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Pontiac Offers Us Two For The Road

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Pontiac came so close to getting its act together.

But close, as they say, counts only in horseshoes, and the division designated by General Motors to create excitement is going to stop creating anything by the end of 2010.

In exchange for government loans, General Motors had to jettison a chairman, Rick Wagoner, and several divisions. So long, Pontiac, the architect of the Grand Prix, Firebird and GTO.

Of course, it also brought forth econocars, minivans and the category- and gut-busting Aztek, which didn't do the division any good. Still, it's a shame that the fat lady is singing just as it has a couple vehicles that make the hair stand up on your neck when you kick the pedal.

For the 2009 model year, the Pontiac we know and love is back with high-performance GXP versions of its sporty G8 sedan and knockout Solstice coupe. Better too late than never?

We tested both, which already are out of production.

The G8 is the better of the two GXPs, though it's aimed at a decidedly different audience than Solstice.

The regular G8 was offered with a 3.6-liter, 256-horsepower V-6 or a 6-liter, 361-h.p. V-8; GXP packs a 6.2-liter, 402-h.p. V-8 with a 6-speed automatic. It does zero to 60 in about 4.7 seconds. And the "G" stands for g forces, so be ready to be snapped back into the bucket seat on launch.

The 13 m.p.g. city/20 m.p.g. highway rating saddles GXP G8 with a $1,700 gas-guzzler tax, though when the speedometer leaves the legal zone, you're not thinking much about the price of gas. Top speed: 108 m.p.h.

Thanks to the potent V-8 and stability control with traction assist, quick-response power steering, track-tuned suspension and 19-inch performance radials (summer tires and, yup, they don't run in snow), the G8 GXP is exceptionally quick and sure-footed; that's how you build excitement.

Hood scoops, front-fender vents and projector-beam headlamps in crystal-clear lenses complete the package.

The two-seat Solstice GXP doesn't have the same muscle as the G8 GXP, of course, but it is absolutely a work of art.

The design crew, led by Ed Welburn, created a machine whose styling hints at Porsche and Jaguar, with regal carved and curved lines that are a joy just to admire.

The Solstice roadster comes with a soft top; the coupe has a removable hard top--unlock two levers upfront and one in back and take it off. Light enough for one person to manage.

If the car was going to be around for more than one model year, we'd insist that the guy who designed the front locks on the top should have done the one in back. It's difficult to open, even harder to close.

The Solstice roadster offers a 2.4-liter, 173-h.p. 4 that's adequate for cruising, but the GXP coupe slips in a 2-liter, 260-h.p. turbo 4 with an attitude. Mileage is a respectable 19 m.p.g. city/28 m.p.g. highway with a notchy 5-speed manual. Automatic runs $995 and gets 1 more m.p.g. on the highway.

The turbo 4 gives the GXP the power the roadster should have had to match its dramatic styling. Very good handling, too, thanks to stability and traction control and steering tuned to react more quickly to wheel input than in the roadster.

But, as with the roadster, the ride is a tad rough, and the cabin more than a bit snug. If your favorite meal is dessert, the midsize G8 is a better fit than the Solstice, in which long-distance travel is a squeeze at any speed.

Not that it really matters, but why are there cupholders behind the headrests? Can we thank the guy who designed the rear roof latch for putting them there?

Base price for the GXP Solstice coupe: $30,375, about $890 more than a roadster. The GXP G8 starts at $37,610, or about $7,000 more than G8 with 6-liter V-8.

You may not find a lot of either GXPs in showrooms--Pontiac built just 1,892 of the G8s and 2,000 Solstices--but they'll be appearing in museums, car shows and collectible vehicle auctions soon.

A thumbs-up would make a fitting final salute.

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g8

2009 PONTIAC G8 GXP
Wheelbase: 114.8 inches
Length: 196.1 inches
Engine: 6.2-liter, 402-h.p. V-8
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
M.P.G.: 13 city/20 highway
Price as tested: $37,610
Add $685 for freight and $1,700 for gas-guzzler tax.

PLUSES:
More power
So quick
Excellent performance and handling

MINUSES:
Hello, I must be going
Guzzler tax

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sol

2009 PONTIAC SOLSTICE GXP
Wheelbase: 95.1 inches
Length: 157.2 inches
Engine: 2-liter, 260-h.p., turbocharged 4
Transmission: 5-speed manual
M.P.G.: 19 city / 28 highway
Price as tested: $32,520
Add $620 for freight.

The Sticker:
$30,375 Base
$960 Air conditioning
$575 Premium package with leather, bucket seats; leather-wrapped steering wheel/shift knob; and Bluetooth
$395 Audio system with seven Monsoon speakers
$115 Sport metallic pedals
$100 AM/FM stereo with USB port

PLUSES:
Styling sensation
Removable top
Very good mileage

MINUSES:
Cramped quarters
Finicky 5-speed manual
Bowing out with Pontiac

Jim Mateja can be reached at rides@tribune.com.
(C) 2009 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

3 Responses »

  1. "Top speed: 108 m.p.h." for the G8 GXP? That can't be right. Maybe 180? The Solstice GXP does around 143. And there is a dealer-available turbo tune kit from GM that boosts the Solstice GXP to 290 hp, 325/315 ft/lbs. How come none of you reviewers mention that? It is a must-get that does not void the warranty like the 3rd party kits do.

  2. "Top speed: 108 m.p.h." for the G8 GXP? That can't be right. Maybe 180? The Solstice GXP does around 143. And there is a dealer-available turbo tune kit from GM that boosts the Solstice GXP to 290 hp, 325/315 ft/lbs. How come none of you reviewers mention that? It is a must-get that does not void the warranty like the 3rd party kits do.
    OH! You're my new favorite blogger fyi

  3. I was also rather shocked by the apparently 108 MPH top speed. I did some Googling and there were a bunch of conflicting results, but the overall outcome was that it was governor-limited to 146-155 MPH, which is much more acceptable from the 6.2L V8