The boulevard cruiser of broken dreams The 2007 Pontiac Solstice GXP, a beauty with some bite. By Caroline Pardilla Date posted: 03-18-2007 260 horsepower - Turbocharged 2.0-liter Ecotec engine - Optional premium acoustic headliner The fantasy: You're driving the gorgeous 2007 Pontiac Solstice GXP on a curving stretch of scenic California Highway 1 near Big Sur for a three-day weekend. Clear blue skies on a rare sunny winter's day. A turbocharged engine places 260 horsepower at your disposal to blast past envious slow-moving tourists. The reality: You're wrestling the 2,976-pound 2007 Pontiac Solstice GXP with a balky shift linkage around dozens of decreasing-radius turns. There's a weekend's worth of luggage crammed into every crevice of the tiny trunk, so there's no room to fold back the cloth top and let the sun shine in. Several hundred miles and only three flimsy cupholders at your disposal. When it comes to the new turbocharged Solstice, you have to ask yourself, "Do I want to drive the dream or just look like I do?" Cruising by on good looks Not only can you kick MX-5 butt with the 260-hp 2.0-liter Ecotec engine, but fuel economy numbers are improved over the base Solstice's. Those of us who drove the 2006 Solstice resigned ourselves to the fact that although the car could draw the lustful gaze of fellow motorists, we'd have to shy away from stoplight challenges. The Solstice's 177-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder just isn't enough to back up its sexy sports-car looks. Disappointed Solstice enthusiasts who had wanted to finally put smug Miata owners in their place presented General Motors with a laundry list of requested improvements. "More horsepower, please" topped the list, followed by calls for a less fussy top, a power-lock button, a seat-height adjuster, more storage space, sturdier cupholders and even a seatbelt holder. With our Mean Yellow 2007 Pontiac Solstice GXP, we see GM's response. More power, yes. All that other stuff? Um...more or less. Posing for success There might not be more interior storage or sturdier cupholders, but at least there's a seat-height adjuster. The GXP still sports that bothersome top, but the turbocharged 2.0-liter Ecotec engine has a new, guttural exhaust note. With 83 more horses and 94 more lb-ft of torque than the base model, the GXP promises to win our hearts, and maybe even make us forget our vow to name our firstborn after our long-term MX-5. Who can blame us? In our comparison test between the 2006 MX-5 and Solstice, personality won over looks, as the plain but eager Mazda MX-5 managed to out-fun the Pontiac by, as one editor noted, about "10 billion times." Now that it has a 260-hp turbocharged engine under the hood, the Solstice GXP appears to have what it takes to back up its looks. Although the turbo Ecotec has the same unsophisticated under-hood roar that earned it no friends in its normally aspirated form, the new engine does have enough power for the GXP to fly up a freeway on-ramp at full volume, er, throttle and zip in front of traffic. No more of the normally aspirated car's "I think I can, I think I can." Better, stronger, faster The standard stability control and wide performance tires kept us safe while negotiating the curves of California's Highway 1. We were so confident in this Solstice's newfound powers that we tasked it with a weekend trip for two, something we might have avoided in our long-term Solstice. Sure enough, better passing power makes the GXP the Solstice you want to drive on two-lane California Highway 1. When we found ourselves stuck behind lumbering campers and cruising sightseers, we dropped the hammer as soon as that center line went from solid to dashed. The anti-destination league only had time for a glimpse of the GXP's honeycomb grille in their rearview mirror before they got a close-up view of the car's stainless-steel exhaust tips and optional $275 rear spoiler. Once we reached downtown Monterey, the Solstice GXP proved surprisingly drivable. The shift action of the manual five-speed transmission is uncomfortably heavy, but the turbocharged engine has a wide power band that makes it easy to motor along in 2nd gear through the notorious double stoplights at Rio Road and Carmel Valley Road and then in Monterey's crosstown traffic. The turbocharged engine also surprisingly improves fuel economy, and the GXP is rated at 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway compared to the normally aspirated Solstice's 