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For decades, the affordable roadster segment consisted solely of cars hailing from England or Japan. General Motors changed that overnight with the Pontiac Solstice (and its Saturn Sky twin), which was built right here in America. The Solstice brought some genuine excitement to the Pontiac brand with its gorgeous styling and available turbocharged power. It was briefly available as a targa-topped coupe, too.
The Pontiac Solstice began its life as a concept vehicle at the 2002 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. After it received rave reviews and plenty of public interest, Pontiac decided to fast-track the creation of a production model. When the Solstice debuted for the 2006 model year, the concept's styling was nearly intact, with big alloy wheels, fluid lines and a smooth, retro-style front end that gave the car a very distinctive look.
But GM's financial woes in 2009 required the elimination of Pontiac, and with that the Solstice was relegated to the past. That's a shame, because with another generation of refinement, the Solstice could have really been something. A used Solstice is a mixed bag, equal parts seductive sheet metal, hit-or-miss driving dynamics and disappointing reliability and quality.
Most Recent Pontiac Solstice
Produced from 2006-'09, the Pontiac Solstice convertible stuck with the classic roadster formula, featuring a front-mounted four-cylinder engine, rear-wheel drive, a four-wheel independent suspension, a near 50/50 front/rear weight balance and a manually operated convertible soft top. The coupe, which was produced for 2009 only, was identical save for its targa roof -- think T-tops without the bar in the middle.
Underneath the hood of base models was a 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. Although the engine featured an aluminum block, dual overhead camshafts and variable valve timing, it didn't feel much like a sports car engine. Tall transmission gearing and a lack of responsiveness resulted in a slow-to-rev nature, and the soundtrack near redline was far from the glorious wail roadster aficionados expect.
A better choice, resources permitting, was the Pontiac Solstice GXP (sold from 2007-'09). This version provided dramatically improved acceleration thanks to a powerful turbocharged direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The GXP also had a sport-tuned suspension, stronger brakes and high-performance tires.
In reviews, we found that while both versions were entertaining in terms of handling, they couldn't match the precision of the benchmark Mazda Miata (or, for the GXP, the Honda S2000). Inside, Pontiac chose to go with markedly cheap materials, and the ownership experience was further dampened by three other unfortunate qualities: a fussy multistep top operation process for convertibles (complemented by awful rearward visibility for coupes), a dearth of interior storage space for things like cell phones and wallets, and a small trunk that was unusable in either model.
The Pontiac Solstice received some notable tweaks during its run. For 2008, OnStar, an acoustic headliner for the soft top and a trip computer became standard equipment for both the base and GXP versions. Also for '08, a Club Sport package with firmer suspension tuning and silver-painted wheels became available. In addition to the arrival of the coupe, 2009 marked the advent of the soft-top Solstice Street Edition, which included upgraded standard features and a sport suspension. Also in '09, ABS, stability control and a limited-slip rear differential were made standard across the board, and Bluetooth connectivity was newly available.