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Test the tech: Head turner
The first thing one realizes when taking the wheel of the Pontiac Solstice GXP is how much of an attention-magnet it is. In fact, driving through downtown San Francisco with the top down, we were getting so many rubbernecking looks that we began to nod in George Cloonian nonchalance as we cruised by the star-struck pedestrians. In order to establish whether it was the Solstice GXP or our own dashing good looks that was drawing the attention of the madding crowd, we devised a test to demonstrate the car's pulling power sans Car Tech editors. We resolved to park the car with its top down on a relatively busy street in a residential district of San Francisco.
We took up a position with a mochaccino and a notebook at a table outside a nearby Starbucks and recorded the amount of attention that the car attracted over a 30-minute period. For the purposes of this highly scientific experiment, we divided the pedestrian populace into three groups: people who stopped in their tracks to examine the car; people who turned their heads to look at the car; and people who disregarded the car altogether. The results are tabulated below.
|Ignored car||Turned head||Stopped|
As is evident from the chart, men from our random sample were far more interested in the parked Solstice GXP than women, with 6 of them stopping to inspect the vehicle at close range and no fewer than 29 turning their heads for an eyeful of the red rocket compared with just 9 women. (The only woman to stop was holding hands with a man who had stopped, so in a sense, she had no choice.) As for your correspondent, he garnered nothing more than a passing glance from a couple of the pedestrians, leading us to conclude that it was indeed the Solstice--and not our chiseled features--that were responsible for all the attention.
In the cabin
While the Solstice GXP may be a stunner from the outside, the car's interior is nothing special to look at. The main tech feature of the cabin is a standard-issue GM stereo head unit, which is far more sophisticated than it looks. Behind the drab facade, the Solstice's upgraded 6-disc, in-dash CD player is surprisingly capable, with the ability to play MP3 and WMA discs and a generic auxiliary input jack for playback of iPods and other portable music players. Our car was also upgraded to include with XM satellite radio.
The most impressive thing about the stereo in the Solstice GXP is its extremely user-friendly interface, which, despite its single-line dot-matrix display, must rank among the most intuitive OEM systems we have ever seen. When playing compressed digital audio discs such as MP3s, the stereo displays full ID3 tag information for folder, song name, album name, and artist; these can be cycled through using the very helpful i button to the top left of the display.
Navigating between folders is extremely straightforward, thanks to two dedicated buttons for skipping backward and forward; skipping tracks is equally simple using the stereo's rotary dial. For XM satellite radio, the situation is similar; the display shows information for the current channel, song, artist, and category, with the i button providing a means of switching between the various tags. We also like the way that the right-hand dial gives drivers a quick means of searching through XM channels and the way that users can customize the XM categories available by removing those music types that they don't listen to. On the downside, the stereo's display gets washed out in direct sunlight--a particular annoyance in a car with no roof.
As well as having the upgraded in-dash stereo, our tester came with the optional $395 upgraded audio system, which gave us the benefit of six "high-performance" speakers plus a dedicated subwoofer located behind the passenger seat. With so many speakers in such a small cabin, it is not surprising that the audio system delivers an immersive sound. The acoustics in the Solstice GXP are geared more toward loud, bass-heavy output than to high-end refinement. The reason for this is evident when driving on the freeway with the top down, as the Solstice suffers from large amounts of wind- and road noise in the cabin at higher speeds.
The only other major tech option on the Solstice GXP is GM's OnStar telematics service, indicated by a row of buttons along the bottom of the rear-view mirror. For $695, the car comes with OnStar's Safe and Sound package, with the option of adding turn-by-turn directions.
There is little else to say about the cabin other than that it is little. Storage space is limited to a tiny cubby hole between the two seats, which is accessible only through a contortion of the upper body and an annoying twistable latch. With the top in the trunk (rendering the latter unusable for anything larger than an umbrella), the Solstice GXP must rank as the production car with the least storage space in the world, and on a par with some Formula 1 models for interior space.
