The Truth About Cars » Pontiac http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 29 Sep 2014 16:40:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Pontiac http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/reviews/pontiac/ Recalled GM Cars See Bigger Price Drop Over Other Used Vehicles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/recalled-gm-cars-see-bigger-price-drop-used-vehicles/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/recalled-gm-cars-see-bigger-price-drop-used-vehicles/#comments Tue, 05 Aug 2014 13:00:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=882106 Are your children about to start college? Maybe it’s their senior year in high school? Looking for a cheap vehicle and don’t mind if it’s been recalled to death by its automaker? Then a vehicle caught up in the General Motors recall parade might be the one, as prices have fallen hard as of late. […]

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2009 Chevrolet Cobalt Kia Store

Are your children about to start college? Maybe it’s their senior year in high school? Looking for a cheap vehicle and don’t mind if it’s been recalled to death by its automaker? Then a vehicle caught up in the General Motors recall parade might be the one, as prices have fallen hard as of late.

Jalopnik reports a study by iSeeCars.com says the six vehicles that kicked off the parade — Chevrolet Cobalt, Saturn Ion, Saturn Sky, Pontiac Solstice, Pontiac G5 and Chevrolet HHR — saw their used car prices drop 14 percent between March and June 2014, compared with 6.7 percent for other used vehicles in the same period.

The biggest loss leaders were, of course, the Cobalt and its sister G5, with a 13.7 percent drop in price. That said, if you ever wanted a Cobalt SS coupe or sedan (or XFE for that Prius-esque fuel economy without the hipster connotations), or a Saturn Sky Redline, this might the time to pick one up.

iSeeCars GM Recall Price Drop Average Chart

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Classic Review: 1986 Pontiac Fiero GT V6 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/classic-review-1986-pontiac-fiero-gt-v6/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/classic-review-1986-pontiac-fiero-gt-v6/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 13:07:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=876441 The Pontiac Fiero is one of those cars that is forever showing up on lists. A simple on-line search finds that it’s one of the 100 worst cars ever built, one of the ten cars that should be avoided by tall people, one of the worst ever Indy 500 Pace Cars and, because of its […]

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The Pontiac Fiero is one of those cars that is forever showing up on lists. A simple on-line search finds that it’s one of the 100 worst cars ever built, one of the ten cars that should be avoided by tall people, one of the worst ever Indy 500 Pace Cars and, because of its poor sales, one of the 10 greatest automotive financial disasters of all time. Other lists, however, rate the little two-seater as one of the best sports cars of the 1980s, call it one of the ten unexpectedly best cars for tall people and even rank it as one of the best choices for future collectability. Oddly enough, the Pontiac Fiero also appeared on my own personal list of potential purchases a few months ago and, despite the fact that I ended up choosing one of its contemporaries, when I recently found a wonderful, low-mileage example at KC Classic Autos in near-by Kansas city, I knew I must see it.

The history of the Pontiac Fiero is an open book. Originally conceived as a two seat, mid-engine sports car with an advanced, all-new suspension and a powerful V6 engine, the Fiero was castrated prior to its birth by GM’s bean counters who worried that the proposed car might end up stealing sales numbers from the Corvette. As a result, the new car was toned down. The powerful V6 was replaced with GM’s 2.5 liter “Iron Duke” four-cylinder, a slow-revving long-stroke iron block engine intended for economy cars, and the advanced suspension was dropped in favor of a parts bin approach that used existing bits and pieces from the Citation and Chevette. The result was rather lackluster and the media received it with mixed reactions. Motor Trend gave the Fiero a decent review in 1984 but other magazines felt that, as an aggressively styled mid-engine car, it needed to have more performance. Whatever the case, the public loved what they saw and bought almost 187,000 units in 1984.

