By on August 22, 2007

better_days.jpgLate 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).

x07pn_vb003.jpgInside, 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.

x04pn_vb027.jpgDynamically 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. 

x08pn_vb0012.jpgGM’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.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!


64 Comments on “Pontiac Vibe Review...”

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    My wife has a Matrix XR 5 speed and, for what it is, it's OK. If I was driving it, we probably would have gone for the Mazda3, but for her, the Matrix works nicely. Getting 36 mpg on the highway and the ability to carry an 8 ft ladder with the hatch closed is certainly nice! Hoons need not apply, that's for sure. I really hope they make the next gen (Blade?) a little more civilized. I'm not even hoping for some more driving excitement because Toyota has just let that ship sail :(

  • avatar
    Matthew Danda

    What is a “hoon”?

  • avatar

    “Constipated Earthworm” That one killed me!

  • avatar


    From our friends at Wikipedia: The term “Hoon” was first used in Australia at the turn of the 20th century where it referred to a man living off immoral earnings [1] (i.e. a pimp). The origin of its current usage is currently unknown but is widely believed to be a shortened form of “hooligan” [2]. In more recent times it has been used to describe any young male or female who drives in a manner which is anti-social towards the standards of modern day society. Generally, a hoon is any person who drives any vehicle dangerously and/or fast. (my emphesis)

  • avatar

    The dashboard looks better than the 2007 Dodge Durango. The Vibe looks better now than before.
    it looks like the Acura MDX and the same height with the Mitsu Outlander.

    Does it have a 650 watts fosgate system?

  • avatar

    The dashboard looks better than the 2007 Dodge Durango. The Vibe looks better now than before.
    it looks like the Acura MDX and the same height with the Mitsu Outlander.

    Does it have a 650 watts fosgate system?
    Syed I didn’t know that you speak Australian…
    “Hoon” word…

  • avatar

    I’m scratching my head – the Highlander Sport gets a 3, the MB B 200 got a 3 and this ho-hum Pontiac who’s only redemption seemed to be its steering (I have to disagree on styling) gets a 3 too…??!

    The 3 stars section seems to be too broad IMO.

  • avatar

    My first thought when I first saw a commercial for the Vibe was that it was a smaller version of what the Aztek should’ve looked like. Too bad it’s been such a neglected and underappreciated model. Any word on its fate when the Corolla gets updated?

  • avatar

    I assume it’ll get redone when the Corolla gets redone. Late next year, for 2009. And like the Corolla and Matrix it’s a good car and the Cobalt should’ve been more like it.

  • avatar

    Perfect car for the wife, or for most other’s. It sure as heck beats the silly little SUV’s that women seem to want.

    Ah, the issue in my marriage – do we replace the Corolla with a Vibe, like I want to do, or something silly for commuting to work, like a Jeep Liberty that my wife wants?

  • avatar

    Thanks for the review!

    I believe Corolla SOP is Jan 08, along with Matrix & Vibe.

    Spy shot of next Vibe IP:

    P.S., as much as I love TTAC writing, I challenge the authors to discontinue the use of the following overused words:
    1. Wikkid
    2. Bling
    3. Camcord (and others, like Cobavion)

    ‘hoon’ can stay :)

  • avatar

    spy shots of the 2009 vibe were leaked last week, I believe. Rest assured, it looks tons better than the outgoing model. Both inside and out.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    When folks ask me what type of two to three year old car they should get for their kid, I always mention the Vibe.

    It’s frugal, has amazingly strong depreciation, a Toyota powertrain that’s the most common one in the world, and it’s sporty enough to make the new owner happy for quite a while.

    I will say that the low end models are a little bit too cheap for my tastes, while the very high end models are still considered ‘finance fodder’ and still carry a premium in the marketplace. Overall though, for those used car buyers looking in the 7k to 9k range, the Vibe is actually a good fit.

  • avatar
    Rodney M.

    The Vibe has definitely gone under the radar as being one of the best American cars under $25K for the last 5 or 6 years. It may not be very exciting – the interior still suffers from everything that was wrong with GM interiors, but somehow escaped the absolutely nauseating stage. Hopefully the new generation moves away from the awful plastics. I find the exterior somewhat attractive in a very patriotic, GM kind of way. I test drove this car several years ago when I was in the market for a small hatch. It really was quite livable around town assuming you’re not planning on doing alot of illegal street racing. I seriously thought of purchasing one. I ended up with a Mazda Protege5 instead – it’s driving dynamics were just way too good to pass up.

  • avatar

    The biggest problem all of these ecoboxes share is the Mazda 3, esp in 5 door trim. No matter the parameter- styling, performance, fit and finish, handling, the mazda spanks them all without breaking a sweat. and if that’s not enough there’s always the mazdaspeed version.

  • avatar

    pete: look at it like a normal curve, and you’ll expect to find a lot of 3-star cars.

    the way i look at it is:
    1 star: i never want to see it again.
    2 stars: i don’t like it.
    3 stars: i don’t care.
    4 stars: i like it.
    5 stars: nils gotta have it!

  • avatar

    I’d consider a (discontinued) Vibe GT, although the standard verison seems a little too dull. Other than that, this car has one of the most annoying seat belt buzzers I’ve ever encountered. Dull, competent, and annoying if you don’t use a seatbelt.

