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2007 Pontiac Solstice GXP – Click above for high-res image gallery

The Pontiac Solstice is the crown prince of the General's lineup. With curves and flares, bulges and rakes, it's the modern equivalent of the Coke bottle aesthetic of yesteryear. Sure, some may prefer its sheetmetal sibling the Sky, but regardless of your chosen chariot, they're both head-turners. When the Solstice was introduced last year, however, it lacked the firepower to back up its sex-on-wheels image. Until now.

All Photos Copyright ©2007 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.

With close to 3,000 pounds of metal to move, the 2.4-liter Ecotec four found in the base Solstice left much to be desired, so Pontiac replaced the 177 HP mill with a direct-injected, turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4 producing 260 HP and an equal amount of torque. Peak horsepower is achieved at 5,300 RPM, while the torque curve is as flat as Bonneville from about 2,500 to 5,000 RPM. However, our seat-of-the-pants dyno suggests that those torque figures are underrated by at least ten-percent – nothing new when it comes to the General's forced-induction offerings.

On the outside, there's little to indicate that this particular Solstice is anything above and beyond its base brethren. As a matter of fact, excluding the 18-inch chrome rolling stock, it's downright subdued. The naturally aspirated version's brushed metal grilles have been replaced with blacked out inserts, while the fog lamp recesses have been reshaped, broadened and painted to match. With the exception of a discreet GXP badge on the boot and a second exhaust tip, only the most hardened pistonheads will see the intercooler peering from behind the grille. Our only styling concern is for those who reside in a state that requires a front license plate, effectively turning the Solstice into a Bugs Bunny look-alike in drag.

Search out pictures of the Solstice online, and you'll be hard pressed to find a shot with the top up. There's a reason for that. Our initial impression that the design lacked the refinement of other open-top offerings never really subsided, but the steep upward angle of the window line, beginning with the A-pillar and extending up towards the rear of the canvas roof, provided a subtle reminder of the chopped-top hot-rods of yore.

Open the driver's side door and you're instantly reminded that this is truly an American interpretation of the roadster. It's heavy, and when it closes, the resounding "thud" is affirmation that the Solstice is no featherweight.

Much has been made about the General's interior design renaissance, but the Solstice is decidedly behind the curve. The extra large dimensions of the exterior – particularly the elongated hood and bulbous badonkadonk – find their way inside and manifest themselves in a dashboard that consumes more real estate than the Donald.

Most of the materials that make up the interior are of a mildly higher grade than we've seen in the past, save the top of the door panels and the area aft of the center console, which seems to have stolen bits of our Project Big Wheel to make the bean counters happy.

The wrap-around instrument panel, a lighter shade of higher-quality gray plastic than the rest of the interior, provides a nice contrast that gives the Solstice a driver-oriented feel. The stereo, HVAC controls and the redundant steering wheel mounted buttons are all rather straight forward, although the "mute" symbol on the right side of the wheel is almost an exact duplicate of the icon used in Honda's products for its voice-command controls – a temporary moment of confusion ensued.

The Preferred Package has replaced the Performance Package for 2007, which makes sense considering that all the accoutrements – power windows, door locks and keyless entry – had little to do with performance in the first place. One glaring omission is the utter lack of places to put any personal belongings. With the exception of the glove box and a mesh map holder underneath the passenger's legs, we were hard-pressed to find a secure location for our phone or iPod – the latter being overly problematic considering the stereo has an auxiliary input for just such a device.

The leather seats, complete with red stitching that matches the shifter boot and steering wheel, are clearly geared towards Grade-A American butts. As such, any kind of lateral support was eschewed by having to grip the wheel to keep our body from sliding side-to-side. Not what we'd expect from a performance-oriented offering, but admittedly, we're skinny.

Press the trunk release button on the key fob, and those two awkward triangular slats of canvas pop up with purpose. From there, you can easily pull the trunk lid up and instantly see why the Solstice will forever be relegated to Sunday-drive duty. The large gas tank protruding from the floor takes up the majority of usable space, requiring any parcels that wish to be stowed in the back be soft, small and devoid of anything breakable. If there's any aspect of the Solstice that reveals it was rushed to production, this is it.

