2008 Pontiac Solstice Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
August 19, 2008

The 2008 Pontiac Solstice keeps it simple, valuing sports-car responsiveness over comfort and practicality.

The experts at TheCarConnection.com have brought the most useful information from various review sources for this review covering the 2008 Pontiac Solstice. TheCarConnection.com’s editors have driven both models on familiar roads as well as especially demanding routes and have added their firsthand impressions.

The sporty Pontiac Solstice, the sibling to Saturn’s sleek Sky roadster, is available in two main versions for 2008: base and GXP.

A 2.4-liter, 177-horsepower inline four-cylinder engine is standard on the 2008 Pontiac Solstice. The high-performance GXP model features a 260-horsepower turbocharged direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, firmer suspension setting, GXP-specific 18-inch wheels with high-performance tires, GM’s StabiliTrak stability control system, polished stainless steel dual exhaust tips, revised front and rear fascias, and GXP-specific interior trim, including “GXP” embroidered sport buckets. On both models, a five-speed manual transmission is standard, a five-speed automatic optional. Both Solstice models have rear-wheel drive.

Review continues below

The base engine has plenty of power to move the 2,860-pound Solstice quickly; with the manual gearbox, its 0-60-mph time is only 7.2 seconds, according to GM, while the turbo shortens the 0-60 figure to about 5.5 seconds. The base engine lacks refinement and can be quite coarse in sound and feel, but the 2008 Pontiac Solstice GXP’s turbocharged engine and different gear ratios feel more sophisticated and responsive; the turbo doesn’t bring much lag (hesitation) either.

With a firm but not uncomfortable ride, and precise, quick-ratio steering that brings a good feel of the road, the 2008 Pontiac Solstice is in its element on tight, curvy roads. Even approaching the limits of adhesion, the Solstice handles predictably.

Inside, the 2008 Pontiac Solstice isn’t quite as alluring. The seats are rather narrow and unsupportive, and some of the controls are located in odd places. The driving position is difficult for taller or shorter drivers, as the steering wheel doesn’t telescope, and the cabin lacks modern must-haves such as abundant storage cubbies and sturdy cup holders.

The soft-top arrangement in the 2008 Pontiac Solstice requires getting out of the car to secure two anchor points for raising the top, while the top lowers below the rear-hinged trunklid and occupies much of the already small cargo space. Visibility is more impaired than typical with the top up, and when down, the top tucks into the trunk and occupies much of the already small cargo space. Wind noise with the top in place—and wind buffeting with the top down—could use some improvement.

Though not as loaded in standard form as the Saturn Sky, the 2008 Pontiac Solstice does come with a CD stereo, rear defroster, an adjustable steering column, and a considerably lower base price. A full range of options can be ordered, including power locks, mirrors, and windows; keyless entry; cruise control; leather seats; a Monsoon audio system; GM’s OnStar communications/safety system; and XM Satellite Radio. Among the changes for 2008 are standard OnStar and XM Satellite Radio; a new MP3-compatible AM/FM/CD radio with an auxiliary jack; and standard tire pressure monitors.

The 2008 Pontiac Solstice has a low base price, though it skimps on standard safety features. Anti-lock brakes—considered by many to be essential on a sportscar of this type—are optional on the Solstice, and stability control is now available on the base models ordered with anti-lock brakes but standard on the GXP. No side airbags are offered. The Solstice has been crash-tested by the federal government and got four-star results in frontal and side impact. The low roadster is also one of just a few cars to obtain top five-star results in NHTSA’s rollover risk rating.

8

2008 Pontiac Solstice

Styling

The 2008 Pontiac Solstice inspires, excites, and provokes in just the right way.

The 2008 Pontiac Solstice is an instant attention-getter, bristling with flair and stunning exterior design.

“The Solstice easily rivals such stylish competitors as the BMW Z4 and Audi TT, yet costs half as much”--so says Kelley Blue Book, echoing the praise heaped upon the Bob Lutz-inspired roadster that proves GM still employs talented designers who can turn out original, nonderivative, and pleasing designs. Remarks Automobile, “the side view looks like a Hot Wheels for adults with tires too big for its britches.” They add that “the nose and rump have the sexiest curves this side of Hollywood and Vine.”

