2009 Solstice New Car Test Drive
The Pontiac Solstice is a hot-looking, sports car that starts under $25,000 and for 2009 is offered in two different body styles: A new coupe version joins the line for 2009.
Coupe or convertible, Pontiac's little two-seater is all about fun, and the reward of affordable sports car performance. The Solstice is responsive and easy to drive, with simple controls and a comfortable cockpit. GM's StabiliTrak stability control system, standard for 2009, adds a safety margin, helping the driver maintain control.
Coupe or roadster, the Solstice comes standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 173 horsepower and a five-speed manual transmission or optional five-speed automatic. The power output of the engine is adequate, but the car's relatively high curb weight (2950 pounds) limits performance. The base roadster trends toward no-frills, with hand-crank windows and air conditioning optional, but it does include a nice stereo with XM Satellite Radio and an iPod interface, as well as a lined convertible top for the roadster.
The Pontiac Solstice GXP features a turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 260 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The added power gives the GXP versions much stronger acceleration, capable of 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds, and the base price includes more comfort and convenience features.
In addition to the new body style, all 2009 Solstice models come with anti-lock brakes, Stabilitrak and traction control, a limited slip differential.
To broaden the appeal of the coupe, Pontiac equipped it with a removable roof panel, rather than a solid top. The development team reasoned that the Solstice chassis was strong enough without the additional rigidity that goes with a solid top, and the removable panel, popularly known as a targa top, gives owners a wind-in-hair, sun-in-face option. Fashioned from plastic with a magnesium frame, the top is light (31 pounds) and easy to remove or install. However, there's no place to stow it on board. Pontiac addresses this issue with a soft-top option ($1100). It's supported by bows, and the entire package rolls up for stowage behind the seats.
Unfortunately, this diminishes one of the coupe's big advantages versus the roadster. With its soft top stowed, the roadster has almost no luggage space. The coupe boasts 5.6 cubic feet, about the same as a Mazda MX-5 Miata, with a pair of covered bins behind the headrests for keeping small stuff corralled. Both versions of the Solstice lack door pockets or center console storage.
Although the coupe has a slightly higher practicality index, neither Solstice is really suitable for long trips, due to limited onboard storage, and the idiosyncrasies of the soft tops.
On the other hand, cars like this aren't really about transportation. They're about driving as entertainment, and in this sense the basic Solstice, a traditional rear-wheel-drive sports car, is in many ways a match for the Mazda MX-5 Miata. Measured by objective performance benchmarks, the Solstice GXP can be compared with much more expensive sports car stalwarts such as the Porsche Boxster and Cayman, and the Audi TT. In practice, the Solstice doesn't offer the handling precision of these other sports cars, nor does it match their refinement, interior quality and general tightness. But the roadster's styling stands out, and the new coupe is a real head-turner.
The Pontiac Solstice roadster ($24,275) is powered by a 173-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. The standard transmission is a five-speed manual, and a five-speed automatic is optional ($995). Solstice comes standard with hand-cranked windows, manually adjusted outside mirrors and manual door locks, though the driver's seat features a power height adjustment. The glass rear window of both body styles has a defogger, and the padded, urethane-clad steering wheel has a tilt adjustment, but does not adjust for reach. The shift knob is leather-wrapped, but seats and door panels are covered in cloth. Tires are generously sized 245/45VR18 Goodyear Eagle RSA all-season radials on 18-inch painted aluminum wheels. The six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo includes XM Satellite Radio and an iPod interface. OnStar is standard, along with GM's Driver Information Center. And the acoustic lining for the convertible top is standard. Air conditioning ($960) is optional. The Convenience Package ($395) adds cruise control, an enhanced Driver Information Center, and fog lamps. The Preferred Package ($625) includes power windows, power door locks with remote keyless entry, and body-colored power outside mirrors.
Solstice GXP coupe ($30,375) and roadster ($29,485) are equipped with a turbocharged version of the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, generating 260 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, matched to a five-speed manual transmission. The GXP comes with more standard features, including power windows and mirrors, cruise control, audio controls on a leather-wrapped steering wheel, remote keyless entry, fog lamps, and polished aluminum 18-inch wheels. Tires are the same size but are Goodyear Eagle F1 high-performance units. A five-speed automatic transmission is optional ($995).
Leather upholstery is available for the Solstice ($690) and GXP ($525) and comes as part of the Premium Package, which upgrades the base model with a leather-wrapped steering wheel that includes auxiliary audio controls. Audio upgrades include a high-watt Monsoon system with subwoofer ($395), an in-dash six-CD changer ($295), which retains MP3 capability and a separate input jack. Also available are aluminum-clad pedals ($115), a rear spoiler ($275), and carpeted floor mats ($80). The base model can be ordered with polished aluminum ($545) or chromed aluminum ($795) wheels.
A Club Sport package ($1095) for the Solstice roadster includes stiffened suspension components for track days and autocross events. There's also an SCCA SSB Championship Edition package ($6235) that combines nearly all available options except automatic transmission and the Club Sport suspension. Appropriately, Championship Edition models are available only in Victory Red.
The Solstice is equipped with the minimum passive safety features required by federal regulations, which means seat belts and dual front dual-stage airbags. Anti-lock brakes and StabiliTrak are standard on all models for 2009, as is a tire pressure monitor system.
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