Minggu, 08 Juni 2008



By Robert Farago

Pontiac's ads proudly proclaim that their latest sports sedan is "the first ever G6"– as if the company somehow beat its competitors to build a G6. Which is what exactly? A car that gets 100 miles per gallon? Brings peace to the Middle East? Self-replicates? We all know the G6's REAL claim to fame: it's the first automobile personally bestowed upon every member of a studio audience by a chat show Queen, under false pretences. (Pontiac provided the vehicles, Oprah took the credit, recipients didn't like the taxes.) Otherwise, the G6 is a standard sort of car.

Come to think of it, that IS a major breakthrough. Pontiac has been making sub-standard cars for decades: front-wheel-drive machines with asthmatic engines, no handling and even less build quality. [NB: The new GTO is an Australian import.] The idea that GM's nominal performance division could create a machine that can hold its own in a class filled with talented, well-established Japanese contenders is about as credible as cold fusion. And yet, here it is.

This remarkable achievement is wrapped in an unremarkable package, which, again, is remarkable. Pontiac's current lineup is suffused with some of the most hideous cars to ever foul public pavement, including the inter-galactically execrable Aztek SUV. The G6's design may lack anything resembling panache, style or élan, but at least it doesn't make you want to run and hide. It's a distinctly Honda-esque shape, with a single striking characteristic: a "butt in the air" stance familiar to fans of French cars.

For some reason, Pontiac is embarrassed by the G6's Gallic posture; the website's photo gallery doesn't include a single rear end shot and the 360 tour whizzes past the angle at multiple kbps. In a move that rivals the Wizard of Oz' admonition to "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain", the site advises potential customers to view the G6 "from the inside out".

If so, Pontiac better hope that black is the new black. Aside from the silver bezels surrounding the main dials, the G6's interior is unrelentingly funereal. The HVAC and audio knobs offer common sense command and precision tactility (albeit without anything as sophisticated as climate control), but the tiny LED display is positively Vampiric in its aversion to bright sunlight. Like Nosferatu, the G6 is a night creature, best experienced when the backlit instruments' red glow gives the cabin a jet cockpit's sense of purpose.

Despite its rakish roofline, the G6' black hole will swallow five adults, provided the rear passengers are less than six feet tall and narrow of beam. (Kids ride free.) Ironically enough, the extra-commodious-for-its-class car's coolest feature operates when the cabin is empty. Press the remote start button on the key fob (which only operates after the car is locked) and you avoid both mafia-style assassination and the physical discomforts inflicted by environmental extremes. Unlock, pop the key in the slot, and you're ready to rock.

Make that rock lite. Pontiac endowed my first ever G6 with their umpteen millionth 3.5-liter V6. The General's venerable 200hp pushrod powerplant is a big step up from the base model's four-cylinder snoozer, but military pilots driving the car won't be left wishing they'd packed their G-suits. The sedan's laconic four-speed autobox doesn't help matters. The mileage-seeking shifter is reluctant to approach max power's neighborhood (5400rpms). You can thrash the G6 GT by snicking the shift lever sideways and tipping the gears manually, but that leaves you longing for a slick stick…

Still, any proper four-seater that can zip from zip to sixty in 7.2 seconds isn't exactly slow. And major props go to GM's boffins for dialing-out [most of] the torque steer that keeps other front-wheel-drive Pontiac products from sprinting from A to B without fishtailing to C. There's a bit of squirm when you plant your right foot, but it's nothing to get excited about.

The G6's handling is also more-than-merely-adequate, without straying into the realm of genuine exhilaration. Like its platform partners, the Saab 9-3 and Chevy Malibu, the G6's suspension sports gas struts up front and a four-link independent set-up in the rear. The result is a city-compliant ride with just enough body control to make spirited progress possible, if not particularly enticing– especially if you fancy a bit of at-the-limit oversteer. Even a Hollywood stunt driver would need a judiciously placed oil slick to induce a sideways smile.

Given its Euro-style design, dour cabin and semi-spicy performance, it's hard to imagine for whom the G6 rolls. At $27k "before incentives", the G6 may find a home with tuner-types, or frisky slackers, or someone who just wants an affordable mid-sized sedan. In any event, the G6 is the first ever budget Pontiac pistonheads should honestly consider renting– I mean, buying.