For 1985 Pontiac addressed the critics’ need for more power by adding an optional 140 HP V6 to the line-up but sales dropped to around 74,000. In 1986, the – in my opinion – much better looking fastback Fiero GT was added beginning mid-year and sales climbed to almost 84,000 units. 1987 brought general improvements and more power to the four cylinder model but sales were definitely trending downward and only 45,851 cars left the showroom that year. In 1988, Pontiac introduced a more sophisticated suspension, based on the original design the bean counters had initially kept out of the car, and this model year is said to be the most desirable among collectors. But alas, only 26,402 were sold before Pontiac discontinued the model and today they are a might thin on the ground. All totaled, 370,168 Fieros of all types were sold over the course of five years.

Fiero 2

Like so many GM products before it, the Fiero is one of those cars that was killed just about the time its full potential was being realized. Initially the cars suffered from quality issues and design problems. The 1984 model year also experienced a number of well publicized fires and despite the fact that, according to Wikipedia, only 148 reports were made to the NHTSA detailing just six injuries, the Fiero, much like the Ford Pinto, has an enduring reputation for combustability. The truth is that within a couple years of the Fiero’s introduction, the car was well sorted and the 1986 model I was able to ride in is a great example of just how far the design had come.

I appeared unannounced at KC Classic Autos late in the afternoon and, after paying my $1 entrance fee to the “museum” and introducing myself, was given the run of the place. I have had the opportunity to visit a few classic car dealers over the years and this one stacks up rather well with a clean facility and plenty of interesting cars on hand that I could get up close and personal with. After spending far too much time looking at a stunning 1969 Nova SS and several other classic American muscle cars, I finally decided to ask if I could get a ride in the 1986 Fiero they had parked close to the front door. I had two reasons for choosing this particular car, first I hope to be invited back to ride in and report on more of the classic machines that were further back in the showroom and second, because I wanted to compare my little Shelby to the much better preserved Pontiac.

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I’ve already spent some time talking about my Dodge in other articles but it’s important to do so again so I can do a little comparing and contrasting. At 31 years old, the Shelby is a well presented little car that recently had a great deal of work done to it. Despite its lumpy idle and its slightly rich smelling exhaust, it runs like a top and moves out just fine when I get on the gas. Thanks to the work that has been done, on the outside it looks almost new, but the inside is another story and the car’s threadbare interior shows almost every one of its three decades plus one year of existence.

I’ll write more on it in detail in an upcoming article, but suffice to say that my little Dodge really is an old car. It buzzes, it rattles and it has strange smells, but at a time when this Pontiac was sitting safe and secure in a temperature controlled garage, the Shelby was out living its life, running errands, hauling kids and generally being enjoyed by its owner. Every scar, every tear and every rattle inside the car has a story that goes with it and although as a second owner I can never really know what happened, I can respect the fact that this car was a valued member of someone else’s family for many years. It has, I think, a real sense of having been used, enjoyed and loved.

At 28 years old, the 1986 Pontiac Fiero GT I saw yesterday is still very much a new car. With right around 20,500 miles on the clock, it still looks new inside. The carpets are unworn and the seats are still firm and flawless. The internal plastics have been unaffected by the sun and the gauge faces were are still as bright and clear as the day the car came off the line. The two-seater started instantly at the first turn of a key and burbled happily as it rolled out of the show room. It was simply stunning in the light of the afternoon sun.

Like I would do with any new car I am reviewing, I spent a lot of time circling the Fiero and looking for flaws. Although it’s used, I had no complaints about anything I saw. Panel gaps were good, the interior pieces fit together well. Of course the switchgear is clearly 1980s GM but it still looked modern and good in the car. Overall, I found it to be a pleasant, clean little Pontiac and I was eager for a chance to ride in it.

fiero 3

Why this car would appear on a list of vehicles that should be avoided by tall people is a mystery to me. In the mid ‘80s, I am sure this low slung, high belted design would have felt like sitting in an old fashioned bath tub, but compared to modern muscle cars I found the Fiero roomy, easy to see out of and I had no problems getting my sizeable corn-fed All American ass into and out of the passenger seat. Although my driver, KC Classic’s president, Kim Eldred, took it a little easy on the first leg of our drive I thought the car picked up and ran along the city streets without problems. Unlike my Shelby, there were zero rattles or strange smells and it is simply so clean that my mind cannot comprehend the fact that this is an “old” car.