  • avatar

    In my book, the star system has to do with how good the car is compared to others in its class. So, 3 stars means competent player, but nothing special (Some good, some bad, mostly in the middle). This seems like a 3 star car. It is competitve and fun at a decent price, but a Mazda 3 it is not.

  • avatar

    I don’t know about under the radar. The Matrix is quite common around here (Vancouver). The Vibe as well, but none of the three people I know who’ve bought the Matrix new even considered the Vibe. Just being a Pontiac is enough to make it depreciate faster. Not good for a new buy, but attractive used, I guess.

  • avatar

    Samir Syed
    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.

    Except the Vibe’s designers didn’t do much of anything on the inside. The interior is almost entirely a Toyota design. The head unit and that Pontiac logo on the steering wheel may have been done by GM, but that’s it. The gauges, door panels, dash, steering wheel, shifter and virtually everything else in the interior are a Toyota design.

    Same with the new Vibe; most of the interior is a Toyota design. The only thing “truly” GM about the Vibe is the exterior, and the head unit.

  • avatar

    Steven Lang –

    We also recommend the Pontiac Vibe as one of our perpetual Used Car Bargains (for the full list, link HERE). As we point out it’s a used Toyota Matrix for less than the price of a used Toyota Matrix.

    B Moore –

  • avatar

    We all know about the GT model and the restricted-HP AWD model, but has anyone ever driven a Vibe with the supercharger option? I remember reading about it shortly after the car was launched, and seeing the supercharger listed as a SPO option in the brochure. It provided a similar boost in HP as the GT, but a much more substantial boost in torque. Maybe that’s the Vibe for hoons!

  • avatar

    I know of 2 people (not a very scientific sample) who bought a Vibe because it was a Pontiac and was available for some kind of GM family/friends discount. They paid significantly less than a simliar Matrix or Corolla. I think a similiar Mazda 3 would be a couple of thousand higher.

    I put a dozen or so miles in one and it seems to be a great value. Nothing to complain about, but nothing to get my blood going.

  • avatar

    This car has become so insignificant lately that it has fallen completely off my radar screen. Thanks for reviewing it and giving it some much needed attention.

    In its current form, this car seems to totally violate what the Pontiac brand stands for. Note to Pontiac – please take an AWD Vibe, turbocharge the crap out of it, give it the necessary suspension mods, and make it a first rate competitor to the EVO/WRX. Maybe this will finally attract a new type of customer into the Pontiac showrooms, and help raise Pontiac out of its long standing funk.

  • avatar

    Mark yet another one for whom the Vibe ended up a first runner up against a Mazda3 5-door. Somehow I’ve got the feeling that the Mazda3 has been the Vibe’s biggest problem in the marketplace.

    By the way, I’m thoroughly sick of the word ‘hoon’. It’s become synonymous with the term ‘a**hole driver’ in my book.

  • avatar
    Joe O

    I am sorry Samir, but I can not let this review go unmolested. A great while ago I test drove a Vibe with the intents of writing a review for this website. The resultant drain of my soul left me in a 3 week stupor and I never got past writing the first paragraph.

    This car is an abomination for any car company, let alone a combination of toyota and GM. It makes me amazed how Toyota is a #1 US seller.

    I’ll start with the engine. The anemic 1.8 liter mill provides adequate acceleration…for the 2400+ pound Corolla. And only in 5-spd variety. In the 2800+ pound Vibe, the engine provides only one type of forward motion: Granny-speed.

    Combined with the blasphemy that is Toyota’s 4-spd automatic, it is a bane on the automotive world. As stated in your review, to summon accelerative properties, you must be willing to endure the engine shifting from a 3000 rpm cruising speed to 5000-6000 rpm….cause, you know, it basically only has one or two gears meant to propel. As the salesman told me, and he was right, it was like an angry squirrel stuffed inside a coffee can. A whole lot of noise and not much happening. It felt downright dangerous to me, in todays modern world. I think 0-60 in 12 seconds was the modus operandi. On a good day. Downhill. With a 20mph breeze on your back.

    So, ok, the engine and automatic transmission are soul-sucking. The steering was direct….not numb, not Mazda 3 like, but direct and definitely liveable. But that’s the end of it. The suspension provides a firm connection to the ground; firm as in not commuter-car like. And those 205/55/16 tires? Those pure things! Goodyear RS-A’s never gave up so easily. Entering into a slight, sweeping turn I decided to see what was going to happen if I didn’t brake to sunday-cruiser speeds.

    Understeerific! The tires barely protested, they just started to let the car float sideways. This car has lower cornering abilities than a 2000 Lexus LS400…and I could get the Lexus to drift at parking lot speeds.

    Performance credentials formally trashed, maybe it’s got a great and usable interior? Nope. As you stated, plastics of the lowest recycled quality. We’re talking grade-f. This stuff might be used for school lunch trays….if the school was in a budget crisis.

    But hey, cheap plastics are ok, right? Not when the entire cargo area is blanketed in the same plastic. Not only a recipe for the squeak-rattle-and-roll soundtrack, at 5000 miles those ikea-ites will have a cargo area looking like a pick-up truck bed. An un-lined truck bed. That was used to carry bales of steel wool.

    Strong depreciation? No wonder. While it may last until the engine rusts out, the interior will surely look like my aunt’s sofa arm after 10 years of one clawed cat. Scratching post indeed.

    All of this for a measly starting price of 17,400. Sure, it’ll be discounted till The Kingdom Comes, but then, why not get a Rio 5? Same price; Same Capabilities. 5 year longer powertrain warranty.

