Ann Arbor The Pontiac Solstice has been the rare ray of sunshine in General Motors’ winter of discontent. The Wilmington, Delaware, plant is working three shifts and Saturdays keeping up with Kappa-car demand, now stretching beyond Pontiac and Saturn (Sky) to Opel (GT) and Daewoo (G2X). Andrew Aquilante drove a Solstice to a podium finish in its SCCA showroom stock debut, and slideways champion Rhys Millen is hanging tail in a Red Bull-sponsored Solstice drifter. Tuners, including GM’s own Performance Division, are juicing Solstice engine bays with hot V-8s like it’s a reincarnated 1932 Ford.
The best news is that the turbo edition, rumored from Kappa’s birth and affirmed at this year’s Los Angeles auto show, is ready to motor beyond Mazda’s MX-5 to play in the performance-roadster league. Tested here first, the ripped 2007 Solstice GXP packs 260 hp and 260 lb-ft. The only powertrain carryover is cylinder count. Revised 2.0-liter block, head, crank, rod, and piston architecture is force-fed with direct-injected fuel and turbocharged-and-intercooled air.
The Solstice GXP’s appearance is, in a word, stealthy. The front bumper is molded with D-shaped brake-cooling dimples and an intercooler goatee. In back are dual exhaust pipes, a discreet GXP badge, and an optional lip spoiler. The side view is unmolested.
Underneath, the GXP has a taller axle ratio, a shorter third gear, Bilstein dampers, twenty percent firmer spring rates, fatter antiroll bars, and a few stiffer bushings. ABS, stability control, and a limited-slip differential are standard. Goodyear Eagle F1 all-season radials share the base car’s 245/45WR-18 size, but the new rubber is tuned for sharper steering response and minimal tail wag.
If the standard Solstice is Pontiac’s poodle, the GXP is its whippet. Boost rises quickly just past idle, with peak torque invigorating the driveline by 2000 rpm. With the throttle floored and 18 psi of boost tickling your ribs, you need a quick hand to keep up with gearchanges. The joy begins petering out by 4500 rpm, but there’s still plenty of urge up to the 6300-rpm redline. The run to 60 mph is a fleet 5.7 seconds, only a tick slower than the Ford Mustang GT, and the quarter mile clicks by in 14.2 seconds at 99 mph. Boasting a specific output exceeding that of every turbocharged engine on the market save Porsche’s new 911 and Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution, the GXP’s four-cylinder is the strong, silent type, thanks to its small displacement, twin balance shafts, and recycled exhaust energy.
Lively road manners are a pleasant surprise. Compared with the heavy and lethargic tenor of the regular Solstice, the GXP feels alert and anxious to please with firm, responsive steering and tenacious grip. Lessons learned tuning this car on the Nrburgring’s Nordschleife sing through the chassis and controls loud and clear. Body motion is promptly snubbed, the suspension steps resiliently over bumps, and rapid-fire control orders are executed without complaint.
Even optioned up with leather seating and chromed wheels, the Solstice GXP’s price is unlikely to break the $30,000 barrier. At least, that is, until Pontiac dealers tack on their cut for selling you one.