Design of the Year: Pontiac Solstice

Alex P

No need to beat around the bush: the best attribute of the Pontiac Solstice is its brilliant Franz von Holzhausen styling. Even if its appealing appearance were all the Solstice had going for it, the car still would have been a strong contender for this award, because it possesses all the visceral appeal that made the original 2002 concept so desirable. It's cool, it's smooth, it's exciting, and, thanks to some clever engineering under its skin, it's a good drive, too.

The Solstice is also one of the rare concept cars to be put into production in almost exactly the form in which it first excited the world. Another Bob Lutz two-seat concept, the Dodge Viper, was different in every volume, line, and detail from the car that was finally produced. The first Corvette was already being tooled for production in the form in which it was first shown, so it doesn't count, but the Solstice you can buy now is the car you wanted back in 2002.

The design of a car is concerned with far more than just styling, though. Choosing bits and pieces from worldwide GM parts bins allowed the sub-$20,000 base price thought necessary to make the business case work. Applying relatively new and economical technologies--such as hydroforming the frame members and nearly all of the exterior panels--meant that dynamics did not suffer overmuch from the time-constrained and fiscally tight development budget.

What did suffer was weight. The Solstice weighs almost 400 pounds more than a comparably equipped Mazda MX-5. Speed to market is the excuse, sloppy engineering execution the real explanation. That's one negative point. Another is the ridiculous trunk, with a huge hump covering the fuel tank sitting where a suitcase ought to go, resulting in about as much useful storage space as an MG TD had. After that, apart from the endemic nasty-plastic GM interior finish, just about everything is on the plus side of the ledger.

A sports car should feel good. That is, it needs to be responsive to a driver's control inputs, and for entry-level models like this one, it needs to be completely on the driver's side, with no hidden vices lurking to catch the inexperienced. So the Solstice gives pleasure: to buy, to look at, to drive, and--we confidently predict--to own. Like a majority of Americans today, it could stand to lose a few pounds, but just as it is, it's fit, healthy, and a worthy Design of the Year.

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