Quick as a scalded cat, head-turning looks, comfortable ride for a sports car.
Fussy soft top, lack of chassis/steering feedback, no cockpit storage, abysmal outward visibility, lots more.
Imagine going on a weekend-long date with your fave People magazine heartthrob, only to discover that she chews with her mouth open and is obsessed with texting. Sure, she's cute and occasionally fun on the surface, but delve deeper and you're left rather annoyed on the whole. After a weekend-long date with the 2009 Pontiac Solstice GXP Coupe, we, too, were left rather annoyed.
Things didn't start that way. This is a two-seater coupe version of the popular roadster packing 260 horsepower, a sport-tuned suspension, big flashy wheels and styling that makes it look like an escapee from an auto show's turntable. As your eyes pore over its sexy sheet metal and spec sheet stats, the Solstice coupe would seem like a case of "Wow! What's not to like?" But as we discovered, there were more than a few things.
When Pontiac introduced the Solstice roadster for 2006 as a direct rival to the Miata, it was regarded as a respectable performer, but too unrefined and uninvolving to seriously challenge the standard bearer. The top's fussy operation nearly rivaled the Jeep Wrangler's PITA factor. The scary top-up visibility and the cockpit's lack of stowage compartments didn't help matters.
Turns out, the Solstice GXP coupe is much of the same. The coupe's targa-style top is fussy, some of the controls are best suited for double-jointed gymnasts, outward visibility is essentially nonexistent and the interaction between man and machine is lacking. Sure, this GXP model's wicked turbocharged acceleration is a kick and the car takes corners well, but there are just too many annoying characteristics in the 2009 Solstice GXP Coupe to recommend it for a long-term relationship.
The 2009 Pontiac Solstice GXP is motivated by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four that cranks out 260 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The GXP is seriously quick; at the track, the Pontiac scurried to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds and ran down the quarter-mile in only 13.8 seconds. Those are times that would lay waste to most muscle cars of the '60s and early '70s — although its sad-sack engine note lacks any semblance of muscle car aural appeal. The standard Solstice coupe that we tested recently posted numbers of 7.5 seconds and 15.6 seconds, respectively, about a half-second each off a Mazda Miata's pace. At 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, the GXP's supercharged, 260-hp engine is actually slightly more fuel-efficient than the base Solstice's 173-hp mill, which rates 19/25.
The five-speed manual gearbox (a five-speed automatic is optional) has a solid, mechanical feel and the clutch is progressive for the most part, though we felt it could've engaged sooner to promote even quicker acceleration times. Braking was also a mixed bag. Though the GXP posted a good number for its first panic stop (60 to zero in 117 feet), the next few grew longer and the car wiggled a bit as our test driver laid into the brakes. Curiously, the standard Solstice posted consistent 120-foot distances and felt more solid.
With all that rubber on the road (both standard and GXP versions wear massive 245/45/18 tires), one would expect the Solstice to stick in the corners like a cat to a drape. For the most part, it does. The 2009 Pontiac Solstice GXP ran through the slalom at a quick 66.7 mph; however, our expert driver noted that it was downright frustrating and took some doing to run through the cones at that speed. The chief culprits? A non-communicative chassis and steering, along with a too-soft suspension that on the track and in the real world, makes it hard to know where the limits of grip are. When the tires do let go, it's rather sudden, and the tail comes around quickly; in other words, leave the stability control on unless you're an expert driver on a racetrack. The standard Solstice, by comparison, didn't seem as touchy when pushed, given its lesser ability to muster speed. With either Pontiac, you wouldn't want to challenge a Miata on a curvy road — let alone something like a Nissan 370Z.
The upside of the Solstice's soft suspension calibration is a comfortable ride. Considering this car wears 18s with low-profile tires, the ride is actually quite good. The seats are terrible, though. The bottom is overly squishy and poorly shaped, while the bolsters offer little support. They also had the tendency to rattle and wiggle around a bit over bumps or during aggressive driving. The tilt-only steering wheel doesn't have enough travel, but at least the GXP's is wrapped in leather, unlike the base car's.
If you want to cruise with the top off, be prepared for a healthy amount of cockpit wind buffeting at highway speeds, even with the windows up. We'd suggest head scarves à la Grace Kelly for the ladies.
Removing the Solstice's lightweight hardtop is a breeze — just flip a few latches and lift it off. Great, now stow it...oh drat, it doesn't fit inside the car. You'll have to leave the hard panel in your garage or wherever. There's a soft top stowed under the hatch (which takes up most of the tiny trunk), but it's not a simple pop-on affair as it would be with the hard panel.
First, take the soft targa top out of its bag (which takes up most of the cargo area). Next, spread it out on a preferably flat surface that won't scuff it up. Then, install the front and rear frames (via pushing, pulling and cursing) into the top to make it a rigid piece. Finally, put the top on the car, hop inside and flip the latches closed.
Though the Solstice's cut-down windows look cool and reminded a few staffers of an old Porsche Speedster, its visibility reminded everyone of a Brink's truck or a Lamborghini Diablo. A back-up camera — or at least a reverse park assist system — should be standard. Changing lanes isn't much easier, as the mostly ornamental rear side windows are the size of a pie slice. Taller drivers will also find themselves staring at the roof's trailing edge when looking out the side.
Apart from an awkwardly accessed compartment between the seats and a pair of open bins behind, usable cockpit stowage in the Solstice is a joke. Seemingly inspired by marsupials, the seats have pouches in front of the lower cushions and behind the seatbacks — there are no map pockets in the doors.
If you want to use the power windows or recline the seat, you should be double-jointed and have very thin hands and forearms. The window buttons are located rearward on the door armrests, while the recline knob, located at the pivot point of the seat cushion and backrest, is untouchable unless you open the door. It just doesn't seem as if this cabin was designed with humans in mind.
If you remove the soft top from the cargo area, you can fit a few small soft bags. Golf clubs? They'll have to ride in the passenger seat. If you have a passenger, take up tennis.
On the upside, the 2009 Pontiac Solstice's main controls are simple and easy to use, with three big knobs for climate and an old-school tuning knob for the stereo.
Design/Fit and Finish
Look closely and you'll see how the coupe's hatchback portion is essentially bolted into place where the roadster's trunk lid was. An efficient, even smart, cost-cutting idea, but it seems like a sloppy kit car approach, with the rear deck's trailing edges not quite lining up with the taillights. And from outside the car, access to the cargo area is only through the somewhat narrow rear window.
The cockpit design is generally sporty and attractive, with a driver-oriented instrument panel and a high center console that places the gearshifter right in front of your hand. The Solstice's padded door inserts were appreciated by those sporting beefy forearms, but much of the cabin is comprised of cheap plastics.
Who should consider this vehicle
An open-top sports car buyer for whom blistering acceleration takes a huge priority over refinement and daily-driver livability.