By admin

On a recent episode of Jeopardy, none of the contestants could identify the company responsible for the motoring miscarriages known as the Aztek and Grand Prix. Seems GM's 'excitement' division has some heavy brush to clear. Despite the paddles-to-the-chest prospects of the new Solstice, the marque's main hopes for financial salvation lie with the Torrent. It's unfortunate that the name of the re-badged Chevy Equinox (or is it the other way around?) is commonly associated with the phrase "of abuse," because the little SUV doesn't deserve it. Well, maybe a trickle…

The Torrent excels in a sport in which most American cars don't even place– styling. Given the Torrent's only-a-cataract-eyed-mom-on-tranqs-could-love predecessor (What is an Aztek, Alex), Pontiac's gold medal in the sheet metal sculpting event is a Miracle on Ice-caliber result. Although the Torrent's sharp lines and tailored creases are standard-issue cute-ute, the SUV is one of the more cohesive-looking vehicles in GM's truck-heavy lineup. The Torrent's both perfectly proportioned and elegantly detailed. Even Pontiac's signature "butterfly" twin-port grille looks like it finally found a happy place.

The raise-the-roof reverie continues inside the Torrent's urban-but-not-intimidating interior. Yes, you've seen this GM dash frame before and turned away in not so mock horror. But the Torrent's two-toned color scheme, chrome accents, and cool orange glow lift the cabin beyond the cookie-cutter Sunfires of days gone by. Major controls (e.g. the round, user-friendly climate selection knobs) are well-spaced and Spock logical. The rectangular interior door handles nestle within black circles are rimmed with chrome, contrasting boldly with the tan leather lingering underneath. This is deft, Germanic-level pattern manipulation. Ich applaudiere.

Reach into the interior's underworld, however, and it's a different story. The driver's seat lives so close to the door I couldn't access the six-way power controls without painful exfoliation. The Torrent's cargo hold is eight lanes wide, but the two plastic tray-anchors jutting out from the frame seem specifically designed to eliminate the possibility of carrying anything larger than a college dorm fridge that isn't deformable. Tell your relocating buddy a new Barca will be good for the soul.

The all-wheel-drive Torrent comes equipped with a 3.4-liter V6 married to a five-speed automatic. The 185hp SUV bolts out of the gate like a cattle-prodded thoroughbred, then settles into a distinctly bovine pace. Given the Torrent's weight, the generously-torqued pushrod powerplant is adequate for the trudge at hand, nothing more. The smooth-shifting autobox and symphonic silence (provided by GM's expert noise suppression squad) keeps your mind from wondering if that's you getting in your own way (it is). As for the Torrent's fossil fuel factor, the EPA rates the mid-sized SUV at 18mpg in the city, 24 on the highway. The numbers are, of course, a stovepipe dream. I averaged 19-something during a seven-day mix of back roads and truckerbahns.

Pontiac's ads tout the Torrent's "car-like agility." Call me a gullible spin victim, but I expected the Torrent to negotiate corners like a car. Unless we're talking about a 3700-pound ten-year-old Honda Accord, it doesn't. Down twisting roads, the Torrent feels like a natural candidate for The Biggest Loser, or at least Sweatin' to the Oldies. Turn the wheel past nine o'clock and it's as if a nitrous-sucking dentist pumped the helm with Novocain. It's feel no evil, see no evil; the Torrent's C-pillars are to trucks what non-reflective coating is to stealth bombers. Push the Torrent through a turn and the apple cart you upset just might be your own. One hopes this isn't the kind of excitement Pontiac set-out to create.

Which reminds me: Pontiac bundles side impact and head curtain airbags with OnStar as part of a $1,090 option package. This shameless connection between consumer safety and corporate greed doesn't do the Pontiac brand any favors. Of course, if you're among the dwindling group known as Pontiac loyalists, you're not likely to complain about safety-related blackmail — or anything else for that matter. You'll take one look at the Torrent and say, yup, OK, fair enough. More discerning customers will see that GM is, once again, building an excellent vehicle that's a full model cycle behind the competition. Compared to more mechanically sophisticated mid-sized utes like the RAV4 (268hp) or Ford Escape (available hybrid), the Torrent's stylishness is only skin deep.

