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.