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|16th April 2010, 10:28||#1|
Summer Solstice (Pontiac Solstice GXP)
In the spring of 2009, the incurable disease that strikes every hot blooded male at least once in his lifetime hit me badly. “Convertibilitis”. Once stricken the only cure is the look on the face of your wife/girl friend when mentioned or bankruptcy, the former being more effective. The 911 being in the shop, my wife and I missed the drives through the hilly back roads of southern Ohio and Pennsylvania in her. There was no question of her coming with me on my Duc. The act of balancing a Ducati superbike and a wife at the same time is too much, even for me. The CTS-V attracted all sorts of seedy characters looking for a challenge anytime it’s on the road.
So in the summer of 2009, I decided to reveal the deadly secret to my wife who immediately half cured it with the remedy mentioned above. But this being an age old problem that all males have struggled with, I decided to meet the challenge head on. The typical card played during these situations such as this was the greatest invention of man, was out of question. That ammunition was already spent on the CTS-V. I complained that the V was garnering all kinds of unwanted attention from unsavory characters and that I may have to think of taking advantage of the liberal Ohio concealed weapon laws. I might have slipped in the fact that the Luger .22 I saw recently looked interesting. Coupled with the heartening news (for me ‘cause of the possible deals that might become available) of the closure announcement by GM of its Pontiac line, sealed the deal.
I had secretly started researching on possible choices for the roadster. My main criteria were;
a. Must have killer looks and only two seats and be rear wheel driven.
b. Should go like the dickens.
c. Preferably not Japanese unless, the price became a factor.
d. Reasonable price. ($25K to $35K)
The choices were the Porsche Boxster (not considered), Mercedes SLK, BMW Z4, Nissan Z (last choice), Saturn Sky and the Pontiac Solstice. The price (north of $40k for well appointed) and the fact that the SLKs and Z4s have become dime a dozen put them out of contention for me. The Saturn Sky was my initial choice but the more I looked, the more it looked like a mini Corvette. The Z was never really in contention since I’m yet to warm up to the looks of that car. Wish they would go back to the Datsun 240Z shape. So it was going to be the Pontiac Solstice.
The Solstice GXP version with the 4 cylinder 2.0L Turbo looked a real winner with the promises of lots of fun. It came with all the options and was being offered for around $35K OTD. It had the state of the art GM Ecotec engine with direct fuel injection. The engine output is 265 bhp and 265 lb-ft of torque. However, the block was good for up to 550 bhp and 500 odd lb-ft of torque. The solstice has been a consistent winner in the SCCA circuit in the recent years. Moreover, several software upgrades to the chip were already available by numerous players, including GMs own, that boosted the output easily to around 350 bhp and 360 lb-ft of torque. This would be more than acceptable for me. The curvaceous body didn’t hurt either.
So on a fine July morning, a concerned couple landed at a nearby GM dealer to trade in their tranquility killer for a brand new BRIGHT CANARY YELLOW 2008 Pontiac Solstice GXP floor with 5-spd manual and all options including the top of the line audio system. Bargained the car down to $28K OTD, a very good deal, I would say.
Having never really had a pure two seater, I had wondered about the personal space and ergonomics of the car. This was dispelled quickly. Being 5’11” there is still plenty of headroom to spare with the top up. Tall people will have no problem in this car unless you’re in the NBA. The seats are excellent with vertical and horizontal adjustments available in addition to the back tilt. The central tunnel is just right at the elbow height and the shift knob fell naturally into my palm ensuring lots of fun times ahead. The pedal placement is also very good for spirited driving. I’ll not elaborate on the ridiculous cup holders and limited trunk space. Suffice to say that even with the top down, the trunk will hold couple of duffel bags. Important since, that ensures my wife will have sufficient room for her goodies while, my stuff can be stuffed into the remaining spaces around it in plastic bags, for our upcoming trip to Connecticut and New York. Our friends, who we are visiting, can expect ‘pens’ as gifts as that’s about the only thing that’ll fit in the car in addition to our luggage.
During spluttering around the first 500 miles as the recommended run-in period, engine and transmission oils were changed after the first 100 miles and the differential oil at the 500-mile mark. I never really opened her up till the 1000-mile mark. Just made sure that the car was not driven at a constant speed or rpm and never used downshifting to slow the car. The engine oil was again changed at the 1000 miles. Once the 1000 miles were up, it was time to open her up and understand her handling characteristics.
I planned a 300 mile round trip, a modified riding route that I used for my Duc rides. The drive would take me from Columbus to the southeastern West Virginia/Ohio border along the Ohio river, then south along the river to the town of Marietta, OH and back to Columbus. The route was a mixture of twisties and straight-aways with max speeds ranging from 50 kph to 190 kph (short bursts) depending on the cops.
