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Sun, Jul 05, 2009 - Page 12 News List

The last of the Pontiacs

Only 1,100 units of the Pontiac Solstice will roll off the lines — the once-mighty firm’s last new model before it closes for good. But does the Solstice have what it takes to become a collector’s item?


The 2009 Pontiac Solstice coupe.


The just-introduced (and just-canceled) Pontiac Solstice coupe is already assured a place in automotive history, and not only because its fleeting production run lasted mere months.

This new targa-top Solstice is the last of the Pontiacs, the final breath of a brand that failed to adapt to a changing world. Once-proud Pontiac is being phased out by General Motors, its parent, and will be gone next year. The Solstice coupe, a fixed-roof variation of the four-year-old roadster, is Pontiac’s last new model.

It could become something of a collector’s item.

“We expect that total production will be in the neighborhood of 1,100 units when we cease operations at the Wilmington plant by the end of July,” Jim Hopson, a Pontiac spokesman, wrote in an e-mail message.

All Solstice coupes will have sequential ID numbers, so owners will know exactly which car of the 1,100 they have.

The coupe I tested was the hot GXP version, which comes with a 260-horsepower 4-­cylinder engine. Its window sticker of US$31,045 created an expectation of polish and comfort that I felt, considering the price, it failed to deliver.

Here is a car that essentially matches my definition of a doomed romance. Its drop-dead gorgeous exterior made me yearn for a fling that would turn meaningful, but a week of companionship revealed a list of quirks that included nearly every imaginable character flaw. A love-hate relationship, I suppose, was inevitable.

The spartan cabin, finished in unrelenting black on my test car, was especially noteworthy: I believe it could be the first automotive interior styled entirely by an accounting department. The only minimum-security prison I have ever visited (honest, it was only to interview an inmate) had more luxurious appointments.

The seats are tolerable, but neither supportive nor particularly adjustable — there is no place else for them to go in the cramped cockpit. Plus-size drivers should shop elsewhere.

There is virtually no convenient storage — no handy place for a cell phone, no bin to hold coins, no storage in the enormous console, no cubbies or map pockets in the doors. But there is a slit along the door sill, long enough and wide enough for a package of Slim Jim jerky.

A package shelf under the hatchback rear window is only large enough to hold the bare essentials for a weekend getaway. But if you pop for the temporary fabric top to use when the removable panel has been left home (there’s no place onboard to stash the targa panel), the package area is commandeered to store that. So plan your trips carefully, paying close attention to the weather forecast.

The power window controls are perfectly placed for someone with 15cm-long forearms; otherwise, use your elbows. The dashboard instruments are partly eclipsed by the adjustable steering wheel, regardless of its position. The gauge faces and the radio’s digital display panel can be difficult to read, but, hey, it’s only a problem during most daylight hours.

The shifter for the five-speed manual transmission clanks like a tenement radiator in February. Wind and road noise with the top shut is intrusive enough to warrant constant checks that the windows are all the way up and doors aren’t flapping open.

Despite its many faults, the shapely little coupe is a sexy attention-getter, another beauty designed by Franz von Holzhausen when he was a rising star at General Motors. (Von Holzhausen subsequently left for Mazda and is now at Tesla.) Outward visibility is atrocious, but that’s the price of being so stylish. If you can’t live with that, buy an old Volvo wagon.

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