As we made our turn-around on an empty back street, Kim jumped on the gas and I got a chance to see just a little of what the V6 could do. Hampered by an automatic transmission, initial acceleration was sluggish in first gear but second gear, however, was downright surprising. As it made the shift, I felt myself pushed back into the seat with enough force to put a lasting smile on my face and, although the car was not blindingly fast, it was pleasantly snappy. Overall, it was a good ride.

In the weeks since my Shelby arrived I have had to take a good long look in the mirror. I remember the 1980s with some fondness, and in my mind’s eye the colors remain neon bright, the tunes fun and happy and the cars as solid, modern machines. The idea that they, like the man who looks back at me from across the bathroom sink, have gone soft over the years and are not capable of the things that they once did so easily makes me wonder if they ever could. Were the ‘80s, I ask myself, really the way I remember them or were they simply an illusion of youth? This Pontiac, so well preserved, has put those doubts to rest. The 1980s really were good times and I know now without a doubt that the cars, even one with such a mixed reputation as the Pontiac Fiero, really were capable of the things I remember.

If my purchase of the Shelby Charger was an attempt to regain a piece of my youth by marrying the prom queen that eluded me back in 1984 now that she is now the divorced grandmother of three, this Pontiac is a true piece of history recently removed suspended animation and put on sale for the relatively reasonable price of $12,900. All it needs now is a new owner to use it, enjoy it and to love it. You perhaps?

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My thanks to KC Classic Auto for allowing me to wander around their show room and for their willingness to take me out in one of their cars for this review.

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General Motors Recalls 8.4 Million Vehicles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/general-motors-recalls-8-4-million-vehicles/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/general-motors-recalls-8-4-million-vehicles/#comments Mon, 30 Jun 2014 22:05:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=856065 General Motors has issued a total of six recalls affecting some 8.4 million vehicles in North America, the majority of which have ignition-related issues. Autoblog reports the following group totals 7,610,862 — 6,805,679 in the United States — and are being recalled for unintended key rotation: 1997-2005 Chevrolet Malibu 1998-2002 Oldsmobile Intrigue 1999-2004 Oldsmobile Alero […]

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GM RenCen Storm Clouds

General Motors has issued a total of six recalls affecting some 8.4 million vehicles in North America, the majority of which have ignition-related issues.

Autoblog reports the following group totals 7,610,862 — 6,805,679 in the United States — and are being recalled for unintended key rotation:

  • 1997-2005 Chevrolet Malibu
  • 1998-2002 Oldsmobile Intrigue
  • 1999-2004 Oldsmobile Alero
  • 1999-2005 Pontiac Grand Am
  • 2000-2005 Chevrolet Impala
  • 2000-2005 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
  • 2004-2008 Pontiac Grand Prix

The second group totals 616,179 — 554,328 in the U.S. — and are being recalled for unintended key rotation due to bumping of key fob:

  • 2004-2006 Cadillac SRX
  • 2013-2014 Cadillac CTS

The third group totals 20,134 — 2,990 in the U.S. — and are being recalled for potential damage to the engine block heater power cord’s insulation under extreme cold conditions:

  • 2011-2014 Chevrolet Cruze
  • 2012-2014 Chevrolet Sonic
  • 2013-2014 Chevrolet Trax
  • 2013-2014 Buick Encore
  • 2013-2014 Buick Verano

The fourth group totals 117 — 104 in the U.S. — and are being recalled over the Superjoint fastner not being torqued to spec prior to leaving the assembly line:

  • 2014 Chevrolet Camaro
  • 2014 Chevrolet Impala
  • 2014 Buick Regal
  • 2014 Cadillac XTS

The fifth group totals 12,002 — 9,731 in the U.S. — and are being recalled due to the underhood fuseable link potentially melting through electrical overloading, leading to smoke and fire damage to other electric wiring components:

  • 2007-2011 Chevrolet Silverado HD (with auxiliary battery)
  • 2007-2011 GMC Sierra HD (with auxiliary battery)

The sixth and final group totals 188,705 — 181,984 in the U.S. — and are being recalled over the potential for an electrical short to the driver’s door module disabling the power lock and window switches, as well as overheating the module itself:

  • 2005-2007 Buick Rainier
  • 2005-2007 Chevrolet TrailBlazer
  • 2005-2007 GMC Envoy
  • 2005-2007 Isuzu Ascender
  • 2005-2007 Saab 9-7X
  • 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT
  • 2006 GMC Envoy XL

In the press release issued by the automaker, CEO Mary Barra said her company undertook what she believed “is the most comprehensive safety review in the history of [GM] because nothing is more important than the safety of [GM's] customers.” She added later on that if any other issues come to the automaker’s attention, GM would “act appropriately and without hesitation” to recall and repair those vehicles. The automaker has recalled a total of 28 million vehicles since January of this year.

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GM Knew About Deadly Defect For Nearly A Decade, Dismissed It In Technical Service Bulletin http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/gm-knew-about-deadly-defect-for-a-decade/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/gm-knew-about-deadly-defect-for-a-decade/#comments Fri, 21 Feb 2014 02:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=750297 GM is recalling 778,000 units of the 2005 through 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 over an issue where the ignition cylinder inadvertently turns out of the “Run” position, there by turning the car’s main electrical systems “off”. These systems include the engine, anti-lock brakes, and airbag systems. According to USA Today, GM knew of six deaths, […]

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cobalt TSB1
GM is recalling 778,000 units of the 2005 through 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 over an issue where the ignition cylinder inadvertently turns out of the “Run” position, there by turning the car’s main electrical systems “off”. These systems include the engine, anti-lock brakes, and airbag systems. According to USA Today, GM knew of six deaths, and twenty-two other wrecks related to the ignition failure, and was aware of the defect since 2004.

The recall was issued last week to replace the ignition cylinder on effected models, but the problem is, GM knew about this failure early in 2006 in a Technical Service Bulletin, or TSB for short. In fact, the Cobalt and G5 have had two more ignition related service bulletins in the last few years, which TTAC has obtained.

Upon examining the full text of the 2006 TSB #05-02-35-007A, which dismisses the issue as a mechanical fault almost immediately, TTAC learned that dealers are instructed to adjust customer’s habits before carrying out the apparent fix, which involves changing the shape of the key ring design on the factory key.

According to court documents sourced by USA Today, GM is being sued by the estate of Brooke Melton, who died on March 10, 2010 when her Cobalt lost electrical power and she lost control of the car. This happened despite Melton’s car being returned to her from the dealer after ignition switch repairs, according to the Melton estate’s lawyer, Lance Cooper.

Lance Cooper also added that Melton’s car was not equipped with the modified key GM used for the TSB #05-02-35-007A repair, despite having just left the dealership for ignition cylinder repair.

Full text of TSB#05-02-35-007A and a full understanding of TSBs below:

#05-02-35-007A : Information on Inadvertent Turning of Key Cylinder, Loss of Electrical System and No DTCs – (Oct 25, 2006)

Subject: Information on Inadvertent Turning of Key Cylinder, Loss of Electrical Systems and No DTCs [DTC stands for Diagnostic Trouble Codes]

Models:

  • 2005–2007 Chevrolet Cobalt
  • 2005–2007 Chevrolet HHR
  • 2005–2006 Pontiac Pursuit (Canada Only)
  • 2007 Pontiac G5
  • 2006–2007 Pontiac Solstice
  • 2003–2007 Saturn Ion
  • 2007 Saturn Sky

This bulletin is being revised to add a model year. Please discard Corporate Bulletin Number 05-02-35-007 (Section 02 — Steering).

There is potential for the driver to inadvertently turn off the ignition due to low ignition key torque/effort.