    This car’s disgusting premise of affordable transportation for 5 + cargo or 2 + Plywood is a disgrace to consumers everywhere. No one should have to endure such incoherence in design theory. No one should have to endure the utter cheaposity.

    The only redeeming quality this car once had was an XRS version, providing the celica gt-s transmission and engine. That was stripped away, and it will be left on the dustbin of history as the one car pontiac had that “wasn’t bad looking…on the exterior”.

    3 stars my friend? 1 1/2 tops.

    Joe O.

  • avatar

    I was looking for a hatchback several years ago and researched the Matrix/Vibe twins. If I’m not badly mistaken, at that time the Vibe was actually priced a bit higher than its counterpart. Also, what happened to the 180 hp version with the old Celica GT-S engine?

    Given the choice between a Vibe and Matrix at the same price, I would go for the Toyota. Shallow, maybe, but I just can’t stand Pontiac.

  • avatar

    One of my secretaries has one

    she loves it

    and she drives like a hoon

  • avatar

    Chaser –
    They phased out the 2zz-ge engine (found in the Celica GT-S, Lotus Elise and Exige, Vibe GT, Corolla XRS and Matrix XRS) – in the Vibe, Corolla and Matrix it was revised to only 170 hp for a marginal increase in torque but a slightly better overall powerband.

    Also – there was a time you could get the Vibe/Matrix in AWD – can you still get them in AWD?

  • avatar

    Love the counterpoint, Joe O. Maybe that’d be an interesting feature on TTAC – a review-back for those who wholeheartedly (and respectfully) disagree with the initial review. Just a fleeting thought. :-)

    The Vibetrix – briefly considered it for replacing an aging Taurus, and then I drove a Mazda3. What is it with the Mz3 tromping everything in its path? They’ve just got it together, I guess.

  • avatar

    Joe O.,

    I think most of your counter-point was essentially a repetition of my review, only the Vibe’s flaws seemed to irritate you more than they did me. I did mention the wheezing engine, the understeer and the nasty interior, didn’t I?

    It’s almost ironic that you suggest the Rio5 as an alternative. If ever a car defined “angry squirrel in a can”, that would be it.

    Nevertheless, I always welcome counter-points and if you are so motivated, I encourage you to propose an 800-word counterpoint to the site’s editors. (Frank.Williams@ this site…)

  • avatar


    Thanks for the one liners :-) I tend to agree with the “I don’t care” characterization. I guess even if we had a rating system with more stars we’d end up with a lot of humdrum vehicles in the middle ground.

  • avatar
    Rodney M.

    I should ammend my previous post to state that the base Vibe I test drove a couple of years back was equipped with the 5-speed manual transmission. I would imagine that makes quite a difference in the feel of the engine performance compared to the automatic. I never drove the auto version. I felt (at the time) that the Vibe was a decent car for the money (considering all the rebates GM was offering back then). It was a hidden gem in GM’s mines. Not exciting by any means – but truly reliable, economical and practical. That’s what most people are looking for in a car of this class. Unfortunately, Mazda set the performance bar so high with the Protege5 and the Mazda3, that everything else pales in comparison.

  • avatar

    I drove my cousin’s Vibe for a couple of weeks this Summer. 5-Speed (he has a great sense of humour as he put a B&M Shifter on the stick), AC and Power Mirrors were the only options. The thing had decent acceleration and was quite happy at 130-140 km/h. Handling? Not so much. Utility? Great for four with three weeks’ worth of stuff fitting in the back. Economy? Absolutely outstanding! If anyone needs a good-looking, practical and economical car, this should be one of the top 2-3 on their list.

    I really can’t help but notice the brandwashing stream running through the comments. The “I will buy a Matrix because its a Toyota even though the Vibe is a smarter buy” kills me.

    Just another example of “GM-itis” inflicting this company IMHO.

  • avatar
    Ashy Larry

    I always thought the Vibe was a really nice idea and a terrific package. Gobs of interior room, frugal, reliable, hatchback utility and not to shabby looking — in fact, better looking as a Vibe than as an over-bespoilered Matrix. Sure the interior is cheap, but so is the price tag. Sure the engine is a little wheezy, but ditch the scrotomatic and live a little with the 5-speed. 36 mpg and can haul a plasma TV? Yes please!

  • avatar

    The Vibe should have been given to Saturn back in the day. It fit in with their small car, frugal, sorta-okay fit’n’finish lineup. Pontiac should have gotten the VUE Redline. What really happened was GM at their banding finest.

    I’ve driven the both the Vibe and the Matrix and considered buying them, since I am not a ‘hoon’. When the side-impact safety ratings dropped to 3 stars & were never improved, the twins got removed from the list.

  • avatar

    So for GM’s next act, will Vibe steal Astra sales or vice versa?

  • avatar
    Joe O

    Hi Samir,

    Hehe…I just checked and I wrote 614 words. I’m 75% of the way there!

    My main complaint was not with your review, it was with your overall rating. During my test drive, the felt (really just dryer lint stiffened with hair spray) that they used to line the bottom of the cupholder looked like it was cut by a 4th grader with a pair of safety scissors….and not only was it uneven all the way around and not filling the bottom of the cupholder, but it was quite easy to remove. So easy, in fact, that I imagine a condensation-enameled water bottle would pick it up on it’s own accord.

