2009 Pontiac Solstice
This year is Pontiac
’s swan song. Come 2010, the long and storied brand that was intended to bring a little excitement to the General Motors
stable will join the ranks of innumerable other American manufacturers in the history books. But before that happens, the company has one last firecracker up its sleeves – the 2009 Solstice Coupe GXP. Produced in the last year of Pontiac’s existence, the external design of the car has stuck to its original concept in a way few cars manage to do. With low, half windows and a sinister rear deck, this car literally stops traffic. It’s uniquely gorgeous – delivering exotic looks with an absolutely accessible price tag. The direct-injection, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine serves up more horsepower and better fuel economy than the naturally aspirated version, too. That’s not to say the car doesn’t have its faults, as the interior is chock full of puzzlers – like why can’t the driver’s seat recline with the door closed? And why did they put the window controls there? Frustrating negatives like a serious lack of cargo space and ridiculous blind spots also crop up. But when taken as sports car quirkiness, those inconveniences are easily forsaken on a brisk ride through the mountains.
What's to Like
The exterior of the Pontiac
Solstice Coupe GXP is drop dead gorgeous, and it has the power to match its sporty looks. With 260 horsepower on tap, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine provides plenty of power, and we averaged 32 mpg during highway driving. Those are impressive figures. The optional seven-speaker Monsoon stereo fills the tiny cabin with great sound, too.
What's Not to Like
Unfortunately, there’s a hefty price to be paid for those sexy looks. The Solstice Coupe GXP has nearly unmanageable blind spots that make changing lanes and backing out of parking lots a hair-raising experience. The interior layout is troublesome, with controls either difficult to reach or inaccessible all together, and there’s nowhere onboard to stow the removable targa top.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
Ignoring the blind spots, the Solstice Coupe GXP is remarkably easy to drive. Power from the direct-injection engine is smooth and ample and the limited-slip differential ensures all the power makes it to the ground. The front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout makes for a great drive when the road gets twisty, and the sport-tuned suspension on the GXP handles steering-wheel inputs quickly and accurately. Unlike other roadsters out there, the Solstice actually offers up a fairly comfortable drive thanks to suspension damping that handles pavement imperfections with ease. The engine is a bit noisy, with the whoosh of the turbo easily heard even with the windows up and the A/C on, but in my book, that’s what you want out of a roadster. The transmission is a clunky too, but the clutch is smooth and predictable, as are the Solstice Coupe GXP’s brakes.
Engine and Drivetrain
GM’s Ecotec, direct-injection, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine provides power to the rear wheels via a five-speed manual transmission. With 260 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, there’s plenty to smile about when you put your foot down. The traction control keeps things from getting squirrely under hard acceleration, and a taller rear gear ratio keeps the revs below 2,500 rpm at interstate speeds.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
The Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP isn’t a true coupe, but rather a targa. With the help of a friend, you can lift out the center section of the roof and store it elsewhere for a little fun-in-the-sun driving. There’s even an optional soft-top section that stows under the rear glass, though from what we hear it’s a bit difficult to work with.
Key Technology Evaluation
As with most GM vehicles, OnStar is standard, and turn-by-turn navigation is also an option. Pontiac offers a great seven-speaker Monsoon stereo system, complete with USB and SIRIUS satellite radio. The unit fills the Solstice Coupe’s small cabin with really impressive sound, even with the roof out. Hands-free calling is also standard on the GXP.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
Unlike most sports-bred rides out there, the Solstice Coupe GXP actually serves up decent fuel economy. According to the EPA, the car should see around 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. During our time with the car, we saw closer to 32 mpg on the open road, so your real-world mileage can certainly be improved upon.
A Closer Look: Vehicle Details
Though the Solstice Coupe GXP has a fairly attractive dash, the interior pleasantries end there. Controls tend to be oddly placed and difficult to find, and the cockpit is tight for anyone approaching six feet tall. The gauges are attractive, but recessed too far into their bezels to be easily read.
What this car lacks in interior refinement, it makes up for in drop-dead gorgeous looks. There are few cars out there right now that command the kind of attention the Solstice Coupe GXP can anywhere it goes thanks to a unique rear deck and curvy haunches.
Market Segment and Pricing
The Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP is priced at $30,375. GM says it directly competes with the Mazda
MX-5 Miata at $22,420, the Honda
S2000 at $34,995 and the BMW
Z4 at a lofty $45,750. Realistically, the Solstice Coupe GXP could hold its own in the way of performance against any of those competitors, but the lack of interior refinement puts it well behind even the Miata.
What We Think
We see an incredible amount of potential in the Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP. In its first generation, the car offers stunning four-cylinder performance, great fuel economy and heart-stopping looks. Unfortunately, it carries plenty of issues that would make living with the car on a day-to-day basis a headache – issues that could have easily been cured by one more generation of manufacturing. Unfortunately, with both Pontiac and Saturn on General Motor’s chopping block, the Solstice’s future is uncertain at best. As it is, the car would make a fantastic track heathen or future collectable, and since Pontiac is offering unbelievable interest rates for similarly mind-boggling amounts of time, it’s not too bad a buy, either.