The concern is more likely to occur if the driver is short and has a large and/or heavy key chain. In these cases, this condition was documented and the driver’s knee would contact the key chain while the vehicle was turning and the steering column was adjusted all the way down. This is more likely to happen to a person who is short, as they will have the seat positioned closer to the the steering column.

In cases that fit this profile, question the customer thoroughly to determine if this may [be] the cause. The customer should be advised of this potential and should take steps to prevent it — such as removing unessential items from their key chain.

Engineering has come up with an insert for the key ring so that it goes from a “slot” design to a hole design. As a result, the key ring cannot move up and down in the slot any longer – it can only rotate on the hole. In addition, the previous key ring has been replaced with a smaller, 13 mm (0.5 in) design. This will result in the keys not hanging as low as in the past.

Part Number: 15842334
Description: Cover, Dr Lk & Ign Lk Key

This is one of many TSBs related to ignition problems with the Cobalt, among other GM models. Most of the issues were lesser related to the ignition cylinder itself, and more to do with the key being locked into the ignition cylinder when the shifter’s neutral safety switch failed, locking the key in.

But the first line in the TSB description states that there is a fault with the low amount of effort or torque needed to twist the key out of the “Run” position. The method advises by the TSB is to tell the driver to reduce the number of items on the key chain, and presumably adjust their driver position to avoid contact. It’s a fair mention, since having an excess amount of keys on a key chain can wear out the key and tumblers, which would mean it would be harder to ‘unlock’ the cylinder.

But in this case, it sounds more like the weight or size of the key chain can allow the key to back out of the “Run” position, thereby powering down all major driving systems. With the engine down, power steering is gone, and power brakes now only have a short reservoir of vacuum left — enough for one, maybe two pumps of the pedal. With the key out of the “Run” position, safety systems like the anti-lock brakes and airbags are no longer powered up.

In the worst circumstances, such as what was documented in the TSB, it’s easy to see how this would cause an accident. No matter who you are, or what kind of driver you suspect you are, the situation is very dangerous. Even with engine stalling issues for other vehicles, at least the anti-lock brakes and airbag system likely would be powered if there was an accident.

There’s different methods in which suggested repairs are sent to a customer, there are TSB’s (GM calls them Interstate Bulletins, specifically), and there are “Campaigns,” otherwise known as voluntary recalls. When a vehicle comes into a GM dealer, they check the General Motors Vehicle Information System, or GMVIS, for Campaigns.

Now, here’s the kicker, Techincal Service Bulletins are not displayed in the GMVIS report. TSBs are not required repairs. These are not recalls, and customers are not informed of TSBs, and they are only checked for by a service tech when there is a related repair. In this case, the customer would have to bring a car in with ignition problems for a tech to find the TSB.

This is standard practice for the industry, and it works this way for almost every manufacturer. But, whether or not something of this nature should have been left to a TSB and not a Campaign is another issue.

cobalt tsb key

Poorly Photoshopped representation of the suggested 2006 key fix.

The hard solution in 2006 was to change the shape of the key ring hole in the key, from a slot to a hole. This would give the key chain less leverage on the edge of the key, reducing the key chains ability to rotate the key in the cylinder. 

Below is a photo gallery of related TSBs with the initial problem description, along with the full description of the NHTSA Campaign issued last week.. The ignition interlock issues were repaired by diagnosing and repairing the shifter assembly. It is unknown at this time what ignition cylinder issue Melton had when she brought in her Cobalt for repair.

cobalt TSB 3 cobalt TSB 2 cobalt TSB1 2006 CHEVROLET COBALT   Safercar   National Highway Traffic Safety Administration  NHTSA  (1)

 

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Used Car Review: 2008 Pontiac Torrent http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/used-car-review-2008-pontiac-torrent/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/used-car-review-2008-pontiac-torrent/#comments Sun, 14 Jul 2013 13:00:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=494983 It doesn’t take graphs and analytics to tell you that the crossover utility market is red hot right now. The roads are absolutely jammed packed with them and as their popularity has been on the rise the fortunes of other once popular family vehicles like the minivan have been on the wane. To be honest, […]

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It doesn’t take graphs and analytics to tell you that the crossover utility market is red hot right now. The roads are absolutely jammed packed with them and as their popularity has been on the rise the fortunes of other once popular family vehicles like the minivan have been on the wane. To be honest, I am at something of a loss to really explain why that is. They are, in my opinion, an odd combination that offers none of the real benefits of a true four wheel drive SUV, none of the room or cargo capacity of a van, and virtually none of the economy or road handling of a small car. Why oh why, then, did I buy one?