    There is something to be said for cheap, reliable transportation. The model I drove was MSRP’d somewhere around 21-22k….automatic, 16″ wheels, some options. For that kinda scratch, even post rebates, you can pick up so many better alternatives it’s not even funny. And the Kia Rio5, exhibiting many of the same traits, actually has a better cargo area (in the form of quality, not of volume).

    I have long wanted to do a counterpoint for some reviews….maybe i’ll expand my earlier comment and send it to Frank. As long as it’s not a problem to write it in a “I’m writing this as a comment to your post and I’m at work so I’m writing quite quickly.” format :)


  • avatar

    For the record, I never said “I will buy a Matrix because its a Toyota even though the Vibe is a smarter buy”. I said for the exact same price, I would go with the Toyota version because I hate Pontiac that much.

    Now, lest you think that’s just more TTAC anti-domestic groupthink I’ll give you my latest reason why: the G6. A good friend of mine is the sales manager for the local Pontiac dealership. When I was in the market for a car a few months ago, he was willing to give me a great deal on a demo that had been driven exclusively by the dealership’s owner. My girlfriend and I test drove it for about 30 minutes and we agreed it was one of the worst modern (say, 2000 and up) cars we’d ever been in. I can’t believe that thing actually gets passable reviews. And don’t even get me started on past Grand Ams and Grand Prixs I’ve driven, or my best friend’s old problem-a-day Firebird, or another friend’s POS Sunfire…

  • avatar

    Before purchasing the Mazda3 hatch in 2005, my wife and I test drove the Protege5, Matrix and 5 door Ford Focus hatch. We ignored the Golf because of high maintenance costs. I would have considered a 5 door Civic hatch if they ever offered one.

    We wanted to test drive the Pontiac Vibe, but the Pontiac dealer wasn’t so enthusiastic about it and said it’d be the same experience as the Matrix. Instead, they wanted to sell me a Magnum (hello? I’m here for a economy hatch, not a station wagon). So we left…

    The Ford dealer didn’t let me drive the car (the sales person did) and gave us something close to $7000 CDN discount (less than $19000 for a fully loaded Focus). I didn’t want to buy a Focus anyway since I had heard of its poor quality and reliability, but I still wanted to get a feel for it. The steep discounts was quite tempting. To this day, I don’t regret my decision, especially every time that I see a focus hatch from behind and see how the lid and the bumper don’t align on the left side.

    The Protege5 was produced from mid 2001 to mid 2003. It is a fine used car with awesome driving dynamics (some say better than the 3), but I wanted the extra oomph, better brakes, 17″ rims and slightly better interior of the Mazda3. Combined with low depreciation of the Protege5 (it was hard finding one for sale in the first place) and low interest rates we decided to go for the Madza3.

    I think the Matrix actually looks better than the Vibe. I thought the original Vibe was quite sporty looking while the revised model was just an abomination. However, the revised Vibe sold much better than the original, so I guess I have a different taste than the general public. Still, I think both cars look better than the Nissan Versa (which is just fugly).

    Anyway, to us the worst part of the Matrix (Vibe) was the loud engine noise which sounded like a chain saw. Even the Mazda Protege5 was a quieter car than the Matrix. The Mazda3 engine just wants to be revved in the 3500-6000 zone (where the VVT kicks in) while Matrix was just awful at anything above 3000 rpm. Note that while the 1.8L engine is slow and loud, it’s quite good on fuel economy.

    However, the Matrix cargo area seemed a bit larger than the Mazda3. We’re small people and can fairly comfortably sleep in the hatch with the rear seats folded down (hence the hatch preference; makes for fun short camping trips). My wife also liked the full hard plastic cargo area of the Matrix which is supposed to protect the interior better against heavy equipment.

    I think the Matrix (Vibe) interior and driving position is more like a minivan or a truck. I’m not really fond of having the gear shift lever that high and far away from me either.

    I think with all of it’s short comings, these cars are still quite good compared to many others in their class (Hyundai/Kia, Chevy, Nissan and Chrysler offerings) even after being neglected for so many years. There are a lot of Matrix/Vibes (more Matrix than Vibes) here in Vancouver, Canada. Perhaps people buy them for their reliability rather than looks, power and driving dynamics.

    Oh, 41k later and I still love my Mazda3 and (ab)use it every day to and from work with zero problems.

  • avatar

    Just noticed the mpg ratings on the Vibe. Are these the new ratings or old ones? I consistently get 25/30 on the 2.3L Madza3 and I think I have a heavy foot. Doesn’t makes sense for the 1.8L to be just barely better.

  • avatar

    I owned a Toyota Corolla once. The seating position was just plain goofy and caused my wife back problems that she will have to live with the rest of her life. When we checked out the Matrix, it was a Corolla in fancy clothes. I liked the looks of the Vibe but after the ownership experience of previous and current GM cars, I’m not interested. Getting back to the Corolla with automatic transmission drivetrain, I hope the current crop is better than what I had. Though the engine idled quiet, it sure made a lot of noise when called upon to climb the hills of the Vancouver area. Floored, I would be lucky to make 60kms/hr (about 40 mph) with an empty car and no passengers. However, the car was bulletproof reliable.