Despite its dynamic drawbacks, the Pontiac Torrent has just about enough vitality to make potential buyers forget about the brand's recent history as a washed-up producer of has-beens, also-rans and rental cars. But not quite. Given the quality of the alternatives, the Torrent needed to be faster, sharper and more fuel efficient. If Pontiac doesn't raise it's game soon, the brand will be back in jeopardy, heading for a $100 slot in the category 'DEAD CAR BRANDS.'


By Terry Parkhurst

When you punch the Pontiac Solstice’s go pedal to the floor, you can almost hear that great Les McCann/Eddie Harris tune “Compared to what?” Normally, the Solstice is compared to the Mazda MX5 or its twin-under-the-skin, the Saturn Sky– which is a bit like comparing Heather Graham to Sarah Michelle Gellar and Salma Hayek. While it's clear that the GM cars have more visual appeal than the Japanese roadster, looks can be deceiving. Has GM “made it real,” or is the Solstice just playing a part?

The Solstice’s flowing sheetmetal is soft, sensuous and good-to-go. From the front, it’s a superb retro reworking of a mid-Fifties Thunderbird. (I reckon cops in several US states will specialize in writing Solstii tickets for failure to display a front license plate.) Move to the right, and it’s a Corvette mini-me. The wheels fill the arches so completely the car seems designed as an extra for “Cars.” The stubby rear end deserves twin pipes, but it might as well have that old white trash bumper sticker on it that says “I’m nuts about butts.” The sports car’s stance is yang to the body’s yin: it hunkers on the pavement like a crouching bobcat.

For old MG owners, lowering the Solstice’s soft-top is a piece of cake. For anyone else, it’s a nightmare. The small tent-like rear flutings must be drawn taut and attached via fasteners to the rear deck. And once you fold the canvas top into the trunk, there is no storage space whatsoever-– unless you count the passenger’s foot well. Whereas an MX5 driver can pack light and live, a Solstice driver is hard pressed to stow enough H2O to make it between Arizona rest areas. At a stroke, Pontiac has rendered the Solstice a toy, a four-wheeled motorcycle.

The Solstice’s seats place you low with the hood out high; it’s highly reminiscent of the last generation Chevrolet Camaro. Large, graphically dull black-on-white gauges (courtesy of the Chevy Cobalt) nestle in a nacelle that swoops away to encompass the shift lever. Three simple, round controls for the heat and air-conditioning (courtesy of the Hummer H3) sit just above the radio. Although the GM plastics [still] won’t worry Audi’s haptic team, the Solstice’s much-appreciated minimalism and aesthetic restraint give the cabin a purposeful mien.

Fire-up the 177 horsepower Eco-Tec and the mini-mill produces a warbling base note. Once underway, the 2.4-liter powerplant proves adequate shove for the task at hand; zero to sixty in 7.2 seconds may not set the world on fire, but it will warm it up a bit. Acceleration comes on steadily, like a turbo-prop desperate to leave an aircraft carrier. On the downside, the motor’s as thrashy as an International Harvester combine in an Iowa hay field. Peak torque (166 ft.-lbs.) arrives at 4800 rpm, generating more than enough vibration to discourage a regular exploration of the top of the rev range.

The Solstice’s five-speed transmission is a short throw work of art, snicking home like a Honda S2000’s shifter. No surprise there. Aisin manufactures the Solstice’s five-speed gearbox as well as Honda’s six. Yes, but– the Pontiac’s clutch has a decidedly springy feel and a distinctly heavy action. It’s not exactly truck-like, but those who look at this machine and think “girl car” will change their mind after driving it a dozen miles or so. Still, loping along with just a trace of suspension travel, you’d swear you were in a much larger car. Which is not always a good thing…

The sports car law of the decreasing radius will carry you deep into a turn, with more than a bit of understeer. There’s enough push at the throttle and rubber underfoot to get you through with [mostly] neutral balance registering at your seat. That said, the lightly powered Solstice is a porky little thing. Although the fully independent suspension (A-arms, coil springs, tube shocks and anti-roll bars front and rear) keep things tied down tight, with little cowl shake to disturb the proceedings, you still feel all of the Solstice’s 2888 lbs. through a bend. Unlike its deadly rival, the highly-evolved Mazda Miata, the Solstice doesn’t beg to be thrown about. And with ABS a $400 option, you really need to keep on top of things.