As we found with the 2007 Saturn Sky Red Line earlier this year as well as the regular 2006 Pontiac Solstice last year, the main drawback with GM's roadster is its roof mechanism (or lack thereof). To close the roof from the driver's seat Solstice GXP owners must perform the following sequence of tasks: pop the trunk using key fob to release the deck lid; get out of the car, open the deck lid, pull out the folding cloth top and lean it on the windshield; get back in the car and fasten the clasp joining the top to the frame; get back out of the car, slam (and I mean slam) the cover shut, and snap the two rear fasteners into place; then get back into the car and drive away. Not the kind of maneuver you'd be able to perform without pulling over to the side of the road or without getting soaked in a sudden downpour.
The only other noteworthy interior feature of the Solstice GXP is its driver information center display, which resides in the red backlit tachometer. The DIC gives at-a-glance information on range to empty, current fuel economy, trip figures, and--our favorite--a boost gauge showing in psi how much of the turbo's potential the car is using at any one time. (In case you were wondering, the most we were able to wring out of it was 17psi).
Under the hood
When we got the manual version of the 2006 Pontiac Solstice in for review last year, we panned it for its anemic performance and tractorlike gearbox. We are happy to report that the GXP model with its automatic transmission was an absolute dream to drive in comparison.
Like the Saturn Sky Red Line, the GXP features GM's 2-liter DOHC Ecotec in-line four-cylinder engine with direct injection mated to a dual-scroll turbocharger. The result is 260-horsepower of motivation for a car that tips the scales at just less than 3,000 pounds. When driving around town, the turbo is extremely conspicuous as every squirt of acceleration is followed by a wheezing sound from the charger.
To our mild disappointment, the Solstice GXP's automatic transmission does not offer drivers a means of influencing shift timing, and so we were forced to rely on the car's discretion for fast launches and attempts on freeway on-ramps. Despite being beholden to the car's own shifting agenda, we found the Solstice GXP to be more than equal to the demands of spirited driving. Throttle response is brisk enough to enable drivers to chirp the tires, even with traction control still enabled, and the turbo comes to the 2-liter engine's aid just when it needs it to give the car an impressive amount of thrust through the midrange rpms. While driving on the freeway at cruising speeds, the Solstice GXP did have a tendency to hesitate for a second or two when we floored the gas pedal, but once the rpms climbed, the turbo took over and we were catapulted forward.
One of the best things about driving the Solstice GXP is its immaculate balance and handling. With a low center of gravity and wheels set right out in each of its four corners, the car handles like a go-kart. Its precise steering and absolute lack of body roll means that it can be thrown into corners at high speed without the faintest hint of slippage. Helping the cause are a limited-slip differential and GM's Stabilitrack traction and electronic stability control (ESC) system, which both come standard on all GXP models. Those intrepid enough to deactivate these two systems have two choices: a single push of the dash-mounted button to the right of the car's steering wheel disables traction control; a second push disables ESC to put the car into Competitive Mode--presumably for autocross, or perhaps for those who just like to live life on the edge.
In our week with the Solstice GXP, we observed an overall gas mileage of 20.1mpg--just outside the 2007 EPA estimated range of 21 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, but in line with the revised 2008 figures of 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. Thanks to its VVT engine, the Solstice is rated as a LEV II category vehicle by the California Air Resources Board.
The 2007 Pontiac Solstice GXP comes with a base price of $26,515. For that, you get a five-speed manual gearbox; as-standard Stabilitrack and limited-slip differential, 18-inch polished aluminum wheels, an AM/FM stereo with single-slot CD player and 6-speaker audio system, remote keyless entry, and three cup holders. Our tester added the following line items: $850 for an automatic transmission; $960 for air-conditioning; $695 for OnStar; $450 for the upgraded stereo with 6-disc changer and MP3 playback ability; $395 for the upgraded audio arrangement with seven high-performance speakers including a standalone subwoofer; $275 for a rear spoiler; $199 for XM satellite radio; and $150 for a premium acoustic headliner. With $600 for destination, this laundry list brought the final price to $31,134. Even with its hefty options tally, the 2007 Solstice GXP provides some serious competition to the Mazda Miata MX-5 and the Honda S2000.