Already a big hit just as it was, the Pontiac Solstice has gotten even better for 2007 with the addition of a high-performance version known as the GXP.
And for those who've already had a hard time finding the base Solstice, be prepared to wait even longer for the GXP, which will be even more limited in supply. GM plans to built only a fraction as many GXP models as the regular Solstice during 2007.
Some of the lucky ones who find a Solstice GXP probably will post theirs for sale on eBay, where consumers will be waiting to pay whatever it takes to get one.
Even the base Solstice, which starts at just over $22,000, already was bringing premium prices because there were so many people waiting to get them.
The Solstice and the similar Saturn Sky (which also got a new, turbocharged model for 2007) have been selling well-above sticker both on eBay and at many dealerships, where the vehicles have been marked up just because dealers found they could make some quick extra profits because of the short supply and big demand.
Not all dealers have done this, though -- the practice has been rare in this market, where dealers generally sell the cars at sticker price.
The biggest difference with the GXP vs. the base Solstice is power. Some have suggested that the GXP model is intended mostly for men, who seem to need more horses under the hood than female consumers do.
This is a phenomenon that is found throughout the sports car world. Porsche, for instance, sold its entry level Boxster model mostly to women until the zippier S model was introduced, intended to appeal more to men.
My theory, though, is that it's more a function of salary inequality than a lack of interest in higher performance that leads women to the cheaper versions of cars such as the Miata, Solstice, Sky and Porsche.
If you can get the Solstice GXP instead of the base model, you'll probably see a bigger smile on your face when you look into the visor mirror.
The base model, whose top price with options rings up at about $27000, comes with a normally aspirated 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine rated at an already respectable 177 horsepower and 166 foot-pounds of torque.
Under the hood of the GXP, though, there is a turbocharged 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine with an amazing 260 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque.
GM says that makes the Ecotec turbo its highest specific-output engine ever - that is, it has more horsepower per cubic inch of displacement than any engine in GM's history. It develops 2.1 horsepower per cubic inch, or 130 horsepower per liter.
In our test vehicle, this engine was connected to the five-speed manual gearbox, which is standard. But a five-speed automatic is optional ($850). GM says that with either gearbox, the GXP can go from zero to 60 mph in less than 5.5 seconds.
Gearbox preference is another area where there have been some gender-oriented misconceptions. The prevailing theory is that most women choose automatics because they can't drive stick shifts, but most men choose stick-shift models because they want the extra performance that can be realized with a manual gearbox, and they, of course, can use a clutch because they are men, after all.
Baloney. I read recently that a male carjacker in San Antonio had to abandon the vehicle he was trying to steal because he couldn't drive it - it had a stick shift. Many young drivers - men and women - haven't learned how to drive manual-shift vehicles. But many women do know how - and prefer - to drive cars with manual transmissions. And with a car such as the Solstice GXP, the manual gearbox just seems to be the right choice.
The price difference is significant between the base Solstice and the GXP, however, so some who want the extra power just might not be able to afford it. In that case, go with the base model - it's still loads of fun.
The GXP's base price is $25,395 (plus $600 freight), which gives you the manual-transmission.
Our test vehicle rang up quite a bit higher - at $29,584 (including freight) - because of some options.
Chief among those was air conditioning ($960). This is a must-have here in Texas, even for a convertible - especially if you plan to use this car as your daily driver.
Other extras on our car included GM's OnStar communications/navigation system with the first year of service included ($695); leather bucket seats ($525); an upgraded AM/FM/compact-disc stereo with MP3 capability and an iPod jack ($195); a high-performance Monsoon audio amplifier system with seven speakers ($395); a rear spoiler ($275); XM satellite radio ($199); and a "premium acoustic headliner" ($150), designed to help keep the cockpit quiet with the top up.
Even at the nearly $30,000 price, the GXP comes across as quite a bargain compared with some of its competitors, including the similar Honda S2000 roadster, at nearly $35,000. The S2000's normally aspirated 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at just 237 horsepower and 162 foot-pounds of torque.