There’s no question that the Pontiac Solstice is a driver’s car. If nothing else, the slick shifter and communicative rack-and-pinion steering demand constant involvement, in the same sense an intelligent, beautiful woman always keeps you on your toes. But the Solstice lacks that final measure of entertainment– a rorty engine note, a bit of unnecessary shove, some real delicacy at the limit– that would make it a “fun” driver’s car. For the vast majority of owners, that won’t be a problem. They’ll love the looks, live with the lid and laugh as they go.


By Jonny Lieberman

I once drove off the road, screaming, at 80mph. Why? I was in love. When love turns blind, men do irrational things. As far as healthy, loving relationships go, the one presaging my off-highway excursion was a malignant tumor wrapped in an iron lung. I imagine that owning a Pontiac Solstice GXP is a similar affair. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury; the prosecution calls her a “femme fatale on wheels.” I ask you: how could something this beautiful be so damn dangerous?

The Solstice GXP is the first modern car I’ve ever felt like licking. More hygienically, the petite Pontiac is a slam dunk that shatters the backboard of gorgeous. I could describe the velvety sexiness of each angle. The perfectly judged headlight cluster. The long, European nose and properly sculpted flanks. The classic five spoke alloys. Suffice it to say, look at the pictures. Well, OK; here’s one:

Great looking rear ends have eluded car designers for decades. The Solstice gets it right. Park the Pontiac's derriere next to a TT Convertible and Ingolstadt's droptop looks like a Bug in a soiled diaper.

Entering the excitement division's roadster, I wasn’t entirely disheartened by the usual litany of sub-third world interior parts. In fact, I only counted one hard plastic edge capable of slicing open flesh (ideally positioned right near the door handle). And how could a gainfully employed designer place cup holders behind your elbow, strategically situated to open when selecting second gear?

Please, no accusations of nitpicking. The laundry list of ergonomic catastrophes continues.

There's no oil temperature gauge– essential for aggressive GXP’ers who fancy a track attack. There is an oil temp readout, but you have to toggle a button on the steering wheel to see it. Only the buttons on the steering wheel are too small for human thumbs. And even if there was a proper gauge, it wouldn't matter; the deep set dials are illegible.

When the Solstice debuted, it was rightly chided for having a center tunnel harder than tooth enamel. For 2007, Pontiac tried to rectify the situation by installing a slab of softer-touch plastic. It’s still as hard and cheap as Katja Kassin. If only they made it (the GXP) out of the softer, nicer material used for the door inserts. Sigh…

Notice I didn't even mention the complete and total lack of storage, hidden controls or the fact that you can raise and lower a Miata's soft top fifteen times in the span it takes to retract the Solstice's just once. And now, the good stuff…

The GXP's engine should replace every non-V8 in The General's stable. In the same way that Cadillac reduced the displacement of the Northstar V8 when fitting a supercharger to it for STS-V duty, Pontiac decreased the Solstice's Ecotec I4 from 2.4 to 2.0-liters. This was largely accomplished by reducing the stroke, which allows the eager motor to rev faster. Result? A four-banger with a single turbocharger and no detectable lag. No really. None.

Spitting out 130hp-per-liter, the GXP's direct-injected mill produces the highest specific output of any GM engine. Ever. The torque ain't bad, what with 260 ft. lbs. of the good stuff available between 2000 - 5300rpm. Sure, the engine sounds like it is made from sick clocks (what’s with that continual ticking just in front of the steering wheel?), but with the top down and the monumental thrump-a-thrump from the clownishly over-sized wheels, nothing could matter less.

Performance? Rest to 60mph happens in well under six seconds. A MX-5 Miata takes about seven flat. That's a big difference. In strict, straight-line terms, it’s worth the few thousand extra for the Pontiac. If the truncated (and rather brutal) Corvette driveline was massaged a bit more by the boffins, 60mph would live in the low 5s, if not less. But what about when the road, you know, bends?

Here's the truth. At or below 8/10ths, few cars are as entertaining to fling around bent backroads as the Solstice GXP. Turn in: sharp. Chassis: flat. Attitude: neutral. Brakes: faultless. Push a little harder and the car utterly fails. The steering goes from vague to dangerous. The suspension moans and stops thinking straight. The transmission backfires. You are suddenly overcome by the sensation that you are a driving a mutant machine made of cast-off pieces from other vehicles. Which, of course, you are.