My particular crossover utility is a 2008 Pontiac Torrent. Since the Pontiac brand was officially discontinued in 2010, my little trucklet is officially an orphan but thanks to the fact that it was constructed on General Motors’ Theta platform it lives in a world surrounded by half-brothers and half-sisters. Introduced in 2002, the theta platform underpins the Torrent as well as the Chevrolet Equinox and the Saturn Vue and the current Chevrolet Captiva, a version of the Vue that continues to be built for the rental market under the bow-tie brand, and the GMC Terrain among others. My car is powered by a 3400 V6 backed by an automatic transmission but GM also offered an Ecotech 4 and, so my research indicates, your choice of two different manual 5 speeds.

torrent fascia

Although GM has done a much better job of differentiating the three Thetas currently for sale in the US in the last few years, giving the GMC a more blocky look that is similar to the trucks they sell, the Chevrolet a slicker more modern “Malibuesque” look while the Captiva retains the rounded look that made the Saturn a popular and distinctive vehicle, such was not the case when my Equinox was sold back in 2008. In those days, only the Saturn Vue had its own look, the Equinox and the Torrent were differentiated only by their front fascias on the outside and, so far as I know, only by Pontiac’s signature red dash lights on the inside. In my opinion, the Torrent is the more attractive of the two as Chevrolet hung their center bar grill and an oversized bowtie on the Equinox while Pontiac reached back into their history and pulled out a twin hole grill ala the GTO Judge and stuck a small, brilliant red arrowhead between the twin snouts.

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Moving back past the fascias the two rigs are, as I have said, identical and are designed to look more like the “normal” body on frame SUVs that preceded them rather than the slicker more car like crossovers that have since evolved. My Torrent has a solid upright look to it, with blocky fenders and over sized wheel wells. A sloping c-pillar gives the design a little bit of forward motion and the back glass that slopes down to a fairly upright tailgate completes the truck like effect. On top, large diameter tubing set into rugged plastic mounts runs from just above the driver’s door to the back of the rig and two removable crossbars, now safely in the garage. allow me to utilize this space for cargo should I desire.

Inside the Torrent is built to a cost. The dash, and all the plastic parts for that matter, is made of cheap looking, hard black plastic. There are some obvious seams where the pieces fit together but I cannot go so far as to say that there are any gaps between the panels. In fact, they seem to fit together well, it is only the mating of two different angles that draws the eye to them. The seats in my Torrent are scratchy, utilitarian cloth rather than the nicer leather than would have come on a more well optioned vehicle and the carpets are just simple black carpets and mats that are standard fare in most vehicles today. Rubber flooring, I think, would have been a better choice.

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The instrument panel is big and has easy to read numbers which is good because I rely upon bifocals to see these days. The controls are all easy to use and intuitive, the climate controls with three easy to find knobs and the radio above with one large volume knob like the ones below it. It would be easy to get them confused at night but for the fact that they are fairly well separated. Between the speed and tachometers is a digital information system that shows the regular and trip odometers while you are driving but which will also occasionally alert you to vital information like low tire pressure, when an oil change is needed, low oil pressure or other engine vitals and even when the outside air temp gets low enough to create possibly icy conditions.