The S2000 was initially thought by industry observers to be Honda's answer to the Mazda Miata. But instead of giving the S2000 an engine with power comparable to the Miata, which was less than 150 horsepower at the time, Honda put a more-powerful engine in the S2000 and priced it about $10,000 higher than the Miata.
Because of the price difference, the S2000 has always been a niche vehicle for Honda while the Miata has been a car for the masses. When rolling out the Solstice and Sky, GM decided to emulate the Miata and go for mass-market appeal.
The Solstice, which came to market as a 2006 model, was positioned to compete head-on against the Miata, which itself was completely redesigned for 2006. Because of competition from the Solstice, Mazda dropped the base price of the '06 MX-5 Miata by more than $600 from 2005, to $21,995 (including freight).
At the base level, the Solstice competes well against the Miata, which has 166 horsepower and 140 foot-pounds of torque. The Miata (now officially called only the MX-5) does offer an optional retractable hardtop for 2007, though, while the Solstice has only a soft top).
There is no high-performance version of the Miata, however, so the Solstice GXP leaves the Mazda behind and takes on the S2000 and even the BMW Z4 roadster. Z4 prices begin at about $35,000 for the 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter six-cylinder model, and run to about $42,000 for the 225-horsepower, 3.0-liter six-cylinder model.
So, besides the extra power, the Solstice GXP has better styling than the somewhat awkward-looking Z4. But, of course, the Z4 is a BMW, so there are other attributes that make direct comparison between the Solstice GXP and Z4 rather difficult. Not many people considering a Z4 would settle for a GXP - these are different consumers altogether.
But those of us who can live without having a BMW can have almost as much fun driving a Solstice GXP for several thousand dollars less. For pure value, the Solstice GXP just might be the best buy.
The Solstice is one of two GXP models in the 2007 Pontiac lineup. The other is the Grand Prix GXP, which comes with a 303-horsepower V-8 engine.
Among features on the Solstice GXP not found on the base model, GM said, are unique front and rear fascias; polished dual exhaust outlets; electronic stability control; a 3.73 rear-axle ratio; a unique gauge cluster; and cobalt-red seat stitching.
It also has some standard amenities that are offered only as options on the base model. These include a sport suspension; four-wheel antilock disc brakes; limited-slip rear differential; power windows/locks/mirrors and remote keyless entry; leather-wrapped steering wheel with accessory controls and cruise control; driver-information center; and 18-inch polished aluminum wheels.
G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; email@example.com.
At a Glance: 2007 Pontiac Solstice/ Solstice GXP
The package: Subcompact, rear-drive, two-passenger, two-door, normally aspirated or turbocharged four-cylinder, soft-top convertible sports car. Highlights: All-new for 2006, this was Pontiac's first open-top roadster, designed to compete against the popular Mazda Miata and give Pontiac dealers a car that will draw new customers into its showrooms. For 2007, the turbocharged, high-performance GXP model has been added. Negatives: Can be noisy inside with the top up; a tight fit for larger people. Engine: 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder (base); 2.0-liter four-cylinder (GXP) Power/torque: 177 HP/166 foot-pounds (base); 260 HP/260 foot-pounds (GXP). Transmissions: Five-speed manual; five-speed automatic (optional). Length: 157.2 inches. Base curb weight: 2,993 pounds (base); 2,990 pounds (GXP). Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, power; antilock optional (standard on GXP). Steering: Rack and pinion, power. Trunk volume: 5.4 cubic feet (top up); 2.1 cubic feet (top down). Electronic stability control: Standard on GXP model. Major competitors: Base Solstice: Mazda Miata, Saturn Sky, Volkswagen New Beetle convertible, Mini Cooper convertible; Solstice GXP: Saturn Sky Red Line, Honda S2000, BMW Z4. EPA fuel economy: 20 miles per gallon city/28 highway (2.4 engine, manual); 22/26 (2.4, automatic); 22/31 (2.0 engine, manual); 21/29 (2.0, automatic). Fuel capacity/type: 13.6 gallons/unleaded regular. Base prices: $21,515 plus $600 freight (base); $25,395 plus freight (GXP). Price as tested: $29,584 including freight and options (GXP, manual). On the Road rating: 9.3 (of a possible 10).