The Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky aren't perfect, but they are very affordable.
It is a bit comedic to think back on all of the cars built with the purpose of dethroning the Mazda Miata. The Miata has been on the market since 1989, and since then a number of two-seat convertibles have attempted to dethrone it as the affordable sports car king. Less than a decade ago, General Motors attempted to build two convertibles aimed at the same market as the Miata. The Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky were flawed even when they were new, but used prices are now so low they might be worth taking a look at.
Styling is subjective, but it's hard to argue that the Solstice and Sky aren't at least interesting visually. What hampered these cars was a lack of polish and finesse. They just didn't feel as crisp or as well put together as the Miata. GM has drastically improved its quality since the 2000s, so if it decided to build these cars today, we have no doubt that they would be strong competitors in the two-seat convertible segment. Before anyone decides to pull the trigger on a used Solstice or Sky, we have to talk about some of the features. Back when they were new, the GM twins were priced at around $27,000, with turbo models costing closer to $33,000.
This was more expensive than an equivalent Miata, but the GM cars did have some advantages. The base 2.4-liter Ecotec LE5 inline-four produced 177 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque. This was more than the Miata, but the extra power was hampered thanks to a curb weight of around 2,900 pounds (compared to the Miata's 2,500 pounds). We wouldn't recommend buying either car with the naturally aspirated Ecotec. Instead, we'd opt for the Solstice GXP or Sky Redline, both of which come with a 2.0-liter turbocharged direct injected LNF four-cylinder engine with 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. If you like the idea of a Miata, but want more power, this is what you should look at.
This is essentially the same engine still used today by cars like the Buick Regal, Cadillac ATS, and Chevy Malibu. Thanks to its turbocharged layout, this engine can be highly tunable if big power is your end goal. A simple tune from GM increases power and torque to 290 hp and 340 lb-ft respectively.
Zero to 60 mph in a GXP or Redline takes about 5.5 seconds, which is a big improvement over the non-turbo cars at around seven seconds to 60 mph. In terms of performance, these cars have some impressive figures. Where they both start to get letdown is when you actually get behind the wheel and start driving. Neither is as precise as you'd expect and both are let down by some other odd quirks. For starters, the mid-2000s GM interior feels highly outdated and the materials are mostly hard plastics. The automatic and manual transmissions were five-speeds, and neither is anything to write home about. Rowing gears in a Miata is much more enjoyable.
The strangest feature is easily the convertible top. Like the Miata, the top is manually operated. Unfortunately, getting it up and down is a hassle and the space in the trunk is greatly impeded by the top mechanism.
The Solstice was available as a coupe with a removable targa top, but they are extremely rare. Pontiac only built 784 GXP coupes, so good luck finding one with a manual transmission. It is easy to see why these cars have become such good value as soon as you perform an online search for one. Even GXP and Redline models with around 50,000 miles can be found for less than $10,000 with the preferred manual transmission. It may have its quirks, and it may not be as tight to drive as a Miata, but if you have $10,000 and want something faster than the Mazda, the Solstice and Sky are worth a look.