How can Pontiac get so much right (looks, engine) and, at the same time, get so much wrong (everything else)? Enthusiasts (OK fine, Alfa Romeo and Triumph owners) are used to looking the other way when confronted with the sins of their beloved. Will Solstice GXP buyers be able to do the same? Sure. All's fair in love.


2009 Pontiac Vibe

By Samir Syed

Late last century, GM decided to fight the rising tide of uninteresting front wheel-drive cars Japanese cars by building their own uninteresting front wheel-drive cars. Three decades of trying to out-Japan the Japanese yielded the pinnacle of American wrong-wheel technology: The Monte Carlo SS. Now that GM’s hulking trucks have had their day, the automaker is busy hawking its lackluster though miserly Cobavion. This despite the fact that one of the best small cars GM has ever produced sits unloved in Pontiac lots across America. Go figure.

I know: the Pontiac Vibe debuted around the same time Shrek started having issues with Lord Farquaad. But you wouldn’t know it to look at it. The Pontiac Vibe isn’t just better looking than GM’s current rental fodder small car selection; it’s better looking than its twin-under-the-skin, the Toyota Matrix.

She may not be giving me excitations, but the Vibe’s simple, clean lines are an ode to balanced proportionality. In the battle for small car sales, unobjectionality is a major plus; this wee beastie sports one of the least revolting designs of our time. If only the Pontiac Grand Prix had shown similar restraint…

A smidgen of Grand Prix-style kit on the Vibe’s bumpers and doors add a welcome touch of drama. The plastic and metal wheel arches are also kinda wikkid, giving the vehicle that not-too-rough-and-ready look. Its sloped, be-winged front end slots the Vibe's vibe smack dab in hot-hatch territory. Overall, it’s a sublime departure from the otherwise chaotic sheetmetal Pontiac provided during the Vibe's original era (just check your Aztek calendar).

Inside, the Vibe’s designers decided that you just can’t have enough recessed gauges– even if you don’t have enough gauges to recess. They then challenged anyone who happened to agree with them by limning the “the E in the fuel gauge is a subset of what other group?” shapes with ersatz chrome. At least the final price point kept the surrounding dash relatively uncluttered.

As you might expect, the plastics are fashioned from recycled DVD cases. Although the radio looks fairly horrific, its boombastic enough for government work, and the single function buttons seem perfectly designed for winter gloves, the blind and the partially sighted (the extra large print “MP3” painted on its surface clued us in).

The Vibe is also a perfectly practical people mover. The roomy wagon seats five post Nutri-system adults in reasonable non-discomfort, with enough space for their week’s (weak?) meals. Should these passengers exchange one addiction for another, the rear chairs fold flat enough to accommodate the purchases of two compulsive Ikeaholics.

Dynamically speaking, the Vibe doesn't offer anything resembling performance. A hum-drum 126hp mill mated to an over-taxed four-speed auto give the car all the immediacy of a growing tree. It’s tolerable in stop-and-go situations, but downright irritating on the Interstates, where you’ll find yourself repeatedly faced with the choice of remaining behind that Winnebago or enduring the wheezing complaints of a listless engine at 4,500rpm, for a good minute or three.

The Vibe’s handling is great-– if you’re just out of driving school. With loads of secure understeer and steering that sits in the sweet spot between an F1 car and a Buick LeSabre, it’s not going to surprise you with its reflexes. Ever. If you’re thinking that it handles like a Corolla, well, that’s because it is a Corolla. Underneath the “I mean business” Detroit trench coat lie the matching bra and panties of the Toyota Corolla/Prizm global platform.

All of which brings me to my main beef. To me, a Corolla has all the effervescence of a cup of four day old soda, while managing to look like a constipated earthworm in the process. At the same time, I can’t discount the fact that it’s a great “go-to” car for someone whose idea of regular maintenance is filling up the gas tank.

The Vibe goes one better, offering that same bulletproof platform and powertrain with styling that harkens back to the days when American cars had a little something called dignity. The Vibe’s the guilt-free and bullshit-free way to buy American. And yet the humble Vibe has completely escaped the attention of GM’s beancounters and marketeers.

GM’s joint venture with Toyota did exactly what it was supposed to do: create a viable transplant-a-like. So why did the Vibe escape GM’s propensity to re-badge everything four times? Equally important, why didn’t The General keep improving this model, whose basics are even more appropriate now than they were back in ’01? Is it a case of corporate ADD, a Mercedes-like disdain for sharing the goods (with Toyota no less) or just plain stupidity?

