2009 Pontiac Solstice Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
January 3, 2009

Practicality and comfort take second billing to sportscar performance and flashy looks in the 2009 Pontiac Solstice.

To bring you a good overall assessment of the 2009 Pontiac Solstice roadster, the experts at TheCarConnection.com have brought the most useful information from various review sources. TheCarConnection.com's editors put both Solstice models through the paces on a variety of roads and include their own impressions where useful.

The Pontiac Solstice, the sibling to Saturn's sleek Sky roadster, is available in two main versions for 2009: base and GXP. Both trims are also now available in a stylish new coupe body style.

The Solstice comes standard with a 2.4-liter, 177-horsepower inline four-cylinder. The high-performance GXP model features a 260-horsepower turbocharged direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, but a firmer suspension setting, GXP-specific 18-inch wheels with high-performance tires, and GM's StabiliTrak stability control system give it well-rounded performance credentials. On both models, a five-speed manual transmission is standard, a five-speed automatic optional. Both Solstice models have rear-wheel drive.

With the base engine and manual gearbox, the 2,860-pound Solstice can get to 60 mph in just 7.2 seconds; it’s a significantly quicker 5.5 seconds with the GXP’s turbocharged engine. Even with the base engine, the Solstice feels very peppy (thanks in part to low gearing), with more than enough power to dart through gaps in traffic. The base engine lacks refinement and can be quite coarse in sound and feel, but the 2009 Pontiac Solstice GXP's turbocharged engine and different gear ratios feel more sophisticated and responsive; the turbo doesn't bring much lag (hesitation) either, and it brings improved highway fuel economy.

Review continues below

The 2009 Pontiac Solstice doesn’t ride very comfortably in either form, but the firm suspension and precise, quick-ratio steering bring a good feel of the asphalt, and the 2009 Pontiac Solstice is in its element on tight, curvy roads. Even approaching the limits of adhesion, the Solstice handles predictably.

After spending some time inside the tight cabin, you probably won’t find the 2009 Pontiac Solstice quite as alluring. The narrow seats lack good cushioning or support for longer drives, and the driving position is difficult for taller or shorter drivers, as the steering wheel doesn't telescope. What’s more, some of the controls are located in odd places, and the cabin lacks modern must-haves such as abundant storage cubbies and sturdy cup holders.

The soft-top arrangement in the 2009 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. Wind noise with the top in place—and wind buffeting with the top down—could use some improvement.

Though more basic in standard form compared to the Saturn Sky, the 2009 Pontiac Solstice does come with a CD stereo, a rear defroster, an adjustable steering column, and a considerably lower base price.

A wide range of options are available, including power locks, mirrors, and windows; keyless entry; cruise control; leather seats; and a Monsoon audio system. Among the changes for 2009 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 GXP also comes with polished stainless steel dual exhaust tips, revised front and rear fascias, and GXP-specific interior trim, including "GXP"-embroidered sport buckets.

The Pontiac Solstice increases standard safety equipment for 2009, but it’s still an area of concern. For 2009, anti-lock brakes and stability control—must-have sportscar features that GM previously had omitted—are now on the standard-features list, but side airbags remain unavailable. The Solstice has been crash-tested by the federal government and got four-star results in frontal and side impact.

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2009 Pontiac Solstice

Styling

Just keep looking at the gorgeous exterior and try not to think about the bland decor that awaits you inside the 2009 Pontiac Solstice.

As if last year's Pontiac Solstice wasn't stylish enough, 2009 sees the introduction of an all-new, stunningly gorgeous coupe body style.

The exterior of the 2009 Pontiac Solstice wins high praise in every review read by TheCarConnection.com. Edmunds says that the Pontiac Solstice, which "is available as either a soft-top roadster or a coupe" and in either base or GXP trims, "still commands looks from fellow drivers and passers-by." Kelley Blue Book agrees, noting that "the Solstice easily rivals such stylish competitors as the BMW Z4 and Audi TT, yet costs half as much." Cars.com reports that "the new coupe has a fastback appearance with a sleek roofline" and, like the Chevrolet Corvette coupe, "has a removable center section for an open-air driving experience," although unlike the Corvette, with the Solstice "the removable center section must be left at home because there's no storage space for it in the car." The only real complaint with the styling comes in regard to the convertible's top, and Automobile Magazine states that "raising and lowering the ragtop takes a minute or two with the car stopped and consists of half a dozen" steps, which compares poorly with the Miata's single-step operation.

