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.'