  • avatar

    I feel obligated to respond, since I own a ’03 Vibe and an ’06 Mazda 3 5 door. The Vibe is my wife’s car, and it plays that role perfectly. It’s reliable, gets good mileage, and has more room than my 3. We have two kids, and whenever we have to take both kids out with all the extras we take the Vibe. It all fits better. Otherwise, we take the 3, because it drives so much better. I’m not sure where Joe O’s hatred is born. There are much worse cars out there. We have 60k on the Vibe, no real issues, no surprises. It’s comfortable , reliable and does it’s job. Would I want to drive it daily? No, hence the Mazda. But my wife still loves her car, and I even drive it on vacations . Of course the 3 spanks it in any driving category, but as an alternative to cute UTE’s or something for your 19 year old for college, it’s perfect.

  • avatar
    Joe O


    You’ve stated my case well. I agree, it appears to be a reliable and economical solution to needing a 4-door hauler. It’s the whole Point A to Point B argument:

    For those who just want a Point A to Point B car, there are lots and lots of solutions for them. My brother, God bless him, drives a 94 Subaru Impreza. It no longer goes into park (he leaves it in neutral and puts the parking brake on), it rattles to death, and it looks like crap. But it gets him to his job and back, and various errands, and that’s all he cares about. Why is it a piece of crap car if it does that?

    And that is the mentality you seem to be approaching the Vibe with…

    Me, I look at the Vibe and see an engine that belongs in the automotive graveyard (though the engine itself is not too terrible). The transmission is 1970’s technology. Slow to shift down, eager to shift up. 4 speeds, with ratios wider than the grand canyon. Uninspired. Insipid.

    And when it’s put into a 2800+ pound car, the Vibe, it’s a combination of disasterous proportions.

    Point in case: The Prius, approx 21k base price, comes better equipped, gets much better gas mileage, accelerates faster, and has not-too-dissimilar hauling capacity (it’s a hatchback and it’s seat folds). It’s drivetrain is a masterpiece of technology in a similar price range.

    The interior: Now, many people don’t mind hard, ugly, shiny, black plastic. And the Vibe has that in spades. But do you want a car that’s full of very thin, fairly flimsy, hollow plastics? Because that’s a recipe for creaks, rattles, gouges, scratches, poor fits, and other bad things that happen to cheap cars as they age.

    Next…when you have a big hatchback, with lots of cargo area, you don’t want cheap hard plastic loading area. Yes, it’s durable, and it wipes clean easily (when it’s not scratched up from use). But it makes a lot of racket when you leave stuff back there, or have it loaded. It scratches and looks like crap when actually used regularly.

    Take a note from Subaru or some other manufacturers. Use durable rubber flooring and carpeted walls…or just carpet it all in something medium gray or darker and thick pile. It lasts better, functions better (it also holds your stuff in place moreso), and it looks decent after 60,000 miles of use.

    My absolute despise of the Vibe comes from the asking price for what is delivered. In today’s world, it is unreasonable to ask people to pay this amount of money for this level of product. I don’t care about the eventual discounts….why not just price it 3k less than MSRP to begin with?

    The Vibetrix is a cheap, uninspired, disasterous design of a car too horrid to pawn on your worst in-law as a suitable alternative to modern-day transportation.

    If you doubt me in good faith, I beg you to price one out as YOU would buy it and then drive 3 of it’s competitors at the same price point. Just for giggles, try out the Mazda 3, Subaru Forester or Outback (the current 2002/2007 Subaru Impreza has enough of it’s own problems, though it’s better overall). The Scion xA or xB for less money.

    No one deserves to buy or to be sold a piece of crap (as a new car). The Vibe is a remnant of a time best left behind and I applaud it’s nearing demise.

    Joe O.

  • avatar
    P.J. McCombs

    I guess I’m chiming in as a counter-counterpoint.

    I’m mostly not seeing how the Vibe’s engine warrants such venom. Even with the four-speed automatic, instrumented road tests peg the 0-60 time between 8.5 and 10 seconds. It’s thrashy, and I wish Pontiac didn’t try to mask the modest HP with abrupt tip-in, but it’s certainly par for the class. Consider the alternatives: the HHR’s bucolic 2.4, the PT’s gas-sucking 2.4, the Caliber’s even weaker, thrashier 1.8…

    Typical buyers might care more about fuel economy, anyway, which tops the compact hatch class: 30/36 with 5-speed or 29/34 with auto, by the EPA’s old reckoning. To do better, you’d have to stump up a few grand more for a Prius, or buy something from the next size class down.

    I always figured that the reason GM priced the Vibe slightly above the Matrix was because Pontiacs never sell for MSRP, while Toyotas sometimes get away with it. Padding the pre-rebate bottom line, in other words. Anyway, I agree that the Vibe is fairly pricey for what it is, especially since ABS and other “musts” are optional. But it’s also dead-nuts reliable and holds its value reasonably well, which must be factored into the value equation (to my mind, it works out to about class-average).

    The interior plastics are indeed hard and shiny, but again, it’s relative. The insides of the Focus and Caliber are far flimsier. A bigger issue for me is the goofy arms-out, legs-tucked driving position inherited from the Corolla.

    Regarding that plastic load floor: a conventional fabric cargo mat is a $60 accessory. It should be standard, of course, but at least Pontiac did the wipe-clean thing right: they covered the rear seatbacks in the same material. The Dodge Caliber leaves the seatbacks trimmed with fuzz, defeating the purpose of the plastic load floor when you actually transport something messy back there.