Despite the exciting promise of the exterior, the Pontiac Solstice's interior doesn't look quite so good, at least according to reviews read by TheCarConnection.com. Kelley Blue Book immediately notes that "some interior parts are borrowed from other GM products (Chevrolet Corvette, Opel Corsa, Hummer H3)." ConsumerGuide finds that "controls are simple to operate, but some are awkward to reach," and the gauges are "hard to read even by day." Autoblog simply calls the interior design "decidedly behind the curve."

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2009 Pontiac Solstice

Performance

If you're looking for an agile sportscar to brighten up the commute, the 2009 Pontiac Solstice might be for you.

The 2009 Pontiac Solstice is a purebred sportscar, and reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that it offers thrills in spades.

The two trim levels of the Pontiac Solstice offer vastly different driving experiences, thanks to their vastly different engines. Edmunds reviewers state that "a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 177 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque powers the base Solstice, while the turbocharged four in the GXP models kicks the power output to 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque." The naturally aspirated variant of the engine is capable, and Edmunds reports that "it goes from zero to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds," but the real thrills come from the turbocharged powerplant in the Pontiac Solstice GXP. ConsumerGuide says that the souped-up versions clock in at "less than 5.5 seconds 0-60," and Automobile Magazine is shocked to report that it boasts "a specific output exceeding that of every turbocharged engine on the market save Porsche's new 911 and Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution."

Sadly, the transmission options for the 2009 Pontiac Solstice can't live up to the fantastic engines that sit under the hood. ConsumerGuide reviewers are disappointed with the available five-speed manual, which they say "has notchy, imprecise shift action," though on the positive side, they note that "the automatic transmission has no tangible acceleration penalty vs. the manual."

Another performance aspect worth loving about the 2009 Pontiac Solstice is its respectable fuel economy ratings. According to the EPA, the turbocharged 2009 Pontiac Solstice GXP actually returns better mileage, at 19 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway, while the base Solstice has a slight fuel economy penalty, at 19 mpg city and 25 on the highway.

Aside from a pair of capable, grin-inducing engines, the 2009 Pontiac Solstice offers impressive handling and ride characteristics. Car and Driver reviewers rave about the "sparkling handling," although they point out that the Pontiac Solstice is "too heavy to match the vivid immediacy ... of the Mazda MX-5." Edmunds says that the "2009 Pontiac Solstice exhibits little body roll and substantial cornering grip," which "makes the car enjoyable on a twisty road, but hard-core enthusiasts will notice that the heavy-handed steering lacks feedback." Edmunds remarks that "braking performance is respectable, with a stop from 60 mph coming in the 120-foot range."

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2009 Pontiac Solstice

Comfort & Quality

Expect somewhat better quality in the 2009 Pontiac Solstice than in a kit car, but not much better.

The compact 2009 Pontiac Solstice looks great from the outside, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that it still has a long way to go in matching its other cramped roadster competitors in terms of comfort and quality.

The 2009 Pontiac Solstice's passenger capacity stands at two, which is the norm for a sporty convertible, but the seating conditions aren't so great even at that. Edmunds advises that "taller drivers will find adequate legroom and headroom, but hiproom is a bit tight due to the car's wide transmission tunnel." ConsumerGuide reports that "overall space is tighter for six-footers than the Mazda MX-5 Miata, but leg space is adequate," although the "low seats won't suit some shorter drivers." On the positive side, reviewers at Kelley Blue Book appreciate that the Pontiac Solstice "has generous shoulder room," but the pros at CarGurus lament the "uncomfortable seating."

While reviews of the seating arrangement in the Pontiac Solstice are decidedly mixed, sentiment regarding available cargo space is universally negative. CarGurus experts advise that "if you're considering taking anything with you in the Solstice, other than what you can cram in your pockets, forget it." ConsumerGuide agrees, calling the available cargo room "very poor" and reporting that "GM claims these convertibles have 5.4 cu ft of trunk space with the top up, but that figure seems overly generous." The Pontiac Solstice coupe doesn't run into the problem of having to store the top anywhere, but Edmunds still says that "the Solstice's small, reverse-opening trunk (a smidge more than 5 cubic feet in both body styles) challenges one's weekend-trip packing ability."