Anyway, the Pontiac Vibe is a practical, frugal, reliable and dull-driving machine that deserves a place on any economy car buyer’s short list.


By Megan Benoit

The Pontiac G5 Coupe reminds me of John Steinbeck’s classic novel “Of Mice and Men.” Best-laid schemes aside, no car deserves more to be taken out to a field and shot in the back of the head. This brand-engineered blight bleeds bureaucratic bumbling. No doubt someone at GM figured that Pontiac should share some of the Cobalt love with a derivative of their own (a la the Cavalier/Sunfire). Rather than taking a pass-worthy platform and making it into something worthwhile, they gave us the G5, “lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain.”

At its most basic level, the Pontiac G5 is an entry-level coupe built with all the love, care, and attention of a post-writers strike reality show, with about as much public interest. It’s likely some beancounter vetoed making the exterior of the G5 look like a lean, mean, road-carving machine in favor of slapping a Pontiac grille on a Cobalt and ever-so-slightly reshaping the lights. You can purchase a little exterior upgrade bling to set your Pontiac apart, but at 70mph no one will know the difference. You’ve probably seen dozens of these and didn’t realize it wasn’t a Cobalt.

Step inside and cold, hard reality slaps you in the face. The Coupe's interior is 99.99 percent identical to the Colbalt’s cabin. Unfortunately, GM forgot to engineer the suck out of it. Only a few differently-shaped buttons and some ill-fitting faux carbon-fiber trim (the sort of ‘finesse’ touch that serves double-duty as an ipecac) differentiate the two models. A Mercury may be nothing but an expensive Ford, but at least they make you feel like you’ve gotten something for your money.

At the turn of the key, the 2.2-liter Ecotec engine grunts itself conscious, rolls over, farts, fluffs the sheets and settles back in for the duration. Ostensibly, the powerplant boasts 148hp and 152 ft.-lbs. of torque. In reality, you feel like you’re being towed by a wheelchair-bound octogenarian with a rope slung over his shoulder. Pushing the gas is about as fun as checking your credit card balance after Christmas. The ill-designed four-speed slushbox makes precision merging impractical, and passing improbable.

I hear the naysayers already. It’s an entry-level economy car coupe. It’s not supposed to be fast! Mission accomplished. Except the Excitement Division’s Cobalt clone ain’t no fun neither. I can forgive weak acceleration if the car makes up for it in handling, but the G5 is firmly entrenched in Molasses Swamp.

The G5 Coupe lacks any hint of the light, tossable quality and sharp, rewarding steering that many of its competitors possess (think Civic or original Focus). The G5’s tiller is numb and joyless, and the brakes have a definite “Come to Jesus” vibe about them (i.e, they certainly won’t save you, so you’d better have a backup plan). It’s every bit as spine-jarring, noisy, and unrefined as the Cobalt.

Handling at the limit… what are you, kidding? You’d be hard-pressed to put a Pontiac G5 into an unsafe position, given that every nut and bolt and Chinese plastic fastener is fashioned from anti-fun. The payment booklet should come with free samples of Valium. It won’t add any performance to the car, but at least you won’t care. Speaking of driving into a tree…

Nearly every safety feature is optional. But again, the G5’s best safety feature is the car itself. A Pontiac Solstice can get an 18-year-old kid (or anyone else for that matter) into a lot of trouble. The G5 will make Junior swear-off hoonery entirely. At which point things can go three ways: either he’ll start saving for his first STI, or beg for a bus pass, or both.

Worse, GM’s reliability has improved to the point where the punishment is endless; you can only justify ridding yourself of the G5 because you hate it. Note: arson and insurance fraud are still illegal, even for cars like this.

How about shelling out a $4k premium for the GT trim and 0.2 more Ecotecage? A used Civic Si costs the same and inspires half the self-loathing. The only way GM could redeem this car (and the Pontiac brand) would be to offer it with a supercharged Ecotec. But GM’s abandoned the LSJ and it’s unlikely the upcoming SS Turbo will make it to the G5.

It’s no wonder Pontiac sold fewer than 30k of these bad (in the traditional sense of the word) boys last year. So why does the G5 exist, if people don’t even want the Cobalt? There are still places where the Buick - GMC - Pontiac dealer is the most exciting showroom in town, complete with brand-loyal customers. The net is killing the ignorance that allows GM to stuff these dens of pistonhead inequity with substandard machinery. And not a moment too soon.


