Memo to Mazda. Be scared. Very scared. General Motors has conjured up a car to out-MX-5 the MX-5.
The Solstice, from GM’s Pontiac division, looks sexier, handles sweetly, rides smoothly, and may even undercut it on price. And the best bit? It could yet come to the UK.
You must have heard about the Solstice. This was the concept two-seater that appeared at the Detroit motor show back in 2002, the creation of GM’s then newly appointed car czar Bob Lutz.
Rapturous applause and cries of ‘gotta build it’ prompted GM, against its better judgement, to give it the green light for production.
It didn’t matter that ‘The General’ lacked a suitable platform, or wasn’t geared-up to build a low-volume, cheap-as-dirt two-seater. Sports car lovers wanted it and Lutz, fresh from his reign at Chrysler, had the power to make it happen.
Fast-forward 36 months and the first Solstices are being delivered to jubilant US owners. And, amazingly, the promise of that original concept has been delivered. It has two seats. It has rear-wheel drive, it’s powered by a willing four-cylinder engine and it starts at $19,995 (£11,200).
Heck, Elton John spent more than that on his hair. The reason the Solstice is so good is that GM didn’t compromise. The car’s chassis – hydroformed, super-stiff steel tubing – was created specially for the Solstice. GM designed a complete new suspension. It borrowed a rear diff from a Cadillac.
And to replicate the complex curves of the concept’s body, the steel outer panels were expensively hydroformed, instead of being stamped in the traditional way.
In the metal, the Solstice looks gorgeous. It’s all round and curvy with strong, muscular haunches over the wheels and big 18-inch rims pushed way out to the corners. And its silvery framed windscreen surround echoes those of old British chrome-framed sports cars of the ’50s.
Size-wise, it’s 3988mm nose to tail, which is almost identical to the Mazda. But it boasts another 76mm in its wheelbase, and 83mm in the waist for a more accommodating interior.
Slide behind the wheel and you sit deep and low in a cockpit that’s simple, functional and cosseting. The seats have plenty of side bolstering for support in corners. And the 2413mm wheelbase means there’s space for a six foot-plus driver to get comfy.
The ergonomics are outstanding, too. You don’t so much as sit in the car as wear it. The stubby gearshift is right there. The thick-rimmed steering wheel is at just the perfect angle. The pedals are spot-on for heel and toeing.
Yes, some of the trim looks a little cheap and cheerful, and GM’s designers could have been more creative in creating some extra storage space – there’s very little. But the chrome-ringed instruments look classy and all the switches and controls have a solid, upscale feel to them.
The hood works well too, though at first glance it appears like it was designed by a committee. Dropping the top involves getting out of the car for a start, unlike the Mazda’s hood which can be lowered and raised from the driver’s seat.