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Road Test: 2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP

It’s the car that proves General Motors is making a huge mistake closing the Pontiac brand. We’re behind the wheel of the turbocharged 260-horsepower Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP.

Don’t forget to check out our Road Test Photo Gallery of the Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP

Specifications as-tested

Model: 2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP
Engine: 260-horsepower 2.0L Turbocharged Four-Cylinder EcoTec
Base MSRP: $30,375
As driven MSRP: $34,020
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Equipped Options: Premium Package [Leather seats, leather steering wheel, bluetooth, steering wheel controls], 5-speed automatic transmission, air conditioning, high performance audio system, USB port for audio system

AutoInsane Road Test: 2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP


The most agile and balanced vehicle to ever come out of General Motors (in our opinion).  Paired with exotic looks and an engine that’s packed with neck-whipping power; we didn’t want to give it back.


  • Just as nimble at low speeds and more stable on the highway than a Mazda MX-5
  • Unique coupe styling draws the attention of all that pass-by
  • Drives with balance not usually found outside of a Porsche
  • The turbo 2.0L 260-horsepower engine is tuner ready


  • You can take the top off but you can’t take it with you (unless you get the optional soft-top)
  • The 5-speed automatic acts as a serious detriment to an engine that excels with a manual
  • Interior plastics are not up to par considering the price tag

Driving Dynamics & Performance

AutoInsane Road Test: 2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP

You’ve most likely seen a Pontiac Solstice or three going the other way on the road during the past few years. They’re small, stylish, and fun  cars. They’ve also been exclusively a convertible- until now.  Starting and ending with the 2009 model year, GM is building out a small handful of hard-top coupe Solstices.  Even fewer of those will be GXP editions, but luckly we got our hands on one.

Powered by a turbocharged 2.0L EcoTec four-cylinder engine producing 260-horsepower, the Solstice Coupe GXP is a wonderful example of a lot of muscle stuffed in a small package.  Having first tried out this engine a few years back on a convertible Solstice GXP, the most surprising aspect of the turbocharged EcoTec is how little it feels like a four-cylinder.  Turbo lag isn’t gone completely but the abundance of low end torque gives the impression of a small displacement V6. The throttle response is linear and doesn’t have the usual top end punch you would expect from a turbo engine.

Designed first as a drop-top, the convertible Solstice always felt solid and free of cowl shake. Sporting additional bracing and structure the coupe drives rock solid even with the targa top removed.  Sure, the car is a little bigger and slightly heavier feeling than a Mazda MX-5 but the extra grunt and stability more than make up for the loss of toss-ability at slow speed. On the highway the Solstice is more akin to driving a downsized Corvette, tracking straight and making easy work of even the most aggressive lane changes.

Where the Solstice Coupe GXP really shines is on country back roads. Twists and turns are so easily carved you just may forget you’ve passed through a set of curves at all.

Undoubtedly the Solstice Coupe GXP has a predisposition for speed. So well balanced – it’s easy to chug along well over the speed limit and be none the wiser without a look down at the speedometer. However, for those looking for an even bigger rush- GM Performance Parts sells a fully factory backed stage 2 upgrade kit- “boosting” the engine’s output to 290-horsepower.

Design Execution, Appearance, Fit & Finish

AutoInsane Road Test: 2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP

We knew we loved the fast back styling the minute we laid eyes on it. What we didn’t expect was how much others would love it. Anytime we drove into town the stares from fellow drivers and people on the sidewalks just wouldn’t quit. Maybe it’s the hint of Lotus Elise in the front end or perhaps the Viper-like rear canopy. It could also just be that no-one had ever seen a Solstice Coupe before.  Either way the attention was measurable.

Side by side with it’s convertible counterpart, the Coupe has a much more exotic look about it.  The relatively large 18-inch polished aluminum wheels fit the body with a concept car like look.

Audio, Electronics, & Technology

AutoInsane Road Test: 2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP

GM hasn’t forgotten about the other small touches that make a car pleasurable to drive.  The optional Monsoon stereo system our Coupe GXP came equipped with had the also optional USB interface. We found no troubles plugging in an iPod, however audio quality from a USB thumb-disk was clipped and filled with sound artifacts. The system recognizes MP3 CD-Rs, has an aux port, and features XM Radio.  Overall sound quality from the “high performance” system was indeed very good.

A typical GM driver information center can be found in the gauge cluster and displays a volume of information. Odometers, trip-odometers, coolant temperature, stopwatch, tire-pressures and other standard fare readouts that didn’t make it into a dedicated needle gauge are all there. We particularly liked the boost readout (as seen above).

Comfort & Ergonomics

AutoInsane Road Test: 2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP

As you could probably guess- comfort and ergonomics are not the Solstice’s strong suits. Our standard complaints, knee and shoulder room, storage space, and seating position are all par for the course in this segment. It’s not to say you couldn’t make a daily driver out of the Coupe GXP but you wouldn’t see us doing it.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the whole car is one of it’s best attributes- the targa top. Just like with a Corvette, the whole center roof section is removable for open air motoring. Driving around with the top off on a cool evening was the most enjoyable part of our whole week with the GXP. The unfortunate omission of a space to store the top in-vehicle also made it the most frustrating. Any chance of rain meant we had to leave the top in place, lest we be caught in a downpour with our only protection sitting in the garage. Pontiac makes a temporary cloth top for those exact situations but our tester didn’t have it.

In coupe form we would have expected a modest rear storage improvement over the convertible but we were wrong. Only the rear glass raises for access to the small storage floor. However with all this said- the Solstice Coupe GXP is meant to be driven and not taken for a trip so it would be petty to hold these small inconveniences against the car.

Final thoughts

Our time behind the wheel of the Solstice Coupe GXP was heartbreaking in so many ways.  Heartbreaking because it would most likely be the last new Pontiac we’d ever drive. Heartbreaking because we loved it so much and because we had to give it back. Heartbreaking because we knew so few people would be able to drive a car that embodies the essence of the Pontiac brand like no other car before it.

Good-bye Pontiac- at least the best was saved for last.

Check out our Solstice Coupe GXP photo gallery

2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP Photo Gallery

Road Test Gallery: 2009 Solstice Coupe GXP

It’s the end of an era as the Pontiac brand shutters its doors for the final time. It’s fitting then that perhaps the most exciting car to ever wear the Pontiac dart logo is among the very last. We drive the super-limited Solstice Coupe GXP and here’s the photo gallery from our Road Test.

AutoInsane Road Test: 2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP

Specifications as tested & photographed

Model: 2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP
Engine: 260-horsepower 2.0L Turbocharged Four-Cylinder EcoTec
Base MSRP: $30,375
As driven MSRP: $34,020
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Equipped Options: Premium Package [Leather seats, leather steering wheel, bluetooth, steering wheel controls], 5-speed automatic transmission, air conditioning, high performance audio system, USB port for audio system

Check out our full Road Test of the 2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP


Photographer: Zane Merva

Road Test: 2009 Pontiac Vibe GT

It’s not like the Toyota Matrix and Pontiac Vibe have been hidden away from view at private boarding school.  No, these two have been out in prime time.  You may have noticed that when you squint they look an awful lot alike.  Sharing platforms is not a new idea in the automotive world.  Many of the vehicles on the road today share some sort of a basic structure with a similar vehicle under a sibling brand; for example the GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook and Buick Enclave. This cost sharing strategy is always limited to brands within a single company, not multiple brands among top rivals. This makes the Vibe/Matrix duo a unique shared engineering example.  While Toyota and GM are an unlikely set of parents, we do know these mega-star offspring should have some seriously refined DNA.


The Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix first entered the scene in 2003.  While never superstars, each became extremely appreciated and loved by their owners. A small hatchback with plenty of room, decent fuel mileage, and an economical price resonated with buyers.  As economic conditions today persist towards asinine in the US and fuel prices soar to $4 a gallon, we’d say it wouldn’t be risky to conclude the same recipe can only get more popular.  It only made sense to send the pair to finishing school in preparation for prime time. Intrigued by the duo and their new digs, we got a chance to pull the new 2009 Vibe aside for a few questions.