By Michael Karesh

The first time GM attempted to create a BMW 3-Series fighter, we got the Cadillac Cimarron. After 27 years of trying again (and again and again) to take on the rear-wheel drive driver's car, we've got a rebadged Australian import that goes by the name Pontiac G8. No question: the G8 is a far better automobile than the Cimarron (what modern car isn't?). But it's still no 3-Series. Frankly, it's not clear what it is.

The G8's bodysides couldn't be more purely E46 if they'd been penned in China. Sure, some hood fauxpenings were added at the eleventh hour to provide Pontiac "character." But look at this car a thousand times, and it still won't look like a Pontiac. The sides are too clean, the proportions too slender for Detroit iron. (Or post-Bangle BMW, for that matter.) And as with Chinese knock-offs, such a close copy can't hope to have its own identity.

Many enthusiasts pine for the days when BMW interiors were designed for driving, with solid if unflashy materials, minimalist lines and no gadgetry. Welcome to the cabin of the G8. Someone Down Under appears to have made it their personal mission to squeeze all of the power window, power lock and power mirror controls into a single compact module located on the center console. (As seen previously in the GTO, there's ergonomics, and then there's Aussie ergonomics.) As a result, the front door panels are button-free; you can't get cleaner than that.

One thing GM didn't copy: the dimensions of an E46. People who've seen the G8 only in photos often think it's the size of a 3-Series, or perhaps a 5-Series. In fact, the G8 falls closest to the regular wheelbase 7. For GM, bigger has always equaled better. What better way to improve on the 3-Series than to add 20 inches of length and a half-foot of width?

Of course, for buyers seeking a roomy sedan the space will be welcome. The comfortably high rear seat cushion can easily transport three adults, and the trunk can swallow everyone's luggage. The entire rear seat does not fold, but the center pass-through provides a larger opening than some folding seats.

When behind the wheel, a relatively high seating position and a driver-oriented design helps the largest Pontiac feel smaller than it is. It doesn't feel like a 3, but it doesn't feel like a Dodge Charger, either. A 5 perhaps. Even some of the world's thickest A-pillars (no room in the budget for high-strength steel?) don't ruin the pistonhead party.

The G8 GT's rear-drive chassis feels nearly as balanced as a BMW's. The rear end can be smoothly throttle-steered through turns–without the standard stability control killing the joy. There's more kickback through the steering than desirable road feel, but at least there's road feel– something that can be said of fewer and fewer cars in the post-Lexus age. Body control is tight and precise, with very little in the way of ungainly slop.

With such a firm standard suspension, ride comfort isn't a G8 strength, even with the 18-inch tires (even less compliant nineteens are optional). Think 3, with the Sport Package. Hardcore enthusiasts won't mind feeling every bump. But the rest of the driving population? Sell this one to Avis, and renters will complain. Apparently GM has (finally) bought its own hype, and created a Pontiac suitable only for enthusiasts.

If there's anything American about the G8, it's the GT's 361-horsepower 6.0-liter V8. Except this one is more refined than the typical American pushrod V8. This refinement cuts both ways. You won't mistake the L76 for a high-winding DOHC unit, but it doesn't seem out of place in such an otherwise European car. The downside? While the G8 GT is undeniably quick when you plant your right foot, you have to rely on the rapidly rotating needle for this info. It would feel quicker with a more visceral powerplant.

If only the six-speed automatic was a willing partner; it often resists downshifting. The best slushboxes smoothly select the optimal ratio before the driver is aware that he's called for a new gear. This isn't one of those cog swappers.

Aside from making a car larger, GM can also be counted on to make it cheaper. In this case, you get a 7-sized 5-handling 3-looking 361-horsepower sedan for the price of a 1, and a 128i at that.

While not clearly a Pontiac, the G8 is clearly a bargain for anyone who's been seeking a super-sized, pushrod-powered, two-ton 3-Series. Unless the 15/24 on the window sticker scares even this crowd, GM will sell all it cares to lose money on. (The Australian dollar near parity with the greenback? Gotta hurt.) With a clearer identity, less spartan interior and more compliant suspension, there'd be less need to rely– in traditional GM fashion–on a low price.