    Priced out as I would buy the Vibe (with a stick and ABS), Edmunds tells me to expect a $16,388 tab. Naturally, I’d spend the extra $1,200 on a similarly-kitted Mazda 3 hatch. But for people who care more about cargo space and MPG (the Vibe does markedly better on both counts), I’m seeing a relevant product here. A base Forester costs thousands more and gets worse mileage, while subcompacts like the xD and Fit have less much less cargo space.

  • avatar
    P.J. McCombs

    As an aside, I never would have pegged a reskinned Corolla for the topic of heated debate. Must be our time of the month.

  • avatar

    Why do people debate about Toyota,Mazda and Honda
    Everyday. I counted almost 350 Mazda “Words” on TTAC.

    They are good products Period. What else do they have to prove?

    Majority of commentors always mentioned Mazda and compare it another car. It is like comparing Pepsi,Coca Cola, Sarsi,RC,Mountain Dew,Dr Pepper and etc etc. They all taste different and people who buys them like them and it’s their money.

    I rarely comparison Hyundai,Kia,Opel, Mitsubishi,Alfa Romeo,Lotus, Bentley, Rolls Royce etc etc…these cars sells like hot cakes all over the world but here in USA they are being snob and kick/shoved all over the place

  • avatar

    by the way Does anyone here drive a Manual?

    What is good about manuals”
    1. It save on gas
    2. accelerate better than Automatic
    3. Misconception about driving a manual in traffic is terrible. (drive like a truck driver meaning don’t tail gate).

    4 it is faster than a Howling Automatic and you can control your car during snow storm.

    5. You don’t have to race to get to the red light which is a very common driving style of Americans

    6. If you drive a manual you are a better driver according to State Police.

  • avatar
    Joe O

    Hey PJ,

    Here’s a quote from (insideline) on their full test of a ’03 Vibe GT 6-spd (the 180 HP 1.8 liter):

    “Pontiac claims the Vibe GT will scamper to 60 mph in the “low eight second range”; that’s not Mustang GT territory, but it is enough to give some sport coupes a run for the money.”

    Now….subtract 52 horsepower, add a terribly geared 4-spd power-sapping slushbox, and you get a 0-60 time more around 12 seconds.

    I am not comparing the Vibe to the HHR, PT, etc….but I understand your comments. Those vehicles, though I have not driven them, would probably receive equal derision.

    Again, my counterpoint is not about whether or not the Vibe retains value or is reliable and economical transportation. Those things are more fact than opinion. My counterpoint is that it is a terrible choice in today’s market for all of the reasons named above.

    By the way, your priced out version has manual windows, door locks, and exterior mirrors. You do not have a sunroof or keyless entry. You are riding on hubcaps. You do not have stability control; you may or may not have a CD player.

    16,400 without the things I just named? C’mon now.

    BEAT – I drive a 6-spd Honda Civic SI, and my wife drives a Saturn Ion 5-spd (of which I would also give 1.5 stars). Your comments seem fairly in ignorance about the auto vs manual wars of nowadays. A few points:

    1. Some automatics get better gas mileage than their manual counterparts. Case in point: the 06+ Honda Civic’s automatic gets better highway fuel mileage. Why? It is a higher gear ratio for highway cruising.

    2. Plenty of modern automatics offer better acceleration than their manual counterparts. Also, I find that plenty offer better “real-world” acceleration. For me, I’m so busy taking my time rev-matching (up and down) that I’m not in any rush when swapping cogs on a daily basis.

    3. Driving a manual in traffic can be rough, depending on the car. My car has very herky-jerky characteristics at low engine speeds due to poor drive-by-wire programming and very tight gear ratios. A toyota corolla is quite the opposite.

    4. Again, it has become fairly standard for modern manuals to allow user control over which gear is selected, so it is no longer a “weather advantage” to own a manual. Anyone can drive safely in snow; it just takes some common sense.

    I’ll leave it there.

    Joe O.

  • avatar
    Joe O


    Sorry I didn’t provide a link for that edmunds article. Anyway, I’ll restate and say that it’s possible for the 128 HP Vibe to hit 0-60 in 10 seconds (as you stated) with the 5-spd manual, though I think it’s closer to 12 seconds with the automatic.

    Again though…most Vibes, as optioned to the modern standard, would come in closer to 19-20k (after rebates).

    My point was that a brand new prius costs slightly more, but offers far superior fuel economy, not-too-dissimilar hauling capacity, and equal acceleration. This is not to get people to cross-shop the Vibetrix and Prius; it’s merely to point out that the Vibe has equal acceleration to a similarly weighted and sized hybrid.

    If you have driven the Vibe in auto format, I believe you would understand my sneering derision. It is a combination best left in the museum of unnatural history.


  • avatar

    Joe O

    I don’t want to try to be the great defender of Vibes. I’ve already stated that I wouldn’t want to drive one every day. But there are much worse products out there. You say the engine belongs in a graveyard, and that it can’t haul the 2800 pounds. But it gets class leading mileage and is reliable. I’m sorry, but when I see what some modern engines, including my own 2.3 in my Mazda, get for mileage, I have to say the Vibe’s engine is fine. My wife could care less if it takes 10 seconds to hit 60.

    I don’t notice any particular creaks or groans. I’m sure there are some, but 60k of Milwaukee freeway driving will make a BMW lose a few screws. As for the plastic cargo area, ours came with a spiffy mat. I’m sure the plastic under there is as shiny as the day we bought it.

    As for the price? Please, this is a GM product. If you can’t find at least 2k of incentives, you aren’t trying. Try to get a fat rebate on a Prius.