Most noticeably apparent in the makeover is that what started as a cute wagon is now an aggressively cut hatchback.  For any issues we’d ever had with the previous generation’s generic styling, the 09 model makes up for it and then some. Our Red Hot Metallic Vibe GT came rolling in on 18-inch machined aluminum rims, aggressive skirting, clear tail lens, and sporting a tasteful rear spoiler.  Sure the faux venting in front of the rear wheels may be a tad much but the overall look stays surprisingly clean and attractive.  There’s even a touch of femininity to the G8 inspired front fascia if you catch the right angle.  A sweeping side profile peaks in height along the front seats, drifting slightly downward towards the hatch.  By keeping the profile height moving, visual length created by four doors is kept in check. The overall look is kept neat, short, and compact. The low profile wheel and tires that come equipped on the GT are aggressive and look decidedly more detailed than one might expect on any vehicle at this price.  We’re impressed with the small touches, most noticeably the grill-style hatching in the headlights and real bolt-heads used in the rims.  Just a few years back, economical and stylish (let alone Pontiac and stylish) would have never gone hand in hand.


With the outside making no apologies for its clearly Pontiac-inspired face, the interior is of a less decisive origin. For many the Toyota sourced switch-gear, steering wheel, and climate controls mixed with a General Motors radio and rear view mirror will never get a second look. For the enthusiast it’s quite the head-scratcher.   A mix of GM and Toyota part used together in one interior is at first odd but work well enough together that it’s hard to knock the combination.  Our GT was equipped with OnStar,  Sunroof, XM radio, and avaliable Monsoon Stereo system.  Included below the gear selector is a switchable 115-volt ac outlet- ready to power your laptop, cell phone charger, or MP3 player on the road or in a parking lot.  During our nearly 850 miles driving the Vibe including one 6-hour stint to Cape Cod and back, only the seats stood out as potentially stiff for long drives. With that said- they were properly bolstered and during normal commutes owners should have no trouble.

It goes without saying the exterior and interior are giving us nothing but good vibes. Starting the engine and heading out on to the road, we found everything to be nicely in check. A Toyota sourced 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine lays down 158-horsepower through a 5-speed automatic.  This is the same top-level engine and transmission package from the venerable Toyota Corolla.  But even with all the refinement in style and accommodations, if a car can’t get your heart racing a bit on the road the package isn’t complete. We found extremely favorable manners in the Vibe. It handles corners precisely but a semi-numb electric steering boost does make it difficult to feel exactly what is going on up front.   The four-cylinder power plant isn’t exciting but offers more umph than its rating would suggest.  Even a little nudge off the line quickly explodes as variable cams switch over.  Four wheel disks offer strong grip and are effectively paired with traction and stability control for emergency maneuvers.


The most noteworthy characteristic of the Vibe is its merge of impressive fuel mileage and utility.  There are many low fuel consumption options popping up each model year but many come in sedan form. Configured as a four-door hatch, there’s an abundance of room in the Vibe for people, stuff, or a combination of the two.  The 2.4-liter paired with a 5-speed automatic earns an EPA rating of 29 miles to the gallon highway although we experienced 25.7mpg during our stint in highway and rural driving. Although we could have tried harder to get closer to the EPA rating, an even easier way to get increased fuel economy is base Vibe. It comes standard with a 1.8-liter engine rated at 32mpg on the highway and starts at just over $15k. That’s nearly 6-grand cheaper than our test example and easier on your wallet at the pump.
While we found a few things that we would have changed (hard plastic interior, uncomfortable seats), the as-tested price of $21,645 left smiles all around for this new iteration of a vehicle that owners have been praising for years. With fuel prices increasing and many of us refusing to give up the need to carry our stuff around, the 2009 Pontiac Vibe is without debate a surprising and refreshing option.  We liked it so much, It’s made my personal short list for vehicles I’m going to seriously consider when buying a new car this fall. How’s that for an endorsement?

An impressively executed vehicle that melds the best from Toyota and General Motors into one useful, beautiful, economical,  and solid ride.

Click to view our original 2009 Pontiac Vibe GT Road Test photo gallery