Saturday, June 21, 2008

2008 Pontiac Solstice GXP

A few years ago I drove an automatic Solstice and I found it to be a very nice car, but not a great car. It had all the same GM lamentations: Boring cheap plastic interior, gaudy dash board chrome, and lots of big buttons for the radio and A/C controls. There wasn't even a switch that allowed you to open your door locks from the inside - you had to use your keyfob. But that was 2006.

And in this day and age, the 2008 Pontiac Solstice GXP has retained many of the same complaints as I mentioned in my now defunct blog, it has something that the '06 never had: Balls-out acceleration and handling! I walked into the local GM dealership wearing a sloppy T-shirt and swim shorts. Yes, I know I have terrible taste in clothing, which is why my wife takes care of that most of the time by telling me NEVER to leave the house in a tank top and ripped jeans.

Anyway, she wasn't feeling well today so I managed to escape from the house wearing my nasty Swim trunks and Labatts Blue T-shirt. I was in luck today: The dealership had three GXP Solstices available. The salesman picked out a black one. As soon as he photocopied my drivers license, I had him drop the top on it and we rolled out onto the street. Starting the car up, I immediately noticed this loud, thundering exhaust note. This was not present in my 2006 test drive! Dear reader, this car has a turbo charger on board which boosts the little Ecotec 4 cylinder engine from 170 bhp, to a now stunning 260 bhp AND 260 foot-pounds of Torque!

I never drive like an asshole when taking out a brand new car. I respect the dealership and salesman too much to do this. I ask permission if I can test out the cars acceleration before doing it. The salesman said "Go for it" and boy, did I ever.

The car had a 5-speed automatic transmission with a limited slip differential, AND stability control. For safety, I left the stability controls ON. I floored the car. The GXP accelerates VERY quickly once you hit the 4000 rpm range. Copious amounts of tire rubber were left behind on the road surface. There is a whoooshing noise as the boost pressure spools up the turbo charger in the car. The rear wheels (it's RWD!) begin to spin very quickly and smoking ensues. The tires shriek like a bat out of hell. I let off immediately and apply the brakes.

Then something strange happens. I had the distinct feeling on the brakes that they were not yet fully "broken in" yet. What I mean by that is, I had to apply LOTS of foot pressure to get the car to stop. It was almost like stopping a truck. I asked the salesman if this car had 4-wheel ABS and disk brakes. He assured me it did. The reasoning behind this behavior can be attributed to the breaks not being broken in yet. The car only had 200 kilometers on it, so I believe after 1,000 you should have much better braking performance, once the grooves and flat spots were worked out.

The interior of the car is nothing to shout about. There is the abysmal GM plastic that you wish they hadn't placed in there. There is lots of gaudy chrome around the gauge cluster. On the steering wheel, GM has placed the audio and cruise control buttons there. Very good decision on doing that. I found the A/C controls to be too large - the dials were very big indeed. The driver information center surprised me because it listed:

- My average speed in km/h
- Oil life left %
- Estimated driving range left on gas
- Current fuel consumption L/100 km
- Real-time boost gauge
- Temperature
- Remote tire pressure monitors

Hitting the buttons over and over got a little on my nerves. I kept it on the "Average speed" setting because it fascinated me. But forgetting every other little niggling about this GXP, I have to say this car is such a joy to drive. The acceleration is so intense that I find myself hunting for the brakes early in order to prevent myself from rear ending the car ahead of me on the highway. The speed is incredible.

It was so much fun that even the salesman was laughing after I had hit the hammer on the gas pedal for a few extra times. "This shouldn't be this fun" I yelled over the wind noise. He agreed with me. The down shift on the Solstice's automatic transmission is good, but not great. But who cares? This car is meant to blast down roads and corners at incredibly crazy speeds. But I did neither, because I wanted to live and I already pay too high car insurance.

This car is so quick I believe it can out speed almost any car out there in it's price range. Is it faster than a Subaru WRX? Yes. Is it faster than a Mazda 3 Speed? Maybe. Is it faster than a Honda Civic SI? Terribly fast. The only car I see this thing having problems with are the WRX STI, Honda S2000, and the Mazda 6 Speed.

One thing that bothered me when I drove the 2006 Solstice was the lack of engine noise, grunt, acceleration, and there was no door lock/unlock button in the cockpit. None! You had to use your key fob! But the 2008 edition HAS a door lock/unlock switch! Thank you GM for putting this in here.

But the best part of the GXP is the rumble. Even driving on the highway and letting off the gas and in a cruising speed, you can clearly hear this deep rumbling of the dual exhaust right under and between your ears. It is the most beautiful sound I have ever heard. While sitting in the car the leather seats have excellent side bolsters and superb lower lumbar support. They do lack any heated seats. There is absolutely no storage room in the back of the Solstice, except for maybe a small loaf of bread or a hand bag. This car isn't meant for long trips requiring a change of clothes. People who buy these cars take day trips, not across-the-country affairs.

With the top up, the rear visibility is poor. With the top down, the visibility is good. One minor beef: In most convertibles you get a diffiser block that rises behind the driver and passengers head, sort of an open wall that deflects air from battering you on the road. The Solstice didn't have this, and for the life of me I wonder why GM failed to put that in.

This car gets attention. When you drive by in a convertible and that low growly rumble sound is heard, people stare. Just coming down the road I noticed a mercedes-benz convertible was behind me. Now was my chance. I hit the hammer on the throttle and left him in a cloud of dust. This car is one of the fastest I have ever driven, except for a few super-quick cars like the Cadillac CTS-V and the Subaru Impreza WRX STi.

Is this car better than a Mazda MX-5? Yes, if you put a manual transmission in the Solstice, it would be. The price comes it at around 38,900 dollars and for that you get an incredible set of performance in a small package. The Solstice GXP left a smile on my face and it still remains as I think back about the test drive I had today.



Stoneman said...

I asked the car salesman if he thought I would need to use Premium Unleaded in the car - but he wasn't sure. If anyone knows, please let me know. You would think that having a turbo charger requires a higher-octane gasoline to prevent pre-ignition issues.

A-man said...

Stoneman, glad to see you're back.

I think the base Solstice uses premium, so the GXP must use it as well.

And just my opinion, but if there was a Mazdaspeed MX-5 with 260HP, i'd take that in a heartbeat over the Solstice.

I'm still waiting for that review of the TL! :)

Stoneman said...


Thanks for your feedback. Since my old blog is dead, I've changed to a simple rant format. Those Acuras are hard to test drive in the Maritimes because there is only one or two dealers out here that sell them. One dealership already told me they won't let me drive their cars (liability bullshit). I'm heading back to Winnipeg in a few months on vacation, I might drop by Winnipeg Acura then.