“The look is smashing in the stowed position, less attractive erect,” notes Automobile of the “soft roof with flying buttresses” that they feel mimics BMW and Ferrari cabriolets. Road & Track appreciates these design features, calling them “elements of high style, not stripped-down functionality.”

If the interior is not quite the home run that the Solstice’s sexy skin offers, at least it features a driver-oriented cockpit with respectable ergonomics. Whereas Automobile finds “the cockpit mood is simple and inviting," Autoblog criticizes interior bits and pieces as “decidedly behind the curve” and goes so far as to say that the top of the door panels and the area behind the center console seem “to have stolen bits of our Project Big Wheel to make the bean counters happy.”

8

2008 Pontiac Solstice

Performance

If neither as nimble nor as lithe as its competition, the 2008 Pontiac Solstice proves to be fun, tenacious, and quite rapid in GXP trim.

The 2008 Pontiac Solstice’s high curb weight is overshadowed by fantastic handling, great balance, and the power and economy of the optional turbocharged engine.

While a thoroughly modern DOHC, variable valve timing four-cylinder with 173 horsepower, 167 pound-feet of torque, and 2.4 liters of displacement, the Solstice’s base engine doesn’t sound particularly sexy, nor does it motivate the nearly 3,000-pound roadster with a surplus of verve. Says Car and Driver of this engine, it “makes decent numbers, but decent isn’t good enough when your little roadster weighs a ton and a half.” Edmunds agrees, claiming “it doesn't feel much like a sports car engine.”

Step up to the optional 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged, direct-injected four-cylinder available only in the Solstice GXP, and motivation changes dramatically. With 260 of both horses and pound-feet of twist, this engine graces the Solstice with “a Miata-mincing mid-five-second 0-60 acceleration time” and increases “highway fuel economy from 25 mpg to 28, while maintaining a 19-mpg rating around town,” according to Car and Driver. “The GXP's four-cylinder is the strong, silent type,” says Automobile, “boasting a specific output exceeding that of every turbocharged engine on the market save Porsche's new 911 and Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution.”

As Colin Chapman’s mantra dictates, weight is the enemy of performance. The Solstice doesn’t impress here, with a curb weight some 500 pounds greater than the segment’s darling, Mazda’s MX-5 Miata. Thankfully, its 1.5-ton footprint is remarkably well managed by a commendably stiff structure, excellent suspension tuning, and near 50/50 front/rear balance. Car and Driver feels that both the base roadster and the GXP “match the good looks of their sheet metal with sparkling handling” while simultaneously lamenting that the platform is “too heavy to match the vivid immediacy…of the Mazda MX-5.”

6

2008 Pontiac Solstice

Comfort & Quality

The Excitement Division hopes you’ll be so dazzled you look right past the details when taking the 2008 Pontiac Solstice for a drive.

The 2008 Pontiac Solstice offers lots of goodies, packaged with lots of compromises.

Luckily, the driver and passenger chairs prove comfortable and supportive and are surrounded by more than sufficient space to stretch with reviewers, including those from TheCarConnection.com. The Solstice’s “seats have good lateral and lower-back support,” ConsumerGuide contends. “Unlike some small roadsters,” comments Kelley Blue Book, “it has generous shoulder room and sufficient legroom for taller drivers.” Car and Driver gripes, though, that the Solstice is “terribly imprudently packaged.”

Cargo space is the Solstice’s worst failing. “An appalling shortage of interior and cargo space,” rails Car and Driver. Kelley Blue Book spells it out: “a mere 5.4 cubic feet of trunk space with the top up—and almost none at all with the top down.” The inclusion of an auxiliary port for iPods and MP3 players–-with a distinct lack of anywhere to place such a device–-is symptomatic of the Solstice’s attention to detail. Automobile looks at the bright side of a storage-starved interior, referring to the Solstice’s “handy storage compartment” that “resides between the seatbacks…three cup holders, storage pockets sewn to the forward edges of the seat cushions, and slots molded into the threshold trim for pens and coins.”