    A disasterous design? Is it pretty? No, but disasterous is pretty strong. My company has Ford Focus wagons for fleet use. My God those things are horrible. If a Vibe is a disaster, a Focus is an atrocity against humanity.

    Anyway, as offerings from the Big 2.5 go, this is not so bad. True lumps like the Grand Am and Cavalier have gone away, but the Vibe is still no where near the worst thing coming out of GM.

  • avatar
    Joe O

    Hi Road –

    Thanks for the feedback. The Vibe has 27% less displacement than the Mazda3, so I would hope it would get better gas mileage! The engine is not the worst I have ever driven (that prize might be won by my wife’s saturn Ion ecotec).

    Again, and I’m sorry but I’ve said this 3-4 times now, I am not commenting on it’s ability to traverse space and time and require no maintenance (reliability) or it’s miserly fuel consumption. I am commenting on it’s design coherence, or lack thereof. And not in the art department. I mean the individual parts.

    Regarding the Prius vs Vibe pricing, my comment was: “is not to get people to cross-shop the Vibetrix and Prius; it’s merely to point out that the Vibe has equal acceleration to a similarly weighted and sized hybrid.”

    There are many automotive disasters out there. My father’s Toyota Tacoma is one. Between the bench seats that need to be pulled up to the chinsy rubberized dashboard (god forbid your father is 5’7 and you are 5’10’….cause you be eating dashboard, boy!). The 2.7 liter (4-cylinder, mind you) tied to yet another ridiculous toyota 4-spd automatic. It’s 4×2 personality.

    But above and beyond all that, the fact that it’s a pickup truck that, coming from the factory, can not have a hitch attached to it because the bed section does not have the proper framing. You need to get that framing installed (~$900 MSRP).

    Listen, I consider my in-laws ’01 or ’02 Subaru Outback a drivetrain disaster. It’s weak-kneed combustion chamber is tied to a 5-spd manual that crunches, whines, and complains when engaging gears. Oh, and try to get a smooth shift without slipping the clutch god awful. Just try. The clutch engages at a different point every shift, guaranteed. It’s gotta be a special feature to “keep ya guessing after all these years”. Worst-transmission-ever.

    I can go on and on. There are certain cars that are disasterous for everyday driving in my opinion, and deserve a very low rating. It’s not to knock on their ability to reliably transport human and inanimate objects from place to place, or to say they don’t get good fuel mileage. It’s to say that enough of their parts are so sub-par in comparison to their modern equivalents that, to paraphase an earlier comment, falls somewhere between “I never want to see it again” and “I don’t like it”.

    My test drive of the Vibe left me feeling that way. Everytime I drive my wife’s Saturn Ion, I feel that way. Everytime I hear the clutch slip like crazy in my in-laws Outback, I feel that way.

    And that’s why I’m ranting in a comments section on

    Hi, my name is Joe O. and I have an addiction.

  • avatar

    Joe O-

    I don’t think we even really disagree much. I am always much relieved to get back to my 3 from the Vibe. But I’m not sure it’s a fair comparison. The 3 is designed around the driving experience, while the Vibe, umm, isn’t.

    I was taken aback by your hatred of the Vibe,but now I just see that you hate any cars that are poorly executed. I can sympathize with that. This is certainly the place to rant against crappy cars. I just don’t think the Vibe deserves pure hatred. Really, it’s not that bad.

    Getting close to time for a new car, though…Have to check out the CX-7….

  • avatar
    Rodney M.

    BEAT said:

    “Majority of commentors always mentioned Mazda and compare it another car. It is like comparing Pepsi,Coca Cola, Sarsi,RC,Mountain Dew,Dr Pepper and etc etc. They all taste different and people who buys them like them and it’s their money.”

    If you don’t understand the reasoning for comparing one car against another, have you learned nothing from this site? Seriously, how do you know how good one car is unless you compare it to something else? There must a basis for acceptability. That basis generally comes from a class average. How do you get to the average? Comparisons.

    Many of us who own Mazdas like to talk about them. Own one and you’d understand. I have an ’02 Protege5 (5-speed, BTW) with nearly 50K miles and I’ve not had a single mechanical issue. None. Contrast that to our other vehicle, the Ford Freestar, which keeps us on a first name basis at the dealership, and it’s clear why we get excited to talk about our Mazdas.

  • avatar
    law stud

    looks cool, but the price is too high. The Scion XB costs a grand less at my local dealer and has more horses and 28 cu.ft of more interior room.

    Granted the scion is more of a box and has an impractical center dash, it has more bang for the buck.

  • avatar

    The Pontiac Vibe is just the latest version of the GM-Toyota NUMMI venture (which sprouted such Corolla-based, GM-badged cars as the mid-nineties Chevy Nova which eventually morphed into the Geo Prism). This is both good and bad. It’s good in that someone who hates Japanese-branded cars, yet wants that level of quality, can buy one with a clear conscious.

    It’s bad in that GM plays the same old rebate shell-game to make it appear that their version of the Matrix is a good deal (a little research and comparison with similiarly equipped vehicles reveals that it’s not). So new Vibe buyers take a big hit on depeciation simply because their erzatz Corolla wears a Pontiac badge.

    Of course, this goes back to ‘good’ for used car buyers in that it’s possible to get a used Vibe for less money than a Matrix of the same vintage. Some of the most reliable, best deals on used cars have been the GM-branded Corollas, be it a Nova, Prism, or now, Vibe.

