Special Coverage

New York Int’l Auto Show

General Motors Corp. unveils at the New York International Auto Show later today the ’09 Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP, reviving a popular concept car from 2002 and extending the sports car’s range to four models.

Slated for production at GM’s Wilmington, DE, assembly plant, the coupe is expected to arrive at Pontiac dealerships in early 2009. GM shows a high-performance GXP variant in New York, although it also will build a base model.

All models feature a removable roof panel that fully opens up the cockpit. The 2-seater will not accommodate the roof panel, but GM will make an optional soft roof cover available that fits in the cargo area. A home storage case for the roof will be made available, as well.

Pricing has not been announced yet, but a base model ’08 Pontiac Solstice roadster starts at $22,785, while its GXP variant begins at $28,465.

“The coupe has all the design cues and pleasing performance of the original roadster and is an all-season alternative for people who enjoy open-air driving,” says Jim Bunnell, general manager, Pontiac-Buick-GMC.

GM says designers drew inspiration for the coupe from the Solstice concept shown at the 2002 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The coupe concept made a surprise entrance at the Detroit show, driven onstage after the introduction of a roadster concept.

The coupe production version remains faithful to the concept, GM says, characterizing it as “a modern sport car with classic lines.” Its roofline boasts a “fastback” shape, with stylized “rails” that run from the front of the roof to the rear and culminate in what GM calls “a stylish and functional ducktail-style rear spoiler.”

Rear side windows appear to extend uninterrupted from the driver and passenger-door glass. A rear glass hatch provides access to the cargo area.

GM says it added some subtle structural changes, such as new taillamp assemblies that flow smoothly into the new roofline. The coupe weighs roughly 31 lbs. (14 kg) more than roadster, with base models tipping the scales at an estimated 2,930 lbs. (1,329 kg), and GXP variants at about 3,018 lbs. (1,369 kg).

Similar to the removable roof on the Chevrolet Corvette, GM uses magnesium for the roof panel frame on the Solstice to save weight and make it easy for one person to remove.

Overall, weight distribution of the car remains an ideal 50/50.

The coupe’s assenger headroom with the coupe shrinks 1 in. (2.5 cm) to 37.4 ins. (95 cm), while overall interior volume grows 4.8 ins. (12.2 cm) to 50.8 cu. ft. (1,438 L). GM also redesigns the area behind the seats to gain access to the cargo area and mounts a storage tray behind the headrests.

Otherwise, the coupe retains the Solstice roadster’s current styling and dimensions. That includes engine choices: an Ecotec 2.4L 4-cyl. mill optimized by variable-valve timing that provides 173 hp and 167 lb.-ft. (266 Nm) of torque; or an Ecotec 2.0L 4-cyl. powerplant with direct injection, variable-valve timing and a turbocharger that combine for 260 hp and 260 lb.-ft. (353 Nm) of torque.

In addition, the 5-speed manual and optional 5-speed automatic carry over from the roadster.

Given the nominal weight increase, GM also leaves the suspension unchanged. The auto maker expects the coupe to deliver ride and handling, acceleration, braking and fuel economy on par with the roadster.

The Solstice coupe, which will compete against the Mazda MX-5 Miata retractable hardtop and Nissan 350Z coupe, arrives one year after the Solstice overtook the Mazda Miata as the best-selling roadster in the U.S. The Solstice accounted for 16,779 deliveries in 2007, while the Mazda MX-5 Miata sold 15,075 units, according to Ward’s data.

Solstice also gained a point of market share in its segment, says Pontiac Marketing Director Craig Bierley.

“Last year was a tough year for everyone in the sport segment,” he tells Ward’s during a recent interview. “But the car is doing really well.”

Bierley also says the Solstice roadster will receive an optional appearance package for ’08 that celebrates its wins in Sports Car Club of America competition last year.

“A low-volume, boutique thing,” he says of the SCCA graphics. “But we want to continue to look at opportunities to create some news and dealer enthusiasm.”