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Intrepidation

2009 Pontiac Solstice GXP Coupe Follow-Up Test and Video

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Our hopes were high following the debut of the 2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe at the 2008 New York Auto Show last year. We had not forgotten the ergonomic shortcomings of the Solstice. Nor had its functional limitations slipped our minds. It was mechanically the same curvaceous Solstice that had made us swoon in 2006. Only now it had a bitchin' hardtop.

So here we stand again with hearts racing and gaze locked on the 2009 Pontiac Solstice GXP Coupe. The GXP offers you 260 horsepower from its turbocharged Ecotec inline-4 and big tires to put the power to good use, so it's a lot more serious than the standard Solstice coupe. Its angled roof gives the coupe an angry, menacing stance unmatched by the roadster. This is the car we secretly want to like. In the back of our minds, we hope it's different from the 2006 Pontiac Solstice we lived with for a year in our long-term fleet.

And perhaps it's a measure of the intensity of this hope that our disappointment is so devastating.

Looks Only Go So Far
From the moment the Solstice concept appeared at the 2002 Detroit Auto Show, GM had the attention of everyone who loved sports cars. And as the car slowly evolved toward production until it was officially introduced as the 2006 Pontiac Solstice, we tracked its progress faithfully. It brought together the Ecotec inline-4 developed in drag racing, a manual transmission from a supplier to Mazda, and a platform with a short 95.1-inch wheelbase for maneuverability and a wide track for cornering grip, not to mention an extravagantly swoopy shape designed by Franz von Holzhausen.

Even today, the Pontiac Solstice is among the best-looking production cars available. And we'll put the 2009 Pontiac Solstice GXP Coupe in the same company when it reaches Pontiac dealers in the coming months. Gone is the cumbersome retractable soft top. In its place is a roof that combines a removable, targa-style roof panel made of magnesium, with a fixed fastback that incorporates a cargo hatch. The Solstice coupe's aggressive new roof line is even more lust-inducing than the sweeping curves of the Solstice roadster.

Conceptually, the Solstice GXP coupe is a great car. You can see the proof in road racing competition, where the Solstice coupe ran at the front of the pack in the SCCA's Showroom Stock B. This turbocharged version of the 2.0-liter Ecotec inline-4 makes 260 horsepower at 5,300 rpm and 260 pound-feet of torque at 2,500 rpm, plenty of power even though the coupe weighs 3,057 pounds. This is also considerably more power than you'll find in the standard Solstice coupe, which has a normally aspirated 2.4-liter Ecotec that does 173 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque. And it doesn't stop there.

Acceleration for the GXP looks good. From a standstill it reaches 60 mph in 5.5 seconds (5.2 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and completes the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds at 100.3 mph. This performance is quicker than the last Mazda Miata PRHT we tested by 2 seconds to the 60 mph mark. The GXP is four-tenths of a second slower to 60 mph than the 332-hp Nissan 370Z we tested recently, and the Z-car is also only narrowly faster through the quarter-mile with its run of 13.4 seconds at 104.6 mph.

So how is the 2009 Pontiac Solstice GXP Coupe not the best car ever?

Personality Is What Matters
Now look beyond the fastback roof line and ducktail spoiler. When we delve into the real personality behind the GXP coupe, its American heritage is clear. Give it lots of power and make it go fast in a straight line. Check. Make sure it does burnouts. Check. Wait a second; we're out of boxes to check. Comfortable cockpit with practical storage? All-day freeway comfort? We can't even stow the narrow hardtop inside the car? Never mind that; send this car through production. In Detroit, we only drive sports cars on Sunday afternoons anyway.

This is the character behind a Solstice, and one not everyone can embrace. Don't expect to drive it to the mountains for a long vacation. Don't expect it to out-maneuver the Miata on a winding road. But be certain that when the light goes green, you'll smoke him and that jerk in the Porsche Cayman off the line every time.

The Solstice GXP is an American sports car. It makes the numbers, but it has an unrefined and brutish quality about it. From its stark interior to the balky action of the five-speed transmission's shift action, this car pays no mind to refinement. Look no further than the Chevrolet Corvette for the personality lesson.

When Personality Runs Out
The Solstice GXP will never lose its looks, but its personality runs thin once the wear bars in the Goodyear tires start to show. Sure, we accept the Solstice as it is. But this car serves up a handful of crucial and unforgivable disappointments.

Some key functional obstacles in the Solstice coupe came righteously through the family tree. These ergonomic challenges of the roadster's interior design are well documented. Most remain unchanged in the coupe.

A lack of rear storage was another complaint on the roadster. Pontiac addressed this in developing the coupe, sort of. It added a flat rear load floor, in-floor rear storage cubbies and cupholders located behind each headrest. The optional Capuchin monkey package is a must-have to transport drinks from rear cupholder to hand, as they are otherwise inaccessible by either occupant.

According to Pontiac, no drivetrain or suspension changes were necessary to shift from roadster to coupe body structure, since the overall curb weight increase was minor. As a result, the handling characteristics remain unchanged. The suspension is still underdamped and feels like it hits the bump stops through transitions. This hampers slalom speed during our tests, which the GXP coupe completed at 66.7 mph. The Miata (70 mph) and 370Z (70.4 mph) were considerably quicker under similar conditions.

