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2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe: Time's up for fun, awkward two-door

Posted by Bill Griffith  September 4, 2009 05:22 PM

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(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:

  1. It's been discontinued, a victim of the worldwide auto crisis that claimed General Motors' Pontiac Division.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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35 comments so far...
  1. Unfortunately a great looker but simply another lousy launch by GM. The ride was second class. Just think, they could have done a real nice suspension design (ala. MX-5 Miata) among many other things and Penske likely would have continued it

    Posted by Jay September 4, 09 09:55 PM
  1. You know, I have to agree with you. I have always liked the styling since the original version, and a neighbor who owns one says it is trouble free. To learn GM killed both Saturn AND Pontiac with no indication of picking up this model anywhere in GM just did not make sense.

    Posted by Al September 4, 09 10:33 PM
  1. I know these cars are more about fun than anything else, but you should have mentioned that nearly every other review of the solstice/sky indicates that it's a very poorly made car. What's the point of buying a car that will fall apart before the warranty is up? Ford found that out with the recent reprise of the Thunderbird.

    Posted by gallust September 4, 09 10:46 PM
  1. There's a reason that Pontiac is done. They built crappy poorly engineered vehicles that didn't last. Some of them sold on looks alone.

    Posted by toycannon September 4, 09 11:57 PM
  1. I've owned a Coupe for 2 months and have put 3000 miles on it already.
    What a kick in the pants to drive. It handles great and gets great mileage.
    I added the GMPP Turbo upgrade brining it to 290 hp & 340 torque.
    Also, upgraded the air intake, exhaust and stabilizers.
    All I can say is this is one sweet ride,long distance or short, it handles it all in comfort and fun!
    Owned an original Opel GT and an Eagle Talon tsi/awd and the GXP is way quicker than either of those and handles the twisties just fine!

    Buy one if you can find one, there are still some available, but going quick. Less than 1300 total made.

    Posted by Stvz Carz September 5, 09 12:39 AM
  1. More storage, more power, more speed, more handling, same fuel economy and less money: used Boxster, here I come!

    Posted by Ted Viniso September 5, 09 08:39 AM
  1. My 2008 Mustang convertible is better, cheaper and still a nice shade of red...

    Posted by Wizard September 5, 09 08:44 AM
  1. For God's sake, how relevant is storage space and cupholders to an article on a two seater fun car?????? Stop your nit picking. Geeez

    Posted by Anonymous September 5, 09 09:05 AM
  1. where can i buy one?

    Posted by Zee September 5, 09 02:25 PM
  1. maybe ive been living in Florida too long, but $1000 for A/C? can you still even buy a car with no A/C? I thought we graduated to where thats standard....

    Posted by chili September 5, 09 06:56 PM
  1. Non-existent rear visibility and no capability to store the removable top on board. And people wonder why GM went down the tubes?

    Posted by Ted11 September 5, 09 07:03 PM
  1. Just another bomb from GM. Terrible suspension. Couldn't even match the Miata's ride and still asked $10K more. I drove it. Would never buy one. Too bad; great looks

    Posted by Jay September 6, 09 12:18 AM
  1. Wow. I drive a 1997 Toyota Corolla with 197,215 mi. I'd rather have the Soltice.

    Posted by Boston Bob O Link September 6, 09 08:46 AM
  1. I don't miss Pontiac (or GM) a bit. Until they begin to behave, to design, and to build cars for adults who can see further than the Walter Ruether Expressway, let them decay on the banks of the Detroit River. Like many GM products, this auto may have started out with the best of intentions, but as cited in the review, it was marginal, at best. This is fun? Or,is it another Lutz-inspired fiasco? With many minor annoyances and many "just missed the mark" features, it appears to add up to an overpriced, dysfunctional vehicle. What? No place to stash the roof & a weight lifter is required to remove it? Anyway, with GM's creative financial ideas, an after market storage unit would probably cost more than the car. Does a membership in Gold's Gym come with the purchase price? What? Can't see behind as one reverses...hasn't anyone at GM heard of minature, rear facing cameras a la Prius? What? Narrow windows? How does one pay the toll taker without damaging one's wrist? What? Only one cup holder that is so flimsy it may break with a little nudge? What? Not enough room to store a 3 day weekend's bags for two..'nuff said. Adios Pontiac & GM.

    Posted by AE Gelsthorpe September 6, 09 12:04 PM
  1. Another bloated, overweight, underpowered & overpriced POS. My 2000 Toyota MR2 Spyder runs circles around the Solstice & the Saturn Sky. Plus I get 38mpg on the highway and the fit and finish on my mid-engine roadster is exceptional. Lest you think I'm a Detroit basher, my other vehicle is my trusty Jeep.

