New & Used Pontiac Solstice: In Depth
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The Pontiac Solstice two-seat sports car was a new and unexpected entry from the GM brand that stood for inexpensive performance. While it was fun to drive and distinctive, the Solstice fell down on many of the more practical details. A two-door fastback coupe was a late addition to the convertible, but both models vanished--along with the rest of the Pontiac--during GM's 2009 bankruptcy and government-backed reorganization.
As part of GM's resuscitation of the Pontiac brand, the Solstice was intended to provide a fun, inexpensive U.S. alternative to the Mazda MX-5 Miata, which had dominated the category for more than a decade. A Solstice Concept was first shown at the 2002 Detroit Auto Show, and production began in Delaware three years later for the 2006 model year.
MORE: For more details, read our 2009 Pontiac Solstice review.
The first Solstice was fitted with a 177-horsepower 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine, paired with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic. Virtually all of the Solstice's mechanical components--and some interior pieces as well--came from other GM models. They ranged from HUMMER H3 heating, ventilating, and air conditioning units to a Cadillac CTS differential and rear axle.
While cheap and cheerful, the Solstice was also crude, underdeveloped, and often quite inconvenient to use in practice. The seats (adapted from a European Opel subcompact) were narrow and lacked padding, the steering wheel didn't telescope, and shorter or taller drivers found it hard to find a good driving position.
Luggage space was so shallow as to be almost non-existent. Any suitcase had to ride in the passenger seat--with or without a passenger underneath. Taking down the convertible top was often compared to the medieval tortures of the same process found half a century earlier in British sports cars. It also took up most of the tiny trunk space.
The engine was termed "agricultural"--it was noisy--and the gearboxes were crude. On the other hand, the Solstice handled reasonably well, performed at a high level with the optional turbo engine, and earned some success when lightly modified for club racing, where its comfort drawbacks were irrelevant.
The practical drawbacks of the Solstice contrasted with the nicely developed, comfortable cockpit of the Mazda Miata--whose top could be lowered simply by unfastening one central latch and throwing the top backwards over the shoulder. The entire car, really, suffered from being rushed into production on a new platform as a halo vehicle for a brand that had never had a sports car like this before.
Nonetheless, a wide range of options was offered on the Pontiac Solstice. They included leather seats; cruise control; power windows, locks, and mirrors; keyless entry; and a Monsoon audio system. In 2009, the last Solstices gained the Onstar system, tire-pressure monitors, and a new MP3-compatible AM/FM/CD radio with an auxiliary jack.
For 2007, a Solstice GXP model was offered with a 260-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Mechanical updates included a limited-slip differential, traction control, and standard 18-inch alloy wheels, along with a variety of GXP trim and appearance items. Dealers could install an approved performance package with retuned engine control and two additional sensors to boost that to 290 hp. The acceleration time from 0 to 60 mph for the Solstice GXP was quoted at less than 5.5 seconds.
At the 2008 New York Auto Show, Pontiac unveiled the Solstice Coupe, a fixed-head fastback model with removable roof panels (which were too large to fit into the car's cargo area). Engine choices were the same as the convertible. Only 1,260 coupes were built and sold in the first six months of 2009 before production ended when the Pontiac brand was shut down.
Altogether, more than 64,000 Solstice convertibles were built, along with the much lower number of coupes. The Wilmington, Delaware, plant that built the Solstice also built 34,000 Saturn Sky models, a related two-seat convertible with entirely different styling on the same underpinnings. (The Sky was also briefly sold in Europe as the Opel GT.)
That Wilmington plant had one final date with ignominy: it was the site purchased and selected by moribund brand Fisker to build its stillborn second vehicle, the Atlantic.