The process for putting the roof down is a bit convoluted, especially compared to some of the other convertibles offered in this segment. The procedure goes something like this: pop the trunk, get out of the car, open the rear clamshell, get back in the car and wrestle with the center-mounted lever that unlatches the roof from the windshield pillar. Get out of the car again, pull up on the roof and guide it into the now entirely useless cavity in the rear. After one or two (or three or four) hard pushes to make sure the roof is completely stored, you can close the clamshell – except it doesn't click in securely. Pull the key fob out again, pop the trunk, re-raise it, and shove down the roof an extra 2mm, then try again. Thankfully, putting the roof back into place was less of a chore; again, with the small exception of making sure the trunk closes completely. We found that re-latching the triangular extensions of the roof could be a bit annoying, but we were able to get over it in quick order.

Aesthetic and design foibles aside, it was time to see if the GXP's power and poise make it into a competent corner carver or a pretentious poseur.

Shifting into reverse and letting up on the pedal to the left revealed a clutch with plenty of travel and a tough-to-define friction point. Once into first, some mild application of the throttle was met with a disturbing amount of driveline shutter. Poking around in first gear was an exercise in neck restraint, but once underway clutch slippage was rarely encountered.

Around town, the steering rack and five-speed manual provided a perfect environment for schlepping to and fro. With the top down, visibility was top notch, although the amount of wind entering the cabin at any speed above 35 MPH was enough to mess even the most product-enhanced hair. Because of this lack of wind suppression, there were several times that we wanted to put the top down, but didn't feel like battling the elements outside (let alone the aforementioned procedure). However, even with the roof in place, visibility wasn't nearly as bad as expected. Unlike other soft-top offerings, lane changes in the Solstice were never sphincter-clutching maneuvers.

It took a day or two to get used to the Solstice's larger dimensions, but after that, we were ready to sample the dynamic thrills anticipated from the addition of the Bilstein dampers, 245mm performance rubber and LSD, all standard on the GXP.

After some time spent at our local performance shop poking around the Solstice to see what, if any, mods could be performed to free up some ponies and drop the curb weight (look for a report on that later), we headed south towards one of our favorite bombable back roads.

While on a deserted stretch of straight tarmac, we switched the LCD underneath the tach to display the boost level when our right foot hit the floor. Judicious application of the throttle in third gear creates a swell of abnormally aspirated thrust, coupled with a burbling soundtrack that doesn't quite match the GXP's speed. Boost levels at full throttle normally reach 18 PSI, but for the most part, you'll find yourself somewhere in the 8 to 16 PSI realm.

Turbo lag? Look elsewhere. With the reduction of displacement in the GXP, not only does power come on instantly, but the revs shoot up and almost outrun the tach. The sub-six second sprint to 60 is easily repeatable, especially with the traction control set to "Sport," allowing just the right amount of wheel spin to get a clean launch from 4,500 RPM.

By the time we had reached the first set of bends, our initial impression of the Solstice was confirmed – it feels like every body panel has been injected with lead, with all the dynamic sensibilities that implies. While traveling around at a mildly quick clip, the GXP is a brilliant machine; push harder though, and things begin to fall apart.

Where before, the steering was quick and intuitive, at anything beyond 7/10ths, you feel as if you're reacting to the corner rather than taming it. Body roll, where before none existed, now becomes disturbingly apparent and extremely disconcerting. Any tight bends taken at speed are met with copious quantities of understeer, making left foot braking a necessity to avoid dropping off onto the shoulder, or worse – crossing the double yellow. And while a heavy right foot can cause the rear to break free, rather than controllable oversteer, you're faced with more buzzkillling push.

We understand that the Solstice was originally designed to be the ultimate drop-top head turner, and in almost every sense, GM's designers have outdone themselves. From a dynamic standpoint, comparisons to the MX-5s of the world are inevitable, but that kind of pigeonholing does the Solstice a disservice. The GXP isn't a Miata-fighter or a Z4-competitor; it's a Corvette at two-thirds scale. And if you're enamored with the styling, sold on a convertible and disinclined to push the envelope, the Solstice is for you, and the GXP is the only one to have.