2008 Pontiac G8 V6

By Michael Karesh

Let’s not dismiss the Pontiac G8 V6 out of hand. Sure, you give up a Smart-and-a-half of ponies with the less powerful powerplant. But 256 horsepower would have seemed like plenty even five years ago. (And the way things are going, it might seem like plenty five years from now.) For enthusiasts who’ve advanced beyond the raw thrill of gut-sucking torque, it’s not the meat, it’s the motion. Yes, Virginia, it’s possible for a car to be fun to drive even if it can’t flatten you against the seatback off the line. Ah, but does this G8 V6 fit this bill?

In the G8 V6’s favor, even the GT variant is not a one-trick pony. It offers an attractive (if not distinctive) BMW E46-influenced exterior, a plenty roomy interior and a fine handling, even driftastic chassis. All of these strengths transfer to the V6. So the potential certainly exists for a fun-to-drive sedan that’s less expensive to buy and operate.

Unfortunately, the G8 V6 isn’t exactly what you'd call a bargain (mate) compared to the G8 V8. Base to base, you save $2400. That, my pistonhead pals, is a pittance for an extra 105 horsepower. But wait, there’s less! The GT comes complete with the V6’s Comfort and Sound Package as standard. It also boasts other extra standard kit, including a leather-wrapped steering wheel and limited-slip rear end.

Inside the V6 version, the hits keep not happening. The base model's oversized urethane wheel looks fleet and feels worse. The cloth seats are much grippier than the optional leather, but they do nothing to alleviate the interior’s downscale ambiance. So attired, the V6’s interior is so uniformly black, joyless and basic that it makes a Dodge Charger’s cabin look like a Lincoln. Were the panel fits this imprecise in the GT, or were they just less obvious in the premium interior?

The V6’s base interior isn’t the automotive poster child for the New Zealand rugby team. Red digital auxiliary instruments rest atop the center stack. The crude oversized graphics would have looked out of date a decade ago. Taken as a black hole, the spartan interior crosses the fine line between functional and cheap and heads straight for K-Mart.

Even the V6’s Premium Package’s red leather seats and instrument graphics are only a partial fix. Pop for the packs and make an allowance for the GT’s trick diff, and V6 buyers save just a touch over a grand. With a price difference this small, the V6 needs to bring something else to the party– even for those [four of us] who aren’t torque junkies.

Fuel economy! Nope. With EPA ratings of 17/25, the V6 goes two miles farther than the eight-pot on each gallon in the city, but only one mile farther on the highway. Sure, the G8 V6 is competitive with other gas-powered two-ton sedans. And? Anyone seeking fuel economy in a G8 best pray for a diesel variant.

With [perhaps] a hundred fewer pounds on the nose, the G8 V6 may be a better handling car than the GT. But if there is a difference, it isn’t large. With either engine, the G8 is a fine-handling, throttle-steerable sedan that’s too large to be tossable.

This year’s G8 comes with any gearbox you like provided it’s a manually-shiftable automatic. In the V6’ case, you get five cogs instead of six, which partially explains why its fuel economy advantage isn’t larger. The V6’ cog swapper is a bit more responsive. When used as a manual override, the shifter feels crude, as is the GM way of such things.

That leaves but one attribute in the “possible advantage” category: smooth revving. The V8 relies on pushrods to operate its two valves per cylinder. The V6, in contrast, has a pair of cams in each head and an extra set of valves. DOHC good, pushrods bad, right? The V6’s tach needle should head for the red zone more readily than the V8, and sound and feel more refined whilst doing it.

Only it doesn’t. For two decades, GM has been finding ways to make DOHC engines sound and feel absolutely ordinary– or worse. This Zeta iteration of GM’s DOHC 3.6 continues this oft-tragic tradition.

Up near the redline the six isn’t awful. But getting there is no fun; the engine lacks the urge to rev and the midrange is, well, unpleasant. There’s no whir of fine machinery, only the grunt and roar of a poorly tuned intake and exhaust. Go part-throttle, as in typical suburban driving, and the midrange sounds especially cobby. Right foot up or right foot down, there are no joys to be had from this powertrain.

There’s inexpensive, and then there’s cheap. The G8 V6 is cheap. It combines a slew of promising parts– clean well-proportioned exterior, driver-oriented interior, DOHC engine and all-independent rear-drive chassis– into something much less special than it could have, indeed, should have been.