Interior quality is also a sore spot for the 2009 Pontiac Solstice, drawing the ire of several reviewers. Edmunds contends that "the interior design would be attractive, save for an abundance of hard plastic—a telltale sign of the Solstice's low price point." CarGurus reports that "even for hard plastic, it just looks cheap," noting that "this could perhaps be forgiven, if it weren't for the multitude of complaints regarding squeaks and rattles that have been heard since the first year of the Solstice." ConsumerGuide reviewers also notice that several cars "suffered from a variety of squeaks and rattles," which is emblematic of the subpar construction quality on the 2009 Pontiac Solstice.

Sources also note that cabin noise can be annoying. Consumer Guide gripes that the "new 'premium acoustic headliner' does little to mask engine drone," while "the engines are buzzy or boomy depending on rpm."

Although the editors of TheCarConnection.com drive plenty of sportscars, they rate the ride quality of the Pontiac Solstice to be among the choppiest and most jarring. However, it’s fair to point out Consumer Guide observes that "base models are remarkably compliant and composed over most bumps."

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2009 Pontiac Solstice

Safety

With decent crash-test ratings but a lack of side airbags, the 2009 Pontiac Solstice has just acceptable safety.

The Pontiac Solstice gets some much-needed safety improvements for the 2009 model, and while it hasn't yet been tested by the IIHS, its NHTSA ratings are acceptable.

In NHTSA's front impact category, the Pontiac Solstice earns a decent four-star rating for frontal crash protection—albeit against vehicles of similar weight. The Solstice also gets four stars for driver and passenger side impacts—though without side airbags. The Pontiac Solstice wins, perhaps unsurprisingly, a perfect five-star rating in terms of rollover resistance, thanks in large part to its low center of gravity.

In response to numerous criticisms regarding the standard safety features on the Pontiac Solstice, GM has upgraded the list to include some very common, and critical, technologies. According to Kelley Blue Book, "new standard equipment includes StabiliTrak stability control [and] anti-lock brakes (ABS)." Edmunds adds that "traction control [is] standard on all Pontiac Solstice trims," although unfortunately "side airbags aren't offered." Other than those newly standard features, TheCarConnection.com discovers little else in the way of active safety systems.

Given the 2009 Pontiac Solstice's small dimensions and generous window size, it's probably unsurprising that visibility is generally good. The only real complaint in this regard comes from Consumer Guide reviewers, who find that "visibility to the rear is partially blocked by a pair of decklid humps directly behind the seat headrests." Although this obstruction is a nuisance, it's not enough to warrant any sort of rearview camera or parking assist on the 2009 Pontiac Solstice.

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2009 Pontiac Solstice

Features

The 2009 Pontiac Solstice forgoes luxury in the name of offering a discount thrill machine.

The 2009 Pontiac Solstice is a budget sportscar, with an emphasis on budget. While the Pontiac Solstice offers a low starting MSRP for its base trim, it also has little in the way of standard features to drool over.

Standard features for the 2009 Pontiac Solstice don't vary greatly between the base and GXP trims, and neither offers a long list of high-tech amenities. ConsumerGuide states that the base Pontiac Solstice includes "OnStar assistance" and an "AM/FM/CD/MP3 player [with] digital-media player connection," while Edmunds points out that "a trip computer and an audio system with satellite radio" are also standard. Edmunds adds that "roadsters have a manual soft top with an acoustic headliner," and those springing for the Pontiac Solstice GXP will get "Bluetooth, cruise control, full power accessories, keyless entry, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel," on top of the base amenities, reports Edmunds.

For those disappointed in the standard features offerings on the 2009 Pontiac Solstice, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com don't hold out much hope for available options. Kelley Blue Book says that "there are four logically-grouped packages," most of which simply add the GXP's standard features to the base model of the Pontiac Solstice. However, Kelley Blue Book also points out that an available Club Sport Package "features a single CD stereo and performance suspension while deleting OnStar, XM radio and all other options save for a rear spoiler" in an effort to save weight. Edmunds reviewers report that available options "on both trims are air-conditioning, leather seating, an upgraded audio system with a six-CD changer, sport pedals and the Club Sport Package," while the "Premium Package adds leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and steering-wheel-mounted controls." Other stand-alone options, according to ConsumerGuide, include a "Monsoon sound system" and floor mats for the base model.

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6.8
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 8.0
Performance 8.0
Comfort & Quality 4.0
Safety 7.0
Features 7.0
Fuel Economy N/A
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