All Photos Copyright ©2007 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      Lady Solstice
      • 3 Years Ago
      GM....congratulations!!!!! I am a 120 lb.woman; have had my Solstice since 2007...can't ask for a better and more fun car. Who needs a cup holder? But mine works fine when I do use it. I think if I can get the top up and down in a flash; you big strong guys...lol; should be able to do it. I haven't had one problem with this car since I've had it....my husband bought it new for me for Christmas; and I wouldn't trade it for anything....especially a Miata!!!
      • 8 Years Ago
      Well, I guess my next hope lies on Chrysler producing the Dodge Demon.
      • 8 Years Ago
      "With curves and flares, bulges and rakes," the morbidly obese woman's industrial-grade wheelchair bears a decal with the legend, "sex on wheels." I love the imagery Autoblog uses to describe a pint-size Miata competitor. Mediocre styling and poor word choices aside, "Crown Prince" Solstice snaps his fingers at butlers CTS-V and Corvette Z06 and hollers, "Bring out the tea!"
      • 8 Years Ago
      It makes me a little bit sad to read this. I love the looks and grunt of the Solstice GXP (and Sky Redline), and I wanted it to be a car that was remarkable in every way. Maybe the next generation...

      So when are you guys getting a Solstice LS7??
      • 8 Years Ago
      I gotta say, the GXP drives much better than described here. There is a shocks/spring/sway bar upgrade for $1428 that dials the push out of the car that the reviewer experienced when over 7/10ths driving. It's quite crisp and neutral if you have your throttle, braking and shifting reasonably choreographed. I did not see any problem with the interior. The plastics are high-quality and well-chosen for an open car's durability requirements, and every one I've seen was sans any sharp edges. The cup-holder placement is bone-headed and, yeah...the market likes a place for an iPod, but really....that's just whining.

      The Solstice/Sky aren't as light as the Miata and that's plainly evident. So what? They also feel like stiffer structures than the Miata's on uneven or broken pavement. I've been in 5 - 15 year old Miatas and they loosen up quite a bit over time. I have more confidence in the Solstice/Sky retaining their intrinsic structural stiffness.

      I've owned a variety of sports cars over 30 years, from tiny to Corvette. I'd love a GXP if I fit in it, but at 6'3" 185 lbs. I don't really. I just barely fit under the roof and legroom is inadequate for me even with the seat shoved all the way back in its track. But then this is a problem in every modern small sports car. I don't even come close to fitting in a Miata, S2000 or Boxster. A Z4, Z or 911 barely accommodates me and never comfortably for even the slightest distance. A Corvette wraps me just right. The Brits had the packaging right -- I could fit in an MG Midget back in the day, and an MGB, TR6 or Triumph Spitfire gave me wiggle room. Modern design, crash and packaging requirements have put smaller sports cars off the consideration list of a lot of people over 6' height. I thought I'd make it in a GXP, but not quite. It's better than the Miata in which the windshield header runs right across my line of sight, but I need a few more inches in at least 2 dimensions.

      The gas tank placement is a little bizarre in the GM twins but again, for what the car is I don't see the trunk as disqualifying a sale. It would be no problem to pack a weekend's worth of stuff for two in soft bags in that space, and if you need more space you can do what was common with British sports cars: mount a stainless steel luggage rack to the trunk lid. I don't take seriously criticism of droptops for lack of trunk space with the top down. Easy, just drive top-up to your weekend destination -- which is the usual thing to do if you have a freeway trek -- and then motor open-top locally all you want after you've stowed your gear in your hotel.

      I haven't felt the driveline lash and chatter cited in this review, but I know a couple people who have. In those cases it ceased after the clutch surfaces were broken in.

      The GXP has remarkable grip and is pretty precise especially with the suspension upgrade. The engine is vastly entertaining and the gearbox easy to feel intuitively after a few miles. The car isn't perfect, but what is? The top is a little Rube Goldbergish, but less complex than it first seems. You get it and then forget about it. The structure of the car is impressively rigid and feels like it will stay that way.

      I think it's remarkable that something this distinctly different than the mass-market Miata exists for $30K, with service available everywhere, and with such a muscular drivetrain as counterpoint to the refined but weak-hearted price competitors.

      I couldn't quite fit, so found myself going the GT route in an XLR-v. But if they find some more room in the GXP v2.0, I'm writing a check.

      • 8 Years Ago
      Why compare this only to the Miata? There's the S2000 as an option if you want something a bit more aggressive than a Miata. Just throwing it out there.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Comparing this to a Miata is like comparing a Corvette convertible to a Boxster. More power, less refinement. I guess that's the American way of building sports cars.
        • 4 Years Ago
        all you miata lovers move to japan i own a gxp solstice at least it is made in the USA. one of the sharpest cars on the road like one other blogger said miata is a womans car i did admire a miata in the past until a solstice was sitting next to one the miata although more user friendly lacks american muscel sport looks more girly if you want luxury roadster buy a bmw not a miata
      • 8 Years Ago
      I can agree with the top operating procedures. That can be a bit of a pain sometimes. With a little bit of practice though, I managed to get a technique down in which I can completely stow the top without getting out of the car, save for closing the clamshell. I can pop the top in much the same fashion.

