What's New for 2009
The big news for the 2009 Pontiac Solstice is the debut of a new hardtop model with a removable roof, which comes in the same base and GXP trim levels as its soft top counterpart. Also added to the lineup is the soft top Solstice Street Edition, which includes upgraded standard features and a sport suspension. Remaining changes this year are feature-related. The base Solstice now comes standard with previously optional items like ABS, stability and traction control and a limited-slip rear differential. Bluetooth connectivity is a new feature this year, available on all models.
There are few cars in the $20,000-$30,000 range that can turn heads quite like the Pontiac Solstice. Even though it's entering its fourth year of production, this curvaceous roadster still commands looks from fellow drivers and passers-by. This sexy styling, along with the Solstice's able powertrain and sporty driving dynamics, have made it a sales success. For 2009, Pontiac has added even more varieties of Solstice to the menu.
Most notably, this model year sees the debut of a Solstice coupe that's available in the same base and GXP trim levels as its roadster sibling. Like the Chevy Corvette, the Solstice coupe actually has a targa-style removable roof panel. Pontiac says it's concave on the inside to allow for more headroom -- slightly more than 37 inches total. The coupe keeps the roadster's rear fenders and rear fascia, but features a slightly different taillight design, and the deck lid is topped with a sleek-looking (and functional) ducktail-style rear spoiler. And although the interior remains mostly the same as the original Solstice, the area behind the coupe's seats has been redesigned for better access to the cargo area. The result is a car that keeps the original Solstice's sexiness while offering added rigidity and versatility.
Another addition to the 2009 Pontiac Solstice lineup is the Street Edition, which combines the base Solstice's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with the GXP's performance-oriented suspension. We're not quite sure of the logic behind putting the lower-powered engine and all-season tires on a stiffer suspension, but standard features such as air-conditioning and an upgraded seven-speaker audio system offer a level of comfort above that of other Solstice trims.
As before, the soft top 2009 Pontiac Solstice's chief competitor is the Mazda MX-5 Miata. The Solstice (as well as its twin, the Saturn Sky) may have the advantage when it comes to looks and straight-line performance, but the Mazda still beats the Pontiac in day-to-day enjoyment thanks to its more athletic personality, quicker-revving engine, a more polished demeanor and an effortless drop top (including an available retractable hardtop). The Mazda is also more practical and enjoys a vastly superior reputation for reliability. We'd take the Miata over the base Solstice roadster any day, but the powerful GXP is tougher to resist -- and even more so in coupe form.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Pontiac Solstice is available as either a soft-top roadster or a coupe (late availability) with a removable roof panel. Both body styles are available in base or GXP trim levels. Standard on both base models are 18-inch alloy wheels, a limited-slip rear differential, a tilting steering wheel, OnStar, a trip computer and an audio system with satellite radio, a CD/MP3 player and an auxiliary audio jack. Roadsters have a manual soft top with an acoustic headliner and a glass rear window with defogger. The GXP adds a turbocharged engine, performance tires, dual exhaust outlets, foglamps, a sport-tuned suspension, Bluetooth, 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, an upgraded audio system with a six-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. The Premium Package adds leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and steering-wheel-mounted controls.
Also available for the 2009 Solstice roadster is the Street Edition, which comes standard with the GXP's sport suspension, sport pedals, air-conditioning, an upgraded seven-speaker audio system and the Premium Package.
Powertrains and Performance
A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 177 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque powers the base Solstice, while the turbocharged 2.0-liter four in the GXP models kicks the power output up to 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard for either engine, while a five-speed automatic is optional. Straight-line performance is adequate with the base engine -- it goes from zero to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds for manual-equipped cars. The GXP is much more thrilling; in our testing, it went from zero to 60 mph in a scant 5.8 seconds.
According to the EPA, expected fuel economy for the base Solstice is 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. The GXP, despite the added performance, still turns in a respectable rating of 19/25/21 mpg.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes, as well as stability and traction control, are standard on all Pontiac Solstice trims. Side airbags aren't offered, but in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash testing, the 2009 Pontiac Solstice scored four stars out of five for both frontal- and side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Juxtaposed with the car's exterior, the Solstice's insides are not as inspiring. The interior design would be attractive, save for an abundance of hard plastic -- a telltale sign of the Solstice's low price point. The stereo display is nearly impossible to see in bright sunlight, power window controls are difficult to reach and the car's minimal storage space can prove frustrating. Taller drivers will find adequate legroom and headroom, but hiproom is a bit tight due to the car's wide transmission tunnel. On the roadster, raising and lowering the top is a laborious task that requires getting out of the car. And although sports cars aren't expected to be practical, the odd shape of the Solstice's small, reverse-opening trunk (a smidge more than 5 cubic feet in both body styles) challenges one's weekend-trip packing ability.
When thrown into a corner, the 2009 Pontiac Solstice exhibits little body roll and substantial cornering grip. This makes the car enjoyable on a twisty road, but 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 base 2.4-liter Solstice should be enough to appease the casual driver, but for those looking for a fair degree of excitement, the turbocharged Solstice GXP is the only choice. Braking performance is respectable, with a stop from 60 mph coming in the 120-foot range. The antilock system, however, can sometimes be abrupt and jerky in action.