The day is here and we are on our way around 10 am. Soon we are out of the city and into the countryside. The typical burbling and spluttering sound from her engine slowly turns to steady crackling. We keep a brisk pace maintaining 100 kph effortlessly in our approach to the tight twisties. The twisties are rated anywhere from 35 kph to 90 kph. She urges me not to be too conservative and I oblige, if hesitantly, by maintaining a consistent 60 to 80 kph through the tight curves (engine operating in the 2500 to 4000 rpm power band). She rewards me with rock solid stability thru these tight curves and promise further delights ahead. Waiting for such a prodding, I push her further into her performance envelope. The sudden quiet, except for Robert Cray’s guitar, inside the car indicates that the game has turned serious. Sounding like an angry hornet she starts attacking the curves with a vengeance. A hill there, a valley here, right hander, left hander, up, down, it did not matter. She dispatches them with equal disdain. Approaching a curve like a hound on a foxhunt, sniff, sniff, SWOOOSH, she’s thru, no chance. No fuss, no drama. Here comes the next curve. 90 kph, her grip vice like. 100, 110 – her chassis impeccable. Now 120, slight tire squeals, still plenty of grip left. A 90-kph curve approaching, 150, Cray’s wailing guitar eggs me on. Right hander, shift down, FOUR, THREE, tap brake, inner line, tire squeals, apex, decreasing radius, correction, throttle, upshift, four, five, zzaaapp, you’re thru. Hey, this is fun. The game repeats over and over. Something white through the corner of my vision. Its my partners’ knuckles, I relax and the GXP laughs at my timidity. I murmur inside “you win, for now”.
Soon we leave behind the first set of twisties and reach the plains of Ohio river. Stops for some lunch and continues the assault. This time the road is mostly flat with gentle curves for the next 80 miles till Marietta. Top down, speed gathering, the air rushes past us like a wash from a jet engine, the sound of the car drowned out by the rushing air. Easily into the 200s periodically, passing maneuvers’ of the few vehicles are a flick of a finger. They must’ve felt like a combination of a hive of hornets and chain saws going thru them. The car sticks to the tarmac with amazing grip, her chassis unshakeable, responding to the tiniest input. She’s going so fast that the semis coming the other way seem to sway in her wash, instead of the other way around. Her svelte demure looks belie a powerful tiger beneath. If she has a bad side, it is way beyond my driving skills and I don’t want to find out.
The difference between my 911 and the GXP could not be more drastic. While the 911 is like a rocket powered grenade, the GXP is like a guided missile. Both achieve the same result but the 911 does it with a lot more violence and intimidation, albeit controlled. GXP is precise - zaaap, done, NEXT.
We are soon in Marietta, a long break and resumes our exercise thru the next set of twisties, but at a more relaxed pace and are back home by 7.00 pm. An incredible drive on a modern thoroughbred. She laid bare her vast bag of tricks that’s gonna keep me plenty happy.
|18th April 2010, 06:33||#6|
Senior - BHPian
Join Date: Jan 2009
Thanked: 335 Times
Good review Sir! I really like the colour.
Slight OT: I have never driven an american muscle car but have read many a places that they are not so great in handling and taking corners vis-a-vis european fast cars. Your review seems to negate that P.O.V. Also could you please do a comparo of handling of your 911 & Solstice.
|18th April 2010, 09:56||#7|
As for the driving comparison between the 911 and the solstice, the pontiac is very easy to handle and builds confidence in you when you push it. Its got great handling and great power. It also has all the latest ABS and Stabilitrac that makes it easy on the driver. My 1971 911 on the other hand, does not have any of the modern electronics and so it all depends on your driving skills. It's not an easy car to push to the limit without considerable driving skills. But it's also the more rewarding. It's very light, barely over 2000 lbs and hence extremely fast and agile for a 2.4L. I'm waiting for it to come out with the 2.5L engine upgrade which is going to be a screamer and probably way beyond my driving skills at its upper limits. Modern porsches however, has gained a lot of weight because of all the modern amenities, and has much more predictable handling at the upper limits.
Hope I answered your question. Let me know if you want more detailed info.
|29th April 2010, 22:09||#8|
Senior - BHPian
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Phoenix, Coorg
Thanked: 382 Times
I saw this car few days back and had an argument with my friend on which company it was. Me stating acura and she said lincoln. As usual i had to accept defeat but now she is frowning...and says "somebody is going to get hurt real bad"
I loved this car. Looks great
|29th April 2010, 22:25||#9|
Join Date: Dec 2007
Thanked: 15 Times
WOW. Excellent narrative. And a welcome change in the TD section. Enjoy the beauty, and waiting for more from you...
|29th April 2010, 22:55||#11|
Senior - BHPian
Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: Kolkata, WB
Thanked: 701 Times
Nice thread and even better pictures to complement that!
Pity the pontiac brand would soon cease to exist.
Any thoughts on that VLOCT? spare and service etc? (though I guess GM would continue to support it - especially when they claim to have repaid the govt debt)
|29th April 2010, 23:39||#12|
|30th April 2010, 09:29||#13|
Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: North America
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|30th April 2010, 18:47||#14|
|2nd May 2010, 07:29||#15|
Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: NYC / BOM
Thanked: 1,324 Times
Did you get a chance to drive the Saturn Sky Red Line too? In case you did, how would you compare it to your Pontiac?
Both of these cars (brands, in fact) are discontinued now but in case it came to choice between the two, would you still choose the GXP over the Red Line?
I was more inclined towards the Red Line (the first, and only desirable Saturn) because I liked it's looks a little better - the cars were otherwise almost the same.
Speaking of GM, I'm also disappointed that along-with the scrapping of Pontiac, we lost the Holden Monaro based G8 GXP. Hopefully, they'll find a way to bring it back as a Chevy or Buick.
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