Tuesday, December 12, 2006


So is looks like Edmunds.com is done with their year long road test of the Pontiac Solstice roadster. After a year with living with the small two-seat, what have they learned, and what did they report to the public? That is a question I am still pondering, even as I enter into my Human Factors final exam.

I mention my exam because Human Factors is what the Edmunds staff complained about the most. Human Factors covers most of the ergonomic issues, things like why people prefer the HVAC controls to be in turn-knob style as opposed to push button or toggle switch style. Human Factors also incorporates statements like “This thing is beautiful!” as well as the overall design of a product, (too much wind noise, or level of connectedness to the road). Basically, Human Factors is the one thing designers are most worried about, and understand the least.

That being said, the Edmunds staff had a lot to say about why the Mx-5 is so much nicer, but totally ignored the basic formula General Motors was following. It is my understanding that GM set out to create a modern take on the original Corvette, i.e. a simple, basic, two seat roadster that the majority of people find well designed (looks good), handles, and gives them a sense of romance (think of the flash back scene from Casablanca).

Edmunds even admits that the Solstice was never really given a chance because of prejudice toward the Pontiac. Oh sure, they say they wanted the Pontiac to do better, but it just didn’t cut it. I find that a little hard to believe myself, because most of the entries in the log book were about things that make a roadster, well a roadster.

One editor complained that the transmission grabbed gears too well, saying, “…the clutch engages like a light switch -- minimal progression... it grabs and you better get your foot out.”

Others thought is was necessary that this roadster have a trunk the size of a TownCar, I counted seven (7) different entries about the lack of trunk space.

I am going to go off a little about this. I don’t know who said the Solstice (or Mx-5 Z3, Z4, 350Z, TT, XLR, Crossfire, Corvette, s2000, SC430, etc.) are everyday cars, but whoever it was should be drug into the street and shot. All compact two seat convertibles have roots as roadsters and the few that continue to be roadsters should not be asked to do things that larger cars do.

That means no trunk space because they were not meant to be driven long distances; it’s a weekend car to have fun with people! Let me just say for the record, what a traditional roadster is; it is a car that has no top or (now) a manual storable top, has no side windows or (now) manual rollup windows, front engine rear drive configuration, two seats, no radio, no navigation system, no CD player, no CD changer, manual shift transmission, and no sound deadening. Roadsters commonly have quick steering ratios and quick gearing ratios, they have basic suspension setups and are lacking in anything luxurious.

Why Edmunds.com, Car and Driver, Road and Track, Autoblog.com and all of the other main stream and not so main stream publications insist the Solstice go on long road trips and not have any wind or road noise, float over potholes, and in general not act like what it is (a roadster) is beyond me.

I stopped reading the updated log book when I found one editor complaining about the canvas top, wishing that the Solstice had a vinyl top like the Mazda (if the cat did not sleep on it this would not happen). I had to laugh a little because I knew full well that if the Solstice did have a vinyl top, like the Mazda, then everybody would say that the Pontiac was being cheep in top material. So it is really a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation with the Solstice.

Before you start thinking I am just complaining that all of the editors are not really doing their job of being candid in their reports, I will say I was a little disappointed in Erin Riches, the Senior Content Editor’s entry at 17,269 miles. What Riches found was the seat leather was starting to ripple form being sat in all the time.

I would like to think that the people over at Edmunds are not adding too much extra weight to the all ready heavy Solstice, and will entertain my fantasy that all of the editors are Hooters models and Playboy Playmates. Getting back to reality, this problem is due to one of two reasons (or both as might be the case here). The first what Riches thinks, “… whoever cut the leather for the seat wasn't given very exact dimensions.” and second what I think, the foam that makes up the seats mass disintegrated. Either way it is poor quality control, and Pontiac should be advised that such short comings are going to damage the brands revival.

So why do I feel the need to review a review? Simple; I think it is wrong to fault a vehicle for doing what it was designed to do. This is akin to complaining that your alarm woke you up. You set the alarm, you told the alarm to go off at the time it did; the alarm did nothing wrong—besides doing what it was programmed to do.

The Mazda has been king of the hill for so long; I can see a prejudice toward any car that might threaten the royal reign of the Mx-5. For the first time in almost 15 years, there is a car out there that is priced, designed, and follows the same formula of the Mx-5, and the powers that be are scared.

I drove both cars back to back and I found that both have nice points and not so nice points. The Solstice, for example, has more body lean than the Mx-5; but the Mx-5 has a harder suspension than the Solstice. So which car is better? Well that is a matter of opinion—nothing more. Build quality has nothing to do with it here, Mazda and GM are not officially rivals and it will be a long time until one or the other rises on top.

I will just ask that all future reviews of the Solstice are done in taste, and do not fault the car for being too low, or not having enough trunk space. As the first in more than 50 years of trying to produce an inexpensive weekend roadster, GM should be given a shot to prove it self. Instead, GM is given a snub and not a second look—Edmunds even opens saying the only reason they bought the car was to see what all the hype was about, and not to really test out the car.

I leave you with one request as consumers. If you want a car that will fit your stuff, don’t buy a roadster. Buy a sedan, if it has to be sporty, than buy a 2+2 coupe at the least. Do not think a Solstice or a Mx-5 for that matter, will become something its not just because you really want it to be.


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