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway. Our observed fuel economy during our weekend trip over freeways, mountain roads and small-town traffic was 21.9 mpg. Good on paper Despite large 18-inch tires, an optional acoustic headliner keeps things calm in the cabin. But just how much more speed does that $5,000 for the boosted model get you? When we brought the Solstice GXP to the test track, it hit 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, a stunning 1.9 seconds quicker than the base 2006 model. The GXP clocked the quarter-mile in 14.2 seconds at 97.7 mph, light-years quicker than the conventional Solstice's 15.8 seconds at 87 mph. A combination of power and torque make the difference. There's no question that the Solstice GXP is a better car for cruising down the highway, and it's even a more practical companion for getting around town. But tackling the twisties still isn't the Solstice's thing. You'd think a little yellow roadster would be the perfect vehicle to speed along cliffs overlooking the blue Pacific. But while the Solstice GXP puts up good numbers on the test track, it's heavy-handed and unwieldy on coastal curves originally engineered in 1919 for the Ford Model T. The combination of heavy steering, imprecise shift action and fading brakes led us into trouble in one decreasing-radius corner. Wide Goodyear Eagle tires and the GXP's standard stability control kept us on our intended line, but it was a little lesson that while this car has some serious capability, it's not a very handy package. Regardless of its impressive 65.2-mph speed in our slalom test, the boys at the test track believe the GXP's poor control feel and lack of a close-ratio six-speed transmission will lead it to be overlooked by people who are really savvy about sports cars. Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton notes, "The unintuitive clutch uptake and heavy-handed shift action don't provide the driver with the kind of no-brainer experience a sports car should." The world is closing in The "GXP" embroidery is one of many reminders that this isn't your regular Solstice. So we'll admit the Solstice GXP is not a sports car per se, yet it's a better top-down roadster than people give it credit for. We discovered that you can take a weekend trip with a friend. All you need is determination, creativity and soft duffle bags. Exploit every crevice of the oddly shaped 4.0-cubic-foot trunk as well as the bit of space behind the driver seat, not to mention the passenger footwell (despite your companion's protests). Of course, this also means that you'll have to unload your baggage at the hotel before you can think about top-down driving. Unfortunately the experience of traveling 700 miles in cramped quarters isn't made any better by the GXP's uncomfortable seats. Despite the $525 premium package's leather-swathed bucket seats, we squirmed and shifted around nonstop. The head restraint forces your head forward into an unnatural position, and there's no adjustable lumbar support to thwart backaches. Pontiac has addressed one aspect of seating comfort with the GXP by adding a power seat-height adjuster for the driver seat as standard equipment for the 2007 Solstice, both the entry-level model and the GXP. We couldn't evaluate it, however, because our test car had been built before this running change had been made at the factory. Yet despite sore backsides and some mild claustrophobia, we were pleased with the GXP's comfortable ride and the unexpected calm of the cabin. Despite its large 18-inch wheels, road noise is comparatively less than that displayed by our long-term Mazda MX-5, an impression enhanced by the optional $150 acoustic headliner for the Solstice soft top. The tunes provided by XM radio or our aux-connected iPod could be heard at a reasonable volume, and our conversations could be conducted in tones that were polite, not shrill. Reality check Driving enthusiasts on staff knocked the Solstice GXP for its heavy-handed five-speed gearbox. When considering the Solstice's still-provocative looks, the more powerful engine and improved track performance, a GXP driver might finally have something to rub in the noses of MX-5 Miata drivers. If your expectations for fun involve sunny days, excursions for ice cream and the occasional weekend getaway, then the GXP is your car. Not only does the 2007 Pontiac Solstice GXP continue to get attention everywhere it goes, it has the horsepower to back up its sexiness. The Pontiac GXP can be your dream come true. But if