I’m willing to bet no Pontiac since the iconic 1959 Bonneville, the first of the wide-track, split-grill cars, has garnered so much attention and curiosity based on its appearance. People were literally circling the coupe in the supermarket lot trying to take it all in, and our parking attending was full of questions about what it was. “It’s a, uh, Pontiac,” I said. He stared back at me glassy-eyed.
Clearly, this thing has the exterior part down, although yellow would be my last choice for a color. Unfortunately, the hard top has done little to fix the Solstice’s many flaws. There’s a slightly bigger space for cargo behind the seats, but it’s still too vestigial to even call a trunk. And the outward view is so hindered that there are more blind spots than there is glass.
The Solstice coupe is thus a toy. That would be OK if it were a thoroughly entertaining one, but dynamically, it’s a mixed bag. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four is an absolute monster, unfettered by the hardtop’s extra 22 pounds compared to the convertible. Whatever happens to Saab, we can at least thank its engineers for teaching GM how to build world-class small engines. But the subtler elements of a great driving car seem beyond the Solstice’s comprehension. Steering is slow and rather numb, and its 3018 lbs of girth prevent it from ever feeling light on its feet as a two-seat sports car should. Oh it’ll go like hell, and hangs tough in most corners, but it doesn’t achieve the cohesion that makes cars like the BMW 1-Series so endlessly rewarding.
Despite my litany of complaints, I can’t say I dislike the Solstice. Anything this beautiful and capable deserves some consideration. My hope is that if GM indeed pares down Pontiac’s lineup as it states it will in its restructuring plan, the Solstice will be one of the vehicles that survives. A little more development could turn it from merely a pretty face into a great sports car.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
When I went to the initial reveal of this car, the engineers said that one of the main reasons to do it was for track use. (A regular Solstice wouldn’t be eligible to participate in many track events because oftentimes convertibles are not allowed.) Now that I’ve driven a Solstice coupe, I can see it as a track toy, but for any other driving, the roadster would certainly be preferable.
Even compared to the Audi TT coupe I drove the day before, the outward visibility in this car is so compromised that this Solstice achieves a new dimension of claustrophobia. The lift-off top is too big to fit in the cargo area, so it can’t be removed once you’ve left home. (A build-it-yourself soft targa top, like those in the original Dodge Viper, can be stashed in back.) The interior feels even more cramped than it really is because the swoopy design makes no concession to storage space.
On the plus side, the turbo engine certainly goes like hell, but the powertrain sounds gritty and coarse. I can’t really speak to the handling after my straight shot down I-94, but if it only matches that of the roadster, that would be very good indeed.
After going through all the trouble to create this rear-wheel-drive platform, it’s too bad General Motors hasn’t done anything more with it, beyond the Solstice/Sky twins, and now this hardtop version. A slightly larger variant – perhaps something along the lines of the very cool Chevy Nomad show car of several years ago – would have expanded the audience for this nimble, fun-to-drive platform. But given GM’s dire financial straits, I’m afraid we’ve seen all that we ever going to out of this chassis.
Joe Lorio, Senior Editor
I find it hard to appreciate the merits of the Solstice coupe because I find myself distracted by things like a seat that’s snugged up against the driver’s side door so tightly I can’t operate the seatback adjuster (unless the door is open) and rear-quarter blind spots the size of Rhode Island.
That’s too bad, because the GXP coupe does indeed have its merits. Power from the direct-injection four-cylinder turbo is plentiful and available at the mere tip of the throttle, and the styling is eye-catching, with a macho stance and a distinctive profile. The ride, even on the pothole-filled roads that spring up every March in Michigan, is quite comfortable for a sports car. The materials in the cabin are a great improvement over what we saw in GM cars a decade ago, but are still not up to par for a vehicle that costs more than $30,000.
One can only hope that the Solstice coupe is still a work in progress and that some of its more obvious ergonomic flaws will be addressed. But with so many questions about the future of GM in general and the Pontiac division in particular, we won’t hold our breath.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe
Base Price (with destination): $30,995
Price as tested: $30,995
Fuel Economy: 19/28/22 (city/hwy/combined)
Size: Turbocharged 2.0L I-4
HP: 260 HP @ 5300 RPM
Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 2500 RPM
Safety Ratings (in stars, 1-5):
– Frontal Crash Driver: 5 stars
– Frontal Crash Passenger: 5 stars
– Side Crash Front Seat: 5 stars
– Side Crash Rear Seat: N/A
– Rollover: 5 stars
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Weight: 3018 lb.
Wheel/Tire Info: 18×8″ Alloy (size)
P245/45WR-18 Goodyear Eagle F1 GS2 all-season