(All photos: Bill Griffith/Boston.com)
(All photos: Bill Griffith/Boston.com)
We come to praise a Pontiac today, not to write its obituary.
The car in question is the 2009 Pontiac Solstice GXP, one of the most unique vehicles we've driven. It's a two-seat, rear-wheel drive coupe version (with removable roof) of the Solstice roadster. To say it has style is an understatement.
Add in a few facts of automotive life in 2009 and the GXP acquires more of a mystique:
- It's been discontinued, a victim of the worldwide auto crisis that claimed General Motors' Pontiac Division.
- Before production was stopped, only about 1,200 were built. That number, combined with the quality of the car and desirability of the coupe version, guarantees that this vehicle will become a collector's item.
- That's reaffirmed by the driving experience. The Solstice GXP rates a place on the list of certified "head-turners" we've driven. In addition, its 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine has all the pop needed to make it a fun ride. Once, dual exhausts were a sign there was a V-8 under the hood. Now we have a set of polished exhaust tips on a four-banger. Have to say they sound nice, too.
We had the opportunity to drive the GXP both with a five-speed manual and five-speed automatic. Normally, I automatically opt for the manual (sorry about the bad pun). But the Solstice just works better with the automatic.
It's smoother - something important when you're stylin'.
Make no mistake, people are looking at you out on the road. Their stares are prolonged and you can read the lips saying, "Nice." People who see it parked want to know what it is, and how it drives.
Well, now that we know what it is, we'll talk about the driving experience. It runs and handles just fine. You can only hope that someone buys Saturn, which has the Sky sibling of the Solstice roadster, and builds a Sky coupe. It's a fun car to drive on the highway but even more on a twisting country road.
Five days of driving the automatic returned an average of 26.6 miles per gallon, near the top of its 19 city, 27 highway rating.
So where does the downside come into play? In two instances.
First, rear visibility is extremely limited, making any movement in "reverse" an adventure in faith. Mrs. G volunteered to get out and "give directions"; however, she had to stand in front because it was hard to see her behind the car, even off to the side a bit.
Meanwhile, the side windows are extremely narrow. How narrow? You might be able to stick your neck out the window, but it takes judicious turning to avoid getting stuck.
If you've stayed this far, you're probably saying, "I can live with all this."
So here comes the biggest downside.
My wife used to own a Honda del Sol, a somewhat similar two-seater with a removable hardtop. The difference was that the Honda's roof fit into a rack in the trunk, leaving space for additional cargo. After watching me remove the roof and stow it several times, Mrs. G - the epitome of a non-technical person - was able to do it herself.
That's not so easy with the Solstice. When you remove the Solstice's roof - a process involving releasing three clamps - it takes considerable strength and leverage for one person to lift it off the car. Then, where to put it? You see, there's no on-board storage.
Pontiac's original literature said the company would offer an aftermarket storage box. Well, good luck finding a Pontiac dealer now.
We tried stashing it on our front lawn. On another day, it went in the back of the family pickup truck.
Moreover, if you're heading out for a drive without the roof, you'd better trust your weatherman. In my case, the only one I trust is NECN's Matt Noyes. On this day, he'd predicted a chance of late-afternoon showers. Sure enough, they arrived at 3:45 p.m. as we raced (in a matter of speaking) home to replace our lid.
The rear hatch window opens to access limited storage. For us, there was room for two (candlepin) bowling bags, a backpack-styled camera bag, and a couple of windbreakers.
Our test car's leather seats were comfortable. Getting inside, though, requires care. Taller drivers quickly learn to duck after whacking their heads on the roof a few times.
The one cup-holder swivels out of the passenger's side of the center console but doesn't seem sturdy enough for regular use. Otherwise, the only reachable storage is a small cubby at shoulder height between the seats.
If you can find a GXP, the basic MSRP is $30,375. That includes most everything you'd need. Ours also had a nice premium package that added leather seats, Bluetooth, and leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob for $575. The automatic transmission is another $995. Air is $960. And a high-performance audio system (nice with the roof open) is $395. A USB port was another $100. Bottom line on our tester was $34,020.
We thought it a bit pricey.
But what price do you put on style? And how much do you miss Pontiac already, given this memorable going-away present?
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