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 The crude oversized graphics would have looked out of date a decade ago.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.
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.