But the rest that immediately come to mind—e.g., the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Pontiac GTO—are technically pony cars or muscle cars. And so the Pontiac Solstice belongs on a very short list. In fact, if we make a list of American cars that fit the classic definition of a sports car—i.e., a two-seat roadster that was very affordable brand new—then the Solstice (and its corporate twin, the Saturn Sky) makes up a list all its own.
Former GM vice chairman Bob Lutz was one of the masterminds behind the Pontiac Solstice, which sprung to life in concept form in 2002 and was officially available for pre-order by 2005. He envisioned a true sports car in the tradition of classic MGs, Triumphs, and Loti, something that could compete directly with the Mazda Miata.
Between the concept debut and the arrival of the first Solstices on car lots, the car was a favorite at car shows and whetted TV viewers’ appetites as the subject of a marketing challenge on the NBC show, The Apprentice. The main reason: its style. The Solstice was a gorgeous symphony of curves, with its muscular yet flowing wheel arches, twin-kidney grill reminiscent of a 1960s MGA and a twin-bubble convertible roof cover behind the two seats.
Fortunately, the car also went and handled as well as its looks. Which brings us to the GXP version, the Solstice’s top-of-the-line trim.
The Solstice GXP and its 2.0L turbocharged Ecotec powerplant actually achieved better fuel economy than the base model’s normally aspirated 2.4L engine. We briefly described this gem of an engine in our article about the Chevrolet Cobalt SS (also a hi-mpg.org Hot Green Machine), which was a lucky recipient of the motor in 2008. To recap: direct injection (a first for an American manufacturer), variable valve timing, dual-scroll turbocharger, 260 hp, and 260 lb-ft of torque.
Two-hundred sixty horsepower! That was more than a contemporary Porsche Boxster, at half the cost! At 2.1 hp per cubic inch, it is also the highest specific output of any engine made by General Motors at the time of this writing. And while only the 2007 Pontiac Solstice GXP had an official window sticker listing EPA gas mileage exceeding hi-mpg.org’s Hot Green Machine criteria of 30 mpg highway (using the old EPA testing methodology), 2008-2010 GXP’s still could claim 28-29 mpg on the new EPA test cycle.
Granted, the car is woefully impractical and as a result of its gorgeous design has a few quirks. For example, to lower its manual top, you need to pop the trunk (via button inside the glovebox or on the keyfob for cars equipped with remote locks), get out of the car, lower the top, and close the trunklid. This is a bit more inconvenient than the Mazda Miata’s top, which can be flipped back with one hand from the driver’s seat in 3-4 seconds. But in truth, the 20 or so seconds it takes to lower the Solstice’s roof isn’t that bad. It is vastly superior than the ragtops on many vintage British sports cars, which could take several minutes to remove and stow.
Lowering the top also creates another issue—you lose half of the cargo space in the boot, which was not very large to begin with. You can still carry more than you could on, say, a motorcycle, but not by much.
But people don’t buy sports cars to be practical. They buy them to stir the soul. With its style, handling, and fuel efficiency, the Solstice succeeds completely on this count.
Now the Pontiac is no more, the Solstice is no longer produced. This makes it an even more desirable American classic, a leading candidate for a collector car. It is still very affordable on the used car market, though, as there are still a good number of the in the States due to outselling even the Mazda Miata a couple of the years the Solstice was produced.
Bob Lutz should be proud.
[Note: this is one of the rare cases where the top version of a car model gets superior gas mileage than the base model. As noted above, the GXP version of the 2007 Solstice was the only trim level that had an official window sticker that meets hi-mpg.org's 30 mpg criteria for Hot Green Machines, but we wouldn't blame you for considering other versions of the Solstice as well.]