Minggu, 01 Juni 2008

Pontiac Solstice GXP Review

By Jonny Lieberman

I once drove off the road, screaming, at 80mph. Why? I was in love. When love turns blind, men do irrational things. As far as healthy, loving relationships go, the one presaging my off-highway excursion was a malignant tumor wrapped in an iron lung. I imagine that owning a Pontiac Solstice GXP is a similar affair. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury; the prosecution calls her a “femme fatale on wheels.” I ask you: how could something this beautiful be so damn dangerous?

The Solstice GXP is the first modern car I’ve ever felt like licking. More hygienically, the petite Pontiac is a slam dunk that shatters the backboard of gorgeous. I could describe the velvety sexiness of each angle. The perfectly judged headlight cluster. The long, European nose and properly sculpted flanks. The classic five spoke alloys. Suffice it to say, look at the pictures. Well, OK; here’s one:

Great looking rear ends have eluded car designers for decades. The Solstice gets it right. Park the Pontiac's derriere next to a TT Convertible and Ingolstadt's droptop looks like a Bug in a soiled diaper.

Entering the excitement division's roadster, I wasn’t entirely disheartened by the usual litany of sub-third world interior parts. In fact, I only counted one hard plastic edge capable of slicing open flesh (ideally positioned right near the door handle). And how could a gainfully employed designer place cup holders behind your elbow, strategically situated to open when selecting second gear?

Please, no accusations of nitpicking. The laundry list of ergonomic catastrophes continues.

There's no oil temperature gauge– essential for aggressive GXP’ers who fancy a track attack. There is an oil temp readout, but you have to toggle a button on the steering wheel to see it. Only the buttons on the steering wheel are too small for human thumbs. And even if there was a proper gauge, it wouldn't matter; the deep set dials are illegible.

When the Solstice debuted, it was rightly chided for having a center tunnel harder than tooth enamel. For 2007, Pontiac tried to rectify the situation by installing a slab of softer-touch plastic. It’s still as hard and cheap as Katja Kassin. If only they made it (the GXP) out of the softer, nicer material used for the door inserts. Sigh…

Notice I didn't even mention the complete and total lack of storage, hidden controls or the fact that you can raise and lower a Miata's soft top fifteen times in the span it takes to retract the Solstice's just once. And now, the good stuff…

The GXP's engine should replace every non-V8 in The General's stable. In the same way that Cadillac reduced the displacement of the Northstar V8 when fitting a supercharger to it for STS-V duty, Pontiac decreased the Solstice's Ecotec I4 from 2.4 to 2.0-liters. This was largely accomplished by reducing the stroke, which allows the eager motor to rev faster. Result? A four-banger with a single turbocharger and no detectable lag. No really. None.

Spitting out 130hp-per-liter, the GXP's direct-injected mill produces the highest specific output of any GM engine. Ever. The torque ain't bad, what with 260 ft. lbs. of the good stuff available between 2000 - 5300rpm. Sure, the engine sounds like it is made from sick clocks (what’s with that continual ticking just in front of the steering wheel?), but with the top down and the monumental thrump-a-thrump from the clownishly over-sized wheels, nothing could matter less.

Performance? Rest to 60mph happens in well under six seconds. A MX-5 Miata takes about seven flat. That's a big difference. In strict, straight-line terms, it’s worth the few thousand extra for the Pontiac. If the truncated (and rather brutal) Corvette driveline was massaged a bit more by the boffins, 60mph would live in the low 5s, if not less. But what about when the road, you know, bends?

Here's the truth. At or below 8/10ths, few cars are as entertaining to fling around bent backroads as the Solstice GXP. Turn in: sharp. Chassis: flat. Attitude: neutral. Brakes: faultless. Push a little harder and the car utterly fails. The steering goes from vague to dangerous. The suspension moans and stops thinking straight. The transmission backfires. You are suddenly overcome by the sensation that you are a driving a mutant machine made of cast-off pieces from other vehicles. Which, of course, you are.

How can Pontiac get so much right (looks, engine) and, at the same time, get so much wrong (everything else)? Enthusiasts (OK fine, Alfa Romeo and Triumph owners) are used to looking the other way when confronted with the sins of their beloved. Will Solstice GXP buyers be able to do the same? Sure. All's fair in love.