What's the Story Here?
There is nothing ground-breaking about the 2009 Pontiac Solstice GXP Coupe. Its new hardtop improves the looks of the already attractive roadster. But aside from this subtle change, the car remains a Solstice. The inherent limitations of this vehicle remain, no matter how much we hope they'll just go away.

Maybe we expect too much. Though it has been conceived as a Miata fighter, the Solstice seems to promise so much more in the way it looks and the way it performs, as if it really wants to be more like a Nissan Z-car, especially since it wears a price tag that's like that of a Z-car. But the result still seems strangely unfinished.

To find closure with the Solstice, we've decided to think of it as GM's project car — a work still in progress. All we can do is wait and hope that Pontiac earns enough cash to finish off this car's development and build us the Solstice we still long for.
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Hey Edmunds dumbasses: the hard targa section is for winter. You leave it on for almost 6 months out of the year, depending on your address. Use the soft targa section for warm weather driving, which CAN be removed and stored inside the car. And who takes a Miata or a Cayman on a long vacation? The Miata and Cayman are toys, just like the Solstice.

That is one quick, gorgeous Pontiac. Yes, it is a toy. It cannot be faulted for that.

Edited by ocnblu
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Too bad they didn't make the interior less bargain basement, and better tune the suspension.

Too bad they didn't make the cockpit about 2 inches longer.

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For me this Auto as nice as it was and is for some people falls into the I DO NOT CARE!!! category, it is to small for me to get into. Not enough leg room, Headroom, shoulder and elbow room.

Cut it loose and spend the dev dollars on better products.

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It may now have enough storage for two people to make a weekend getaway, As long as the weather is going to hold out so you can leave the targa tops at home.

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I don't understand why everyone wants to put ugly f**king wheels on their cars these days...

Flat black wheels against this red?!?! SERIOUSLY?!?!? :puke:

If Pontiac were to make this (the GXP) the standard Solstice and bolt in the Sky interior. Then keep the G8 and add some more trim levels (HSV) Then bring in the Astra in various trim levels, I think we'd have a Pontiac that's worthy of EXCITMENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Edited by FUTURE_OF_GM
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edmunds goes out of their way these days to spew venom on American iron, GM in particular, you'd swear they were trying to catch up to Farago and TTAC.

the functional items that have been criticized, its fair game, but as blu said, this is a toy also. I don't think their venom should be as much. This car is a looker and can back it up. Perhaps it needs a suspension adjustment. That could be fixed easily. GM will offer a performance upgrade kit for only 650 bucks more.

My big issue with this car aside from the functional items are what some above mentioned.....a little more room would be nice. but that tiny lotus doesn't have much room, does it?

edmunds needs to keep their heads on straight here. the solstice IIRC beat the miata in a C/D comparo not too long ago. No one wants to be caught dead in a miata regardless of how well it drives, because its extremely effeminate. The Kappas are style on a stick and if you don't like the flaws that go with, don't buy one.

flash, anyone who wants a crossfire coupe with a manual? local dealer has one with 7k miles on it for 15k. I like that car even though i think i like the kappas better. crossfires are steals if you find one.

cars like this will be pushed out of existence by obama nation more than likely soon, especially with the bailout. we should rejoice that cars like this were being made.

i think for the money though, looking at a 370z might make sense too. even the hyundai genesis starts to look like an option too.

Edited by regfootball
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Too bad they didn't make the interior less bargain basement...

You can say the same thing about the Viper, as they are both relatively 'pure' sportscars. Frankly, I don't think the interior of the Solstice is bad for what you get, and if you want something better, the Saturn Sky is the obvious step up.

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viper has long been the poster child for afterthought interior.

Perhaps so, but it has the performance to make upf or the interior shortcomings. If teh Solstice did the interior wouldn't be much of an issue.

Or do you forget the Viper ACR lapping the `ring faster than the ZR1?

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Oh puhleeze, how much does a Viper cost compared to a Solstice? It's a way bigger crime in the Viper's case to have what you call a "cheap" interior than it is for the Solstice.
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edmunds goes out of their way these days to spew venom on American iron, GM in particular, you'd swear they were trying to catch up to Farago and TTAC.

Of course... They're media, GM is weak and Pontiac is almost dead. What more did you expect? They see an opportunity and they take it (Just like C&D did with placing the Solstice 4 out of 4 in a competition that it should've never been in)

i think for the money though, looking at a 370z might make sense too. even the hyundai genesis starts to look like an option too.

I think that is the real issue... Like the G6 (That started the media crusade against the division) the problem lies in the price. Apparently, the media thinks that you should be able to buy performance and style for $10.99. Or, they could just be utilizing Pontiac's current state (The G6 needed to succeed and they knew that, therefore it was maligned to the point of silliness) Likewise, the Solstice *could* be a viable future for Pontiac. Thus it'll be kicked until it can't move (in the market) as well.

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It does look very good with a fixed roof, but I still prefer the Sky. However neither of these are practical enough to be worth buying new. a Camaro at least gives you useable space.

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I'd love to have one. I'd need an old S-10 4X4 for camping and trips to the home improvement store, but that's no biggie if I could have the joyful experience of tooling around in one of these gorgeous babies.
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