The top raises its own concerns. “Raising and lowering the ragtop takes a minute or two with the car stopped and consists of half a dozen” steps, says Automobile, commenting that it compares poorly with the Miata’s single-step operation. Edmunds bemoans the “fussy multistep top operation process.”

“New ‘premium acoustic headliner’ does little to mask engine drone,” notes ConsumerGuide, who also find “The engines are buzzy or boomy depending on rpm.” But apparently in this segment, good looks go a long way, as “Kelley Blue Book expects the Solstice to retain a high resale value, on par with the BMW Z4 and Audi TT and better than the Mazda MX-5.” As for the quality of materials inside, ConsumerGuide points out lots of “hard plastic that looks extremely cheap.”

7

2008 Pontiac Solstice

Safety

The 2008 Pontiac Solstice offers impressive passive, but simply adequate active, safety features.

Judging by its crash-test results and considering its stout (and heavy) Corvette-inspired frame, the 2008 Pontiac Solstice provides laudable protection for one or two occupants.

The critics had precious little to say about the 2008 Pontiac Solstice’s safety features, perhaps because they aren’t anything surprising, new, or exceptionally high-tech.

In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash testing, the Solstice scored four of five stars for front impact, both driver and passenger. It scored a rare five stars for rollover resistance, due in part to its wide stance and low center of gravity. For the driver’s side, the Solstice scored four stars in the side impact test. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not yet tested a Pontiac Solstice.

Perhaps to bring the Solstice in at a low, competitive price point, a feature normally standard in this class (and, really, in nearly every class of vehicle) is optional. That feature is anti-lock brakes, an $895 option on the base roadster and a $797 option on the GXP, where it also includes traction control and GM’s StabiliTrak stability control system, and requires the limited slip differential. Front airbags are standard for driver and passenger, but side airbags are not available.

It’s worth mentioning that in the area of passive safety (that is, accident avoidance), a small, nimble vehicle with quick reflexes and not much physical presence to manage is ideal. With its balanced chassis and hyper-responsive driving dynamics, the Solstice is an ideal vehicle in which to dart away from dangerous situations and bad drivers.

Automobile notes, “Solstice engineers performed crash tests with advanced mathematical analysis instead of running prototypes.” This aids in lowering development costs, which again help bring the Solstice in at a base price of around $20,000.

7

2008 Pontiac Solstice

Features

Mechanically chock-full but lacking in some basics, the 2008 Pontiac Solstice requires plenty of options to be considered truly competitive.

The base 2008 Pontiac Solstice is lots of car for the money--but not lots of features.

Most of the items that make a Solstice a true roadster are standard equipment. These include purpose-designed go-fast bits like four-wheel independent short/long-arm suspension, Bilstein coil-over monotube shocks, four-wheel disc brakes, fast-ratio rack-and-pinion steering, and P245/45R18 all-season tires on alloy wheels.

“New standard features,” reports Kelley Blue Book, “include an acoustic headliner, MP3-compatible stereo with auxiliary input jack, XM Satellite Radio, Driver Information Center (DIC) and OnStar.” Thankfully, the rear window in the folding soft top is glass and includes a defroster.

“There are three logically-grouped packages,” says Edmunds in reference to the Solstice’s optional equipment. The Preferred package includes the power bits you might expect to be standard, like locks, windows, mirrors, and keyless entry. To get cruise control, you must opt for the Convenience package, which also gets you fog lamps. Finally, the Premium Package graces the interior with leather seating and a leather-wrapped wheel with radio controls. Note that air conditioning, as well as anti-lock brakes, are stand-alone options.

“Also new for 2008,” notes ConsumerGuide, “are the Solstice SCCA SSB and SCCA T2 Champion Edition models.” Both of these sport-themed models feature standard leather upholstery, firmer suspension tune, and specific silver-painted wheels.

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May 31, 2015
2008 Pontiac Solstice 2-Door Convertible

Anti Prius

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Anti-Prius! Fun to drive compared to most in that price. Ain't a Corvette, but it will 4 wheel drift with a lot less consequence on the boulevards. Can,t beat having a drop top to go to lunch in!
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7.2
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Expert Rating
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Styling 8.0
Performance 8.0
Comfort & Quality 6.0
Safety 7.0
Features 7.0
Fuel Economy N/A
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