Solstice

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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

Conclusion

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.

Strengths

  • 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

Weaknesses

  • 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

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Photographer: Zane Merva