What's New for 2008
The 2008 Pontiac Solstice receives a few formerly optional features as standard this year. Both the base and turbocharged GXP versions now include OnStar, an acoustic headliner for the soft top and a trip computer. An upgraded audio system with satellite radio and MP3 playback for the CD player is also part of the deal. In terms of options, the GXP also now offers the Club Sport Package that includes firmer suspension tuning and silver-painted wheels. There are also two new special-edition trim levels this year that celebrate the car's success in SCCA racing.
Sexy and fun, yet annoying at times. Like some significant others, the 2008 Pontiac Solstice can make you bust out in a foolish grin one moment and try your patience the next. Even now in its third year, the roadster with the curvaceous body still turns heads like it did while spinning on a turntable as a concept car.
Pontiac's first attempt at a two-seat roadster is mostly a success, as all the necessary ingredients are here: a powerful front-mounted engine, rear-wheel drive, a fully independent suspension, big wheels and tires and a close-to-perfect weight balance. The standard Solstice has a 177-horsepower inline-4 that provides decent performance, though it has the strange sensation of feeling slower than its sub-8-second 0-60-mph time would indicate, due mainly to the engine's slow-revving nature.
Last year's arrival of the turbocharged, 260-hp GXP variant took care of that gripe, as it satisfied those who required eyeball-flattening acceleration along with eye-catching good looks. But whether you choose the base 2008 Pontiac Solstice or the pumped-up GXP version, you're certain to have some fun behind the wheel. The Solstice is aces when the top is dropped, the tunes are up and you're unraveling a twisty road at a pace that's brisk but not all-out.
Still, there are some complaints endemic to both Solstice models, including a heavy-handed feel to the steering and gearshifter, a pitiful amount of interior storage, a fussy top operation and a barely usable trunk. These attributes might seem like minor things for a roadster, but they become considerably annoying during long-term ownership.
Mazda's MX-5 Miata is the Solstice's chief competitor in the $20,000-$30,000 roadster segment. The Solstice (as well as its twin, the Pontiac Sky) may have it over the Miata in the looks and straight-line performance areas, but the Mazda beats the Pontiac in day-to-day enjoyment thanks to its more athletic personality, quicker-revving engine, effortless drop top and more polished demeanor. The Mazda is also more practical, thanks to its larger trunk and useful interior storage areas. If we were looking at the base Solstice versus the Miata, we'd have to choose the latter. But as with sexy looks, a lot of power has a way of making one forgive shortcomings, so the doubly blessed Solstice GXP is much tougher to resist.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Pontiac Solstice comes in base and high-performance GXP trims. Standard on both are 18-inch wheels with 245/45 performance tires, a manual soft top (with an acoustic headliner and a glass rear window with defogger), a tilt steering wheel, OnStar telematics, a trip computer and an audio system with satellite radio, a CD/MP3 player and an auxiliary input jack. The GXP adds a turbocharged engine, a limited-slip differential, dual exhaust outlets, foglamps, cruise control, full power accessories, keyless entry and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Many of the GXP's convenience features are available on the base Solstice. Optional on both trims are air-conditioning, leather seating, upgraded audio with a six-disc CD changer, sport pedals and the Club Sport Package. The latter features firmer suspension calibrations for both trims as well as special wheels for the GXP and antilock brakes and a limited-slip differential for the base car.
Also available for the 2008 Solstice are the SCCA SSB Championship Edition (base model) and the SCCA T2 Championship Edition (GXP). These come with almost every feature as standard and have special exterior paint, though oddly, the Club Sport Package isn't available on either SCCA edition.
Powertrains and Performance
A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 177 hp and 166 pound-feet of torque powers the base Solstice, while the musclebound GXP gets a turbocharged 2.0-liter four that makes 260 hp and 260 lb-ft. A five-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic is optional for either engine. Even with the base engine, performance is respectable, with a 0-60-mph time of 7.7 seconds for manual-equipped cars. The engine's slow-revving personality makes it feel somewhat lazy around town, however. The GXP provides thrilling performance; a manual-equipped version we tested did the 0-60-mph sprint in a scant 5.8 seconds. The manual transmission's heavy shifter feel and wide gear spacing, however, put a damper on driver enjoyment.
Four-wheel disc brakes are standard on both trims, with ABS optional on the base car and standard on the GXP. The latter also comes with stability control, which is optional on the standard Solstice. Side airbags aren't offered, but in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash testing, the Solstice scored four stars (out of five) for both frontal- and side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Cockpit accommodations are a mixed bag. Taller drivers will find adequate legroom and headroom, though hiproom will seem scant for many occupants due to the car's wide transmission tunnel. Other downsides include a stereo display that washes out in sunlight, difficult-to-reach power window controls, minimal storage space and an abundance of hard plastic that mars the otherwise attractive interior design. Lowering the top is a multistep affair that involves getting out of the car to stow the top and shut the hard tonneau cover. Raising it is just as involved. And though sports cars aren't expected to be practical, the odd shape of the Solstice's small, 5-cubic-foot trunk challenges one's weekend-trip packing ability.
When thrown into a corner, the 2008 Pontiac Solstice exhibits little body roll and moderate understeer. It won't hang its tail out on command like the Miata, but for most drivers, the car's substantial cornering grip makes it enjoyable on a twisty road. Hard-core enthusiasts will notice that the heavy-handed steering lacks feedback and doesn't make the experience the joy it is in the perfectly sorted Miata. The suspension provides a firm but compliant ride over broken pavement. Braking performance is good, with a stop from 60 mph coming in the 120-foot range. The antilock system, however, can sometimes be abrupt and jerky in action.