    I once knew a guy who had an ‘86 Chevy Nova that I think paid maybe $500 for it a decade ago. The last I heard, it had over 250,000 miles and was still running (although I think he was having trouble with the brakes).

  • avatar
    Barrett Pashak

    I just bought a Vibe. We were looking for an economical replacement for a ’90 Trans Sport. I wanted a compact crossover. I looked at the Caliber, but didn’t like the rear and side visibility. I then looked at the Caliber’s competitor, the Matrix. I found out that the Vibe is the same as the Matrix but with Detroit styling, which is what attracted me to the Caliber. GM is offering 0% financing and there are some good deals on the lots. We bought the basic 5 speed. It has some zip, and plenty of cargo space, which is what I really wanted after owning a big van. Most of the year I am in heavy traffic, so I don’t need more than a little zip. On vacation, I need cargo space and a bit of off-pavement capability. The Vibe is a perfect fit for me.

  • avatar

    Great article!!! Concise, well-written and hard-hitting. Great reading.

    Couldn’t help but ponder what my life would be like if I rated vehicles for a living.

    A car rater covering the Vibe would make me a…


  • avatar

    Matrix and Vibe are mechanically identical and come from the same plant, so they provide an interesting test of Consumer Reports’ reliability data. The results are very similar, but there are small differences and the Vibe appears to have a tiny edge (sorry, Ford) overall.

    My guess is the differences are due to sampling error and/or variations in buyer demographics and driving style.

  • avatar

    They actually come from different plants, which makes the comparison even more interesting. Vibes come from the joint GM-Toyota NUMMI in California. Matrixes come from Toyota’s plant in Cambridge, Ontario. Both plants make the Corolla, which underpins the Matrix/Vibe.

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but several years ago I remember seeing the 4-year residual values of a Vibe being 56%, while the Matrix was 63% or so. That’s the power of branding on fairly identical cars!

  • avatar

    Just returned from a trip where I rented one for a week. I agree with the review, especially about the interstate behavior. At 85mph it needed to downshift on the overpasses, torque steer was prevelent even at highway speeds. I never could figure out how to turn on the rear wiper, I suspect it was an added cost feature that did not have a button up front.

    Mileage was not too bad, but the tank is small so you have to fill it pretty often. Seats were comfy. The 115volt outlet is handy for your cell phone charger but the little door gets in the way of the power pack. The radio has too much bass and no treble, at least an aftermarket radio can be fitted, although different speakers would be good enough.

    Brakes were really good, even in the rain. I drove at 80 in a rainstorm and it was very well behaved and stable. I don’t care for the motorcycle inspired dashboard but that is just my opinion. Speedometer was off by 3 miles per hour, at any speed. 90 on the clock was really 87 on GPS.

    This car has lots of great places for french fries in the various compartments in the dash, great for McDonalds runs.

    The rear door tends to hit you in the head, due to it’s shape and where the pivot points are. Anyone who opened and closed the door found out the hard way.

    I think it si a good car but I would buy the Toyota version just for the name to protect resale. As unfair as it seems, the Vibe will probably resell less than the Matrix, for the sued shoppers the Vibe is a good choice since you get a Toyota for a Pontiac price. Avis rents them so check out their used sales.

  • avatar

    I have a 2008 rental right now and all I can say is “Useful, but Blah to drive.” That oh so sweet Corolla numb steering DNA really shines through here.

  • avatar

    I have waited for the used prices for these cheap cars to come down to realistic level,I wanted a corolla wagon, so the Twins were the logical answer.I found several vibes in my area for a grand less than matrix, under $11.000, finally buying one for $9500.00,(06) with auto and a few extras.3 years old, huge initial depreciation. but as a mechanic, the 1.8 toyota is, in my opinion ,a problem free and easy to repair drivetrain.In the longrun ,this car should outlast the mazda,time will tell.

  • avatar

    Read some of the reviews here thought I’d give some feedback myself. I own a 2006 Manual Pontiac Vibe, bought it over 2 years ago it had 170K and now I have almost 300 000 km on it. So far I haven’t had to do ANY repairs on it, I just put oil and gas thats it! When I bought the car my priorities were “cheap on gas with good reliability” (I do around 50 000 km a year)and more room then a 4 door sedan civic with hatchback as a preference and didn’t want to pay too much money. I did a lot of research and the Pontiac Vibe was by far the best fit. I get 32-36 US MPG with it (mostly highway at sea level). I don’t have a heavy foot and it does make a difference. My best MPG to date was last week (Oct 28th 2012) in which case I did 36.5 US MPG.
    I consider myself a good driver and having a manual does help a lot in achieving maximum MPG. Getting this good of MPG requires me to drive 100 km/h on highway.
    I’ve rented a Mazda 3 once and yes I did like it but I drive my car to get from point A to point B and I’m not racing or taking turns as fast as it needs to. The Vibe is a perfect choice for me and my family of 3 (soon 4).

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • JonBoy470: The base Outback has steel wheels with wheel covers, doesn’t come with floor mats, and the stereo is...
  • PrincipalDan: Go check Car and Driver dot com and look at the “In Depth Reviews”. I found the Ford...
  • RHD: Providing MPG results for standard tests would be beneficial for consumers… but then manufacturers would...
  • RHD: That information is available on Easy and cheap.
  • brn: In general sleaziness has been banished to F&I, regardless of mega-dealer groups.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote


  • Contributors

  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States