      I wasn't quite impressed with the interior either, but I got passed that pretty quickly. I dont understand the gripes about the cupholder though, at all. There's one that pops out directly next to the shifter on the passenger side of the center column that is perfect for the driver. Plus, in being a pop-out it doesnt build up that grimy crap that is impossible to clean like cars with fixed cup-holders do. I am also quite pleased with even the base audio system that comes in the car. 6 speakers that is plenty clear at 70 mph with the top down, and the Monsoon system is a good deal better.

      On to storage space...theres plenty of it if you use your imagination. I went on a roadtrip about 3 weeks ago from eastern NC up to Detroit and Windsor then back down to Florida. I packed enough clothes for myself to last a week, plus my travel car cleaning kit which consists of about 8 spray bottles plus car wash and microfiber towels, my full service uniform, and about a dozen DVD's. I had enough space to store it all AND drive the entire way with the top down, without just stuffing everything in the passenger footwell. I also had a clunky roadside emergency kit with me in the trunk.

      I did notice the driveline roughness when I first bought the car, but as soon as my first oil change came along I swapped out differential and transmission oils with synthetic fluids and it made a world of difference. It only took about an hour extra too.

      Through that entire trip I was averaging almost 35 mpg (except in certain sections of west virginia and kentucky where the rather mountainous terrain led to uh, more spirited driving)

      The exterior styling need not have anything more said about it. How many other cars under 30K have random people taking pictures of it at rest stops? Haha (other than the sheer akwardness of that event, it was quite amusing)

      Ive owned my GXP for just under 6 months now, and I can say I wouldn't even consider buying another vehicle to replace her.

      Oh and red looks better with a black top ;)
      • 8 Years Ago
      I remember being incredibly excited about the solstice until I got more information about how the roof would operate and how the trunk would not be there.

      Meanwhile, I have no idea where Damon gets his "well it's not meant to be a Miata-beater" sensibilities. I recall Autoblog posting on the phenomenon that was Mazda PAYING Google to put up Miata text-ads when people searched for "Pontiac Solstice" (complete with a link to a point-by-point comparison). So Mazda certainly thought the same-price-same-size-same-FR-convertibleness was targeting Mazda's icon. The GXP was an attempt to trump the Miata by going "well, we don't have a trunk and our roof-i-gami is maddeningly complex... but we can put some stank on it".

      Unfortunately, the suspension in the GXP makes it act like a cobalt at high speeds making definitely un-miata-like . Which, in addition to microstorage and the top-from-hell makes it a garage-queen for the GM faithful.

      I dunno. The solstice/sky seems like a beta. I just hope that GM finds a way to make it more of a usable and practical vehicle (even for a two-seater-sportster) for the next release.

      • 8 Years Ago
      I loved this car when it first came out until I went to the dealership and put the top up and down. What a pain in the @$$.

      "The GXP isn't a Miata-fighter" Please... If Mazda ever puts the same engine/transmission setup into the Miata that are in the Speed3 or Speed6 it will destroy the GXP.
      • 8 Years Ago
      That is just downright sad, I LOVE the look of both the Skyy and Solstice, Love the names even, love the performance of the turbo. But seriously this car is utterly unlivable Even the miata hardtop you can pack for a weekend getaway. My 2002 Boxster S hase a huge front trunk and a medicore rear trunk (any cost me 25K including a 3 year warranty). My 92 Miata had the best top mechanism I have ever seen, flip the latches, turn around and unzip the window so it would lay flat (optional if you didn't care about a crease in the plastic before they went to glass) and toss the thing back, no getting out of the car no futzing with the trunk no pushing etc. The boxster is similar although powered , flip the latch and hit the button. but to engineer a roof like that and still have it around for the 3rd model year is just stupid.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I saw this car back in Feb at the Toronto Autoshow...I couldn't have been more disappointed. Everyone's focusing on the crappy roof, but I was drawn to the completely shoddy interior quality. "Big Wheel" plastic around the doors doesn't say enough. There were unfinished bit of plastic all along the edges and seems. The hole for the door handle was smaller than it should have been. The plastic edges were sharp enough they cut my finger. It only looks like a mazda beater. Any quality conscious shopper will pass on this and take the less powerful Miata. This car is a disaster IMO.
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