This weekend I had the opportunity to drive Pontiac’s beefed up Solstice, the GXP. To give a little background, I’ve previously drove the regular Solstice when it first came out as well as the Saturn Sky, which shares a platform and drive train with the Solstice. The normal Solstice was a pretty terrible car for numerous reasons. The Sky, while a drastic improvement over the Solstice, still didn’t ignite a fire inside me. So when I buckled into the new turbo charged Solstice GXP I had pretty low expectations, which turned out to be a good thing.
As the old saying goes, I’ve got some good news and some bad news, so let me start out with the good. One of the major flaws with the naturally aspirated Solstice is under the hood. While the jumbo 2.4 liter Ecotec four cylinder puts out over 170 horsepower, it is buzzy, unpleasant to rev and at times feels like a truck motor. The GXP is a vast improvement in this area. The 2.0 liter turbocharged four banger puts out an impressive 260 horsepower and delivers in a smooth, flexible and most importantly fun manner. It has a broad power band with turbo boost kicking in pretty high in the rev range for some good old pin you to your seat acceleration. But the GXP also packs plenty of low end torque to pull the car briskly out of up hill corners. My biggest complaint with the engine would have to be the noisy blow off valve that seems to operate even when the digital boost gauge reads 0 psi.
Possibly the best part of the GXP is the turbocharged power plant.
The cars handling characteristics are also a leap ahead of the regular Solstice that I drove awhile back. Taking a page from the Saturn Sky’s revalved shocks, the Solstice GXP absorbs bumps in a much less jarring manner but still manages to feel sporty and keep the tires planted on the ground. Although the car feels a bit chunky on the suspension at times, it can be driven quickly down a back road without difficulty. The rubbery/numb steering feel and the dialed in under-steer are the car’s biggest handling draw backs.
The last plus I will give to the Solstice is its external styling with the top down. The Solstice, Sky and Solstice GXP are all good looking cars. They have some great lines that are unique in the current car market, and I think the average Joe would have to call the car attractive. With the top down the rear head rest fairings actually look sporty, not cheesy, and the smooth, rounded front end of the Solstice has a distinct vintage car flavour. With the top up the car looses a lot of its aesthetic appeal, but since it is a rag top designed to be driven with the roof folded away and hidden underneath the rear skin, I’ll chalk it up to “no one looks great first thing in the morning”.
Now for the bad. When the Solstice first came out its ergonomics and interior design were horrible. The cockpit was cramped, despite the cars bulbous size, with little room (even by little car standards) for storage. Things like rolling up windows and using the parking brake became awkward Yoga exercises using motions that you never knew you could do before. Cup holders interfered with elbows, windows couldn’t be rolled down unless you reached across your body with the inside hand, and storage compartments were scarce and uncomfortable to use. I’m sorry to say that the GXP is more of the same. A tacky interior with cheap materials in a poorly designed layout makes the Solstice GXP downright unpleasant to drive daily. The trunk holds next to nothing, which actually doesn’t bother me so much in a two seat roadster, but the fact that the trunk is sharing room with the top is annoying at times. With the top up, you have to disconnect and reconnect the top when opening and closing the trunk. With the top down you have to lift the top a bit if you plan on stowing anything larger than a juice box back there.
What really disappoints on the Pontiac are all the little things that don’t work right. The fuel gauge sometimes comes up tot he quarter tank mark, then goes up a bit more a few minutes later, but some times it will hover in the same place. When you pop the trunk to fold out the top (which is a several step process) the rear struts don’t hold the deck lid up like they are supposed to, meaning you have to hold it yourself and unfurl the top, and this is a new car. And speaking of the top, right out of the box it doesn’t fit or lineup well and when it is up the wind noise is pretty intense. One of the best and most poignant moments was when a fellow writer went to story his hooded sweatshirt in the trunk of the car. With the top down he popped the trunk with the remote key fob and the trunk lid strained to open due to its lack luster gas struts. After stuffing his sweatshirt under the top in the back he tried to close the trunk, but it was interfering with the top, so he slammed it a bit, which succeeded in closing the trunk, but set off the car alarm. It is these small details that really kill the GXP. It really makes you wonder why you would choose this car over the other two seat competitors who seemed to have worked these little bugs out.
While I would never buy one of these cars, I did have a decent time driving GXP on the local back roads. With the sun out and the top down the powerful roadster was definitely fun. But when compared to other cars in its class it simply comes up short. Too little too late.
Pontiac, Solstice, Solstice GXP, GXP, Saturn, Saturn Sky, Sky, Sky Redline, roadster, two-seater, convertible, sports car, fun, muscle car