Good news and bad news often come hand in hand.
Sometimes, the same news can serve both masters: Pontiac will only make one model year of the 2009 Solstice GXP coupe. That limited production will curtail the number of people who will be disappointed with this absolutely gorgeous hot rod -- designed around the philosophy of an all-season roadster.
It may have 65 horses for each of its four turbocharged cylinders and be an absolute blast to drive, but its plastic-filled and poorly conceived interior make it a poor choice in spring, summer, winter or fall. It shares all of the pros and cons of the original Solstice GXP convertible -- except one dramatic difference: This coupe's top doesn't drop.
Too harsh? Just spend one frustratingly sunny day in this coupe, and you'll understand. The removable roof pops off in a few seconds, but once you've freed the top, there's nowhere to stow it (unless your garage is nearby). Impulsive al fresco driving becomes as spontaneous as an arranged marriage.
Removable roofs are made to be removed at the driver's fancy, especially in Michigan, where, when you get the chance, you should enjoy sun for as long as it lasts.
Pontiac has devised a way to deal with this, offering an optional cloth roof that can fit in back of the car, but even this solution eliminates the possibility to carry much else in the 5.6 cubic feet of storage space. Any overnight road trip in the Solstice coupe would require either an FAA certified weather bulletin or no luggage.
It's a design flaw that really bothers me, because the car itself is a knee-slapping, laugh-out-loud, fun kind of machine on the road. Its exterior is curvy and sexy. Everything above the beltline -- the little windows and soft curve of the roofline -- looks good. Invitation to hit the road
The 2-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine includes all of the bells and whistles of a modern internal combustion engine. Dual overhead camshafts, direct injection technology and the turbocharger transform a small inline four-cylinder engine into a powerful, fuel-efficient screamer that packs 260 horses under the hood and goes from zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds.
This car makes you want to find the curviest, most open roads to work every day. When you drive it, you want to go faster. It's light (only 2,900 pounds) and the rear wheel drive responds the way a driver wants, with ideal weight distribution of 50 percent in the front and 50 percent in the back.
Pontiac has specially tuned the independent suspension to make it taut but not overwhelming. The hydraulic power assisted rack-and-pinion steering feels exact at any speed. Taking highway exits with big sweeping turns become a daily driving highlight.
The five-speed manual transmission is silky smooth. The short throws click through each gear as you quickly wind out the engine and you can feel the turbo's torque as the rpms climb.
There also no noticeable turbo lag -- that gap of power between the engine winding out and the turbo spooling up.
On the highway, the ride is smooth, albeit a little noisy. Around town, the very low profile provides a very low riding perspective of bumpers and license plates. Its diminutive size (it's only 157 inches long and 50 inches high) makes the Solstice coupe an ideal city cruiser. It can fit in micro parking spaces and unlike it's convertible brother, thieves can't cut through the top to unlock the door.
Because the Solstice coupe rides so low, you don't really climb into it; instead, you fall into the cockpit. And for the driver, everything is positioned to drive with authority. The comfortable leather seat with GXP stitched across the headrest holds you snugly in place and the steering wheel feels perfect.
There's actually plenty of room in the cabin for both passengers. There's 42.8 inches of legroom and plenty of headroom, despite the way the car looks from the outside. Expectations for interior fall flat
The layout inside the Solstice coupe, however, is not conducive to comfortable driving. The driver's cupholder is a rickety contraption that pushes out near the passenger. My fear was always any passenger might snap it off as he or she falls into the vehicle.
The toggle switches to open and close the windows are among the other annoying features. They are mounted too far back on the armrest, and it's awkward to find them. The switches are perfectly placed for anyone with arms just two feet long. People with elbows, however, will have trouble reaching them.
While the curvy exterior lines give the Solstice a crisp and unique look, the same bubbly lines in the cabin don't translate as well. It makes the interior look like a giant chunk of cheap plastic. The thin plastic over the passenger airbag looks as if you could punch a hole through it with only a few pounds of pressure.
The touch points are hard and trying to figure out what Pontiac was thinking with this interior is even harder. There's no flow or logic.
There's an adage in the car business that exteriors get people into dealerships and interiors sell the cars. The Solstice GXP coupe will draw people in but that interior won't keep them, especially when they see the price tag top $30,000. For that kind of money, they'll have higher expectations on the car's interior.
And that's a shame because this car has the performance chops to holds its own with much more expensive cars. It has the exterior looks to still draw lusty looks in parking lots and on the open road, and it will leave a smile on your face after miles of twisty roads.
But that's only if you stowed the roof in your garage, the weather remains sunny and you didn't get a cup of coffee to go.
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2009 Pontiac Solstice GXP coupe
Type: Two-passenger, rear-wheel drive coupe
Engine: 2-liter turbocharged I-4
Power : 260 horsepower; 260-pound-feet torque
Transmission: Five-speed manual or automatic
EPA gas mileage
Automatic: 19 mpg city / 27 mpg highway
Manual : 19 mpg city / 28 mpg highway
Overall: ** 1/2
Exterior: Excellent: Beautiful curves and high beltline give the Solstice coupe clean and unique look.
Interior: Fair: Poor-quality materials and bad interior layout distract from a fine car.
Performance: Excellent: Lots of power, rear-wheel drive, taut suspension and good gas mileage make the Solstice a hoot on the road.
Safety: Good: Anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and front airbags.
Pros: Excellent performance and open air driving. Good daily driver or summer Sunday cruiser.
Cons: Price tops $30,000 and interior does not reflect that value. Hard top cannot be stowed in the car.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor