×

Today, the historic Pontiac brand is a lame-duck politician waiting for his term in office to end. But unlike must politicians these days, the Pontiac Solstice GXP two seat sports coupe should have some staying power, albeit as a rebadged something or other, even if production has ceased just as we are publishing this review.

Introduced by rapper Fifty Cent at the 2008 New York International Auto Show, the Solstice coupe attempts to answer the criticism about the Solstice roadster's general lack of storage and cargo capabilities. Did the General succeed this time around?

What is it?
The Solstice GXP Coupe is the high performance variant of the Solstice lineup, this time with a fastback hardtop (with targa-style roof panel) and 2.0-liter Ecotec turbocharged engine. With a rear-drive arrangement, it's just what the doctor ordered for a little tail swinging on hard right and left-handers.

What's it up against?
The competitors are dropping like flies: Honda has canned the S2000 and Saturn's Solstice with another name (Sky) has been unceremoniously cut off, meaning only the Mazda Miata remains.

Only the Mazda offers a hardtop of some sort - even if it is of the folding metal variety.

Any breakthroughs?
For model year 2009, the entire Solstice lineup receives ABS and StabiliTrak electronic stability control as standard throughout the model range. A limited slip differential is also now standard and the 18-inch wheels have been redesigned.

Additionally, Bluetooth capabilities are now part of the OnStar system, (subscription service) which will also offer turn-by-turn directions in lieu of an in-dash navigation screen.

The coupe, of course, is an all-new model - Pontiac's last such introduction before its expiration. Just 1,200 Solstice Coupes will be made, almost ensuring their collector car status.

How does it look?
The Bulbous nose that made the Solstice endearing to some and caused many others to run to their local Saturn dealer for the Sky is back again. So are the dimensions of the original car. But this time, add the roof and a fastback for a better-produced package. Below the beltline, we're not so sure, but above, everything from the rear of the A-pillars to the rear, is new, including the Targa-style roof and fastback greenhouse area.

We can't take fault with too much aside from the rather arbitrary radio whip antenna placement. Located just aft of the passenger door, we think a windshield-or even roof-mounted antenna would have been the way to go.

We like the show car-esque look, especially the narrow slit side windows, even if they severely limit visibility from inside.

And on the inside?
It's a mix of we-love-it and we-are-not-so-crazy-about-it.

Though more spacious inside than a Miata or S2000, the cabin is not without fault. Very supportive seats kept us in place and the chrome-ringed gauges were clearly visible. For the most part, controls are where you'd expect to find them, aside from oddly-placed fog lamp and stability control buttons and the lack of a second power port to let the radar detector keep watch over a charging cell phone. GM's standard audio and HVAC controls, as well as its ubiquitous steering wheel, show up to the party and, not surprisingly, work about as well here as they do in the rest of the lineup: No major complaints.

However, the lack of storage space that plagued the roadster model shows up in the closed-top variant, as well. A small storage cubby between the front seats for sunglasses, a cupholder that pops out of the transmission tunnel and a pair of storage bins behind the seat backs in the cargo area accessible only by carnival freaks round out the interior storage options. At least there's a trunk, even if it is only 5.6 cubic feet of soft luggage space. Just don't load it too high as you'll make the already ludicrous blind spots even worse.

Finally, the removable roof panel. We love the concept of driving al-fresco, but we had to follow the Weather Channel's advice to determine how far from home we could venture. There is no storage space in the rear cargo hold for the roof panel once it has been removed, so your choice is to not venture far from home or drive only on sunny days with the top down. Maybe the Solstice Coupe should have come with a Weather Band option for its audio system.

But does it go?
With a 260-horsepower I-4 Ecotec engine motivating the GXP Coupe, it had better. Producing 260 lb-ft. of torque, it is a blast to stand on the loud pedal and feel it kick you back in the seats. A derivative of GM's world motor, it features direct injection,and dual overhead cams to help provide ample power, not to mention a decent 19 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

With the independent unequal arms at all four corners linked together by stabilizer bars at both ends, the GXP coupe just begs to be thrown into a tight right hander. Flick off the stability control and it becomes an E-Ticket ride. The shift linkage is sure and steady, providing quick and precise up and downshifts throughout the range. It just begged to play boy-racer and we were more than happy to comply. And why not? 260-horsepower and lb-ft. of torque in a vehicle that barely weighs over three thousand pounds (3018 to be precise)""what's not to love?

On the anchor side of this equation, the Solstice GXP coupe is no slouch either, having four-wheel disc brakes with Dynamic rear proportioning to keep things level under heavy braking.

Why you would buy it
Because it's a great package with performance, a good gearbox and an Ecotec turbocharged engine. And with only 1,200 copies being made, it's an instant collectors item.

Why you wouldn't
You have an aversion to so-called orphan cars, which Pontiac, unless saved by the bell in the future, will end up being.

Leftlane's bottom line:
The Pontiac Solstice GXP is a fun, capable, package with the right engine, at the right size and hopefully the right price. Discounts could eventually bring the price downward even more, but we would bet most will be snapped up quickly.

It's the perfect car for the annual Orphan Car Show in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which invites now-defunct brands to participate - just wait for the 2016 show. Maybe it could be accompanied by Pontiac's other best car in decades, the G8 GXP we recently tested.

2009 Pontiac Solstice GXP Coupe base price, $30,375. As tested, $33,140.
Premium package, $575; Air conditioning, $960; Premium audio system, $395; Sport pedals, $115; USB port audio system, $100; Destination, $620.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.