what might have been. And what could be with a few more years of development.
True Market Value at service end: $20,940 (dealer retail) $19,716 (private party)
What it sold for: $20,000
Depreciation: $4,425 or 18.1% of $24,425 original paid price
Final Odometer Reading:17,530
Best Fuel Economy: 25.1 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 15.2 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 21.8 mpg
Total Body Repair Costs: $350
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 14 months): $281
Ups and Downs
Ups: A fantastic-looking car for a bargain price. You can pull this baby up to any valet stand and fit in with the Mercedes and BMW crowd.
Downs: Chassis squeaks. Top design is too Rubik's Cube. Engine and transmission just feel crude and the ride comfort should simply be improved.
The Bottom Line: If you're only in the market for looks, the Pontiac Solstice may be for you.
Dealer Service Reviews
Boulevard Buick/Pontiac/GMC in Long Beach
Oct. 10, 2006
We pulled into the service drive on time for our scheduled 7a.m. appointment and were pleased to see we were the only car in line. The optimist in us saw this as the line half-empty and was looking forward to the service finishing quickly and being on our way. It turns out that the line was really half-full because it wasn't until 9:30 that the keys were back in our hand and we were paying the bill.
Service items performed: Change oil and filter, service emission system, rotate tires and a "Goodwrench" visual inspection of tires, belts, fluid levels, etc. Total bill for parts and labor, $225.96
I'm not even going to get into this. I already ripped on it on my Grand Prix forums. Talk about a bunch of...well...I'm not going to say it.
And has anybody else figured out the top trick that lets you close it from inside the car like I have? I mean seriously...under 5 seconds easy.