    Posted by GaryGeiger September 7, 09 08:53 AM
  1. Another bloated, overweight, underpowered & overpriced POS. My 2000 Toyota MR2 Spyder runs circles around the Solstice & the Saturn Sky. Plus I get 38mpg on the highway and the fit and finish on my mid-engine roadster is exceptional. Lest you think I'm a Detroit basher, my other vehicle is my trusty Jeep.

    Posted by GaryGeiger September 7, 09 08:53 AM
  1. This car is like a large flat screen tv--beautiful picture, sleek styling, fantastic sound--that only has one on/off button that's located on a remote that is not included. Totally useless fun in the most stupid way. I've had my Pontiac Grand Am long enough to know there are probably many more stupid/obtuse/shortsighted details in this car that will haunt the driver as the miles pile on.

    Posted by annoyed before coffee September 7, 09 11:51 AM
  1. I had a little panic attack when I saw how small those side windows are.

    Posted by Claustrophobic Klaus September 7, 09 06:55 PM
  1. It's like my Crossfire and Miata had a baby. And I LOVE it!!! The whip-around fun of a Miata and the sleek buttresses of a Crossfire(coupe')...maybe its time to consolidate and find one of these.

    I haven't seen this type of sexy since the Dodge Viper. Its a real shame it went as soon as it came. Even at $34k the only other GM vehicle that can pull off this curvaceous allure is the Corvette at around $49 for base and even then, we've all seen a Corvette.

    I'm a big believer in buying used but the Ponitac Solstic was the first car that could get me to buy new. Even at a slim $22-25k for a base model I am unable to buy one right yet so I guess this will be a car I will keep an eye on for a future purchase.

    You lucked out with the Wicked(Merlot Red) color as a tester car. Wicked and Brazen(Metalic Orange) are by far the best colors for the coupe showcasing every detail in rich, vibrant and multi-faceted eye candy.

    I guess we'll just have to wait another 10 years to get something as interesting as the SKY and Solstice at GM. And this time, I'll be ready.$$$

    Posted by Andy September 8, 09 09:28 AM
  1. I have to agree with all who say "this car is just another reason for Pontiac to fall into the trash can". Can anyone say Fiero?. Pontiac had a chance to win with the Fiero, it was an exciting concept car that got produced as a cross between a Chevette and a Citation. PS Can anyone say Aztek? One of the coolest concept cars that was produced as one of the true American Uglies, shame on you Pontiac.

    Posted by Clarke Willey September 8, 09 03:20 PM
  1. I've been a car owner for 20 years, and have owned three Saturns and three Pontiacs. I was never left stranded and never regretted my purchases. Absoluately no complaints here, and I will surely miss them.

    Posted by Jennifer September 8, 09 07:36 PM
  1. Remember the Plymouth Prowler, that seriously under powered, cool-looking roadster?

    To carry anything, you had to pay an additional $5k for a matching trailer.

    Posted by Brian P September 9, 09 12:04 AM
  1. Hell, for that price, you're getting close to a 3-5 yr old Lotus Exige...

    Posted by M Liu September 9, 09 02:40 AM
  1. Gary Gieger, what have you been smoking? My 2008 Solstice GXP wood smoke your Spyder. My 87 Transam GTA Transam would for that matter. I think you watched the Fast & Furious once too many times. Time to get back in the real world.

    Posted by The legend Will Return September 9, 09 09:45 AM
  1. I own one and can say that it is not for everyone. It's built to be a track car but serves as my daily driver throughout the spring/summer. I chose to upgrade several areas of the car and the reactions I get from everyone have been overwhelmingly positive. As for the build quality, it's not a $50K vehicle and therefore not built to the same level. Plastic interiors are the norm for most vehicles I've seen under $35K new. There were issues with older models, especially in the first 2 years, but that also tends to be the case with most newly designed vehicles. I also own a Lexus RX 350. I've had my fair share of major issues with it, requiring days at the dealership. One of the reasons I bought it was to avoid that in the first place so go figure!

    Posted by Joshua Guzzetti September 9, 09 12:31 PM
  1. and to think you could spend a lot less on a new loaded 2009 Mazda RX-8 which is a far superior small sports car in every way.

    Posted by Dave September 9, 09 03:10 PM
  1. A year or two ago, rented a Solstice soft top for a week in Tampa. Although it didn't have any trunk space left when the top was down and stored, I found the Solstice to be one of the most enjoyable driving experiences that I've had.