you're a hard-core driving enthusiast, the turbo Solstice just doesn't have the stuff of which our dreams are made. It lacks both the light-effort response and the refined performance of a mature, well-rounded sports car. If you're more interested in sports car substance over pure style, your choice is still the Mazda MX-5, or perhaps even the Mazdaspeed MX-5 that's sure to come. MSRP of Test Vehicle: $29,584 What Works: Head-turning styling, 260 horsepower, improved fuel economy. What Needs Work: Minimal interior storage and trunk space, fussy manual-folding top, heavy-handed shifter. Bottom Line: Despite more horsepower, it's still not the sports car you expect it to be. Second Opinion An auxiliary-connected iPod and XM radio kept us entertained during the long road trip up north. Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton says: I can't think of a vehicle in the past 10 years that has so frustrated, disappointed and flat-out infuriated me as the Pontiac Solstice. With all the anticipation leading up to its initial introduction in model-year 2006, I had admittedly high hopes for the little beauty that bore Bob Lutz's highly publicized stamp of approval. With a year's worth of experience behind it, and added performance ahead, the 2007 Solstice GXP reignited my optimism, but ultimately fueled my despair. It does everything it can to anger me. It started with an impossible-to-reach seatbelt that jammed between the door and the seat. It moved on impossible window switches and to inadequate interior storage. Finally I've got an infuriating story about putting the convertible top down/up, which not only requires getting out of the car and a handful of Rube Goldberg steps, but also running around the car to both sides. In terms of sports car driving — wherein steering, brakes, suspension, clutch and engine all have something useful to say — my brother's 1967 Austin Healey has a better vocabulary. I haven't stalled a car in years, but managed to flame out in the Solstice, twice. The engine always sounds like it's always 200 rpm away from self-destruction. The shift action feels artificially heavy. The chassis provides admirable levels of tire grip, but doesn't communicate one bit of information through the steering or body motions. The brakes are equally capable, yet lifeless. In the end, the GXP hasn't got a soul. I'd gladly give up performance and even pay more for the opportunity to experience a tiny bit more inspiration and enthusiasm. Specs & Performance Model Year: 2007 Make: Pontiac Model: Solstice Style: GXP 2dr Convertible (2.0L 4cyl Turbo 5M) Base Price: $27,115 Price as Tested: $29,584 Drive Type: Rear-wheel drive Transmission Type: 5-speed Manual Displacement (liters): 2 Engine Type: inline-4 Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 260 @ 5,300 Torque (ft-lbs @ rpm): 260 @ 2,500 Braking System: Front ventilated disc - rear disc Steering System: Power steering Suspension Type (front): Short and long arm Suspension Type (rear): Short and long arm Tire Size (front): P245/45R18 W Tire Size (rear): P245/45R18 W Tire Brand: Goodyear Eagle RS-A Tire Model: Performance Curb Weight (lbs): 2,976 pounds Recommended Fuel: Premium unleaded Fuel Tank Capacity (gal): 13 EPA Fuel Economy (mpg): 22 City / 31 Highway Edmunds Observed (mpg): 21.9 Performance 0 - 30 (sec): 2.1 0 - 45 (sec): 3.7 0 - 60 (sec): 5.9 0 - 75 (sec): 8.4 1/4 Mile (sec @ mph): 14.4 @ 96.7 30 - 0 (ft): 31 60 - 0 (ft): 127 Braking Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Average Slalom (mph): 65.2 Skid Pad (g-force): 0.88 Handling Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Good Db @ Idle: 52.5 Db @ Full Throttle: 77.6 Db @ 70 mph Cruise: 73.3 Acceleration Comments: With traction control off, the GXP needs between 4,500 and 5,000 rpm to carry enough wheelspin to avoid bogging the engine on the launch. The tach is hard to read and the rev limiter cuts in before indicated redline. The shifter requires a lot of effort but is fairly accurate. Can't feel much turbo lag or boost surge, so acceleration is fairly linear. Engine sounds horrible at high rpm. Braking Comments: The ABS pulses are far apart and quite abrupt causing the whole car to buck and vibrate before coming to a stop. Handling Comments: Doesn't communicate its intentions until too late. Slow responding for a car in this class. Not as easy as MX-5 to balance at the limit. Makes decent grip, but doesn't capaitalize on it with good chassis response. Feels heavy. Doesn't transition with stability.