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.
[NB: All pics: G5 Coupe GT. GM doesn't offer press shots of the base coupe]