    I was planning to get one, but now it looks like I will need to save for a Tesla Roadster. I think that I'll be saving for a while...

    Posted by billyfab September 9, 09 03:21 PM
  1. I think it's a nice attempt for GM to have a mid-priced small sports car, but what GM (and Chrysler and Ford) needs is a line of reliable, fuel efficient and long lasting cars and trucks for reasonable prices. I used to be a loyal GM customer (Cadillac, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile), and I can say that now that I own a Toyota, I will probably never own an American car again unless it's just a side car for fun, but never as my primary vehicle to rely on for day-to-day transportation use. GM never had a problem making "nice" cars, my 1983 Cadillac Brougham was the nicest looking car I've ever seen with the most luxurious interior, but all of my GM cars were unreliable at best. My Toyota is almost as nice as my GM Vehicles, but runs circles around them in quality. I swore I'd never own a Japanese car, but I got sick of always doing repairs.

    Posted by Mark September 9, 09 04:03 PM
  1. A well-written review and many interesting blog comments made this article above average. I checked Consumer Reports to see what they had to say in the reliability department. Besides stating "Interior fit and finish is inferior to most competitors," they stated the Solstice (non-turbo) reliability was much worse than average for 2006 and 2007 models. There were not enough CR readers who rated the '08 to make a statistical judgement, but you know it's not a well-made car. It is wicked cool looking though - a real styling hit. As Ted Vinisio states above, a 3 year old Porsche Boxter would be a great alternative.

    Posted by High_Taxes September 9, 09 11:10 PM
  1. I'm with you Mark in that they don't make Cadillacs like they used to. They used to be fine examples of coachwork but now Acura-wannabes.

    Buick has been great over the years. I own two 1995 supercharges Rivieras never a problem. Most recently the LaCrosse took the prize as the most reliable car say JD Power a few years back. And just yesterday on the evening news a lady plows her Buick Lucerne into a shopping plaza and it still runs like new. And now with the Enclave and NEW LaCrosse Buick isn't the 'old people's brand' anymore.

    GaryGeiger I love those MR2 Spyders. I would gladly trade in my Miata for one but I can't find one anywhere with the sequential shifter. Yeah, I'm one of those lame guys that don't know how to drive manual but I like my sports cars. A lady at my train station drives hers to work everyday and in deep snow, somehow she makes it every time. I don't think the Sostice has that kind of control and the Miata forget it.

    But I face a dillema. While waiting for the MR2 Spyder to come down in price from $16k in 2007, the used Solstice are taking on that price now. So do I buy a Toyota that will become "old" in 5 years or continue to wait for the Solstice to reach current Spyder prices($6-8k)? I mean both are lookers and both are reletively rare.


    Posted by Andy September 10, 09 09:04 AM
  1. I miss my Fiero...

    Posted by Trigger11 September 10, 09 12:35 PM
  1. I'm still sick that the Pontiac line is going away. Style-wise, they seem to make some nice cars and they have made some (dispite the odd one here and there) some good cars in their past.

    This is a great looking car and the bulk of the opinions seem to be reasonable. But I'll probably never own a Solstice, as I'm 6'-2" and mostly legs, but also its hard for me to pony-up $35K for a car, when a house is a much better deal, even in this down-economy.

    So long, Pontiac. You were nice while you lasted! :-(

    Posted by CambridgeResident September 10, 09 05:47 PM
  1. is this car blog dead? no longer on the cover page? cmon guys step it up!

    Posted by bostoncarblogdead? September 14, 09 08:38 AM
  1. Interesting look ... brings to mind '08 M Coupe. Unfortunately, can't touch that car for performance or quality.

    Just opted for the new Z4 and find its looks unique enough to recognize it in a parking lot - besides, the nature of any 2-seat roadster is its scarcity on the roads. Hardly ever see a SKY, an MR2, a Solstice, even Miata's a few and far between ... Boxters are another story - far too many out there. Add the fantastic performance that the Z4 has, folding roof making it a full-fledged convertible and the car is an absolute winner. No rattles, good ergonomics, decent storage, stunning looks - this is why GM can't compete.

    Posted by Dan September 14, 09 08:49 AM
  1. That car deserved to survive on looks alone! Geogeous! (Old) BMW at the front and Ginetta at the back. 1200!!! It would have sold many more than that in Europe if it had been available here!

    Posted by Pete September 24, 09 05:03 AM
 

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
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AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
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Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
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Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
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