The CD player allows 6 discs to be loaded and the buttons on either side of the aforementioned volume knob do all the usual seek and scan duties. Changing between discs is difficult to do on the fly because the forward and backwards controls are included in the row of buttons right below the display that would in days gone by be used the pre-programmed radio stations. The fact that these buttons’ functions changed when different parts of the sound system were brought into play escaped me for a while, but now that I have had the vehicle in regular use it has become more natural. The radio also features an equalizer function that requires accessing a menu something that, like added or removing CDs, is best done while stopped. There are always ways to hook in your i-pod which I might know about if I wasn’t a cave man.

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The wheel is leather wrapped and feels good in my hands but it is connected to a steering gear that I think is a little on the twitchy side. Perhaps it is my increasing age but I prefer just a little more play in my steering, this thing is instantaneous and the slightest input will point you in a new direction. The brakes are good. The car has about 38,000 miles on it now and I have recently replaced the pads on all four wheels. The front were definitely needed but the backs could have gone a while yet. I did tires when we got it 3 years and around 16K miles ago and they are wearing a little more than I expected, especially on the front. But given the fact that my AWD trucklet is closer to a front wheel driver than a rear wheel driver I suppose I should have expected that. The trick, I think, is to keep the tires rotated and everything will be fine.

Performance wise I have been disappointed; the Torrent seems under powered to me. The 3400 V6 demands to be revved in order to make any power and any sudden acceleration results in the transmission downshifting in order to force the engine high in to the rev range. I have never abused my cars and I am reluctant to put my foot down and force an engine to work hard, but the Torrent, it seems to me, likes to be wound up tight all the time. In a hot little turbo car I would not have an issue, but in something that at least otherwise looks like a truck I find it disconcerting. In varied city/highway driving it is returning about 18 miles to the gallon, not as good as I thought it might when I purchased it but not horrible either.

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Paint is another area where I am suffering some mild disappointment. There are two small areas, neither where one would expect to find any real rock damage, where the clear coat has flaked away. This is a vehicle I drive year round so it is exposed to salt, but it is generally taken to a car wash several times during the winter and then gone over carefully by yours truly in the spring. My own detailing includes a thorough underspray with the garden hose, a wash and a wax with Meguiars Gold Class. I wax the vehicle at least one more time during the summer and again in the fall before winter comes. I have, at this point, touched up the edges of the flaking clear coat and the peeling has stopped, but I am unhappy as these two areas, each about a 50 cent piece in diameter, are the only blemishes on the car’s otherwise attractive black paint.

The only mechanical issue I have to report after three years of ownership was an issue with the coil packs. Last summer it began acting up on the highway, stuttering and not accelerating like it should. A simple Google search pointed me in the right directions and a trip to the local dealer, now a Buick shop, had the entire thing resolved in just the amount of time it took me to walk a block to the nearest McDonald’s, eat my breakfast and get angry at the Fox N Friends Morning Show they had on the TV there. Because GM was aware of the issue and tweaked their warranty to cover the parts and service, this little problem was handled on their dime and without too much hassle. Props to GM and our local Buick dealer, they did a good job.

I purchased the Torrent in the autumn of 2010 shortly after I arrived in Buffalo and it was intended to be primarily my wife’s car. Although I was originally looking for a minivan a chance stop at the dealer closest to my house turned up this Torrent, recently traded and adult owned with just 18K miles on the clock. At the time I paid about $16K which seemed like a fair deal and I have since seen others selling for similar money despite not appearing to be as nice. Currently Thetas can be found in virtually all price ranges and in all states of condition but I would realistically guestimate that mine is worth somewhere in the $10K to $12K range as it sits now.

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Ultimately my family’s situation has changed since we purchased the Torrent. My third child, now 18 months old, necessitated the purchase of a van and I began using the Torrent as my daily driver. In the last 18 months it has served me well on my modest commute, sits on a fairly busy thoroughfare while I earn my daily bread and out in the driveway exposed to the elements the rest of the time. It works reasonably well in this role, still looks great and still performs decently.

The rub is that I do not think I would buy this vehicle again knowing what I know now. Although my third child forced us to buy a minivan the truth is that we would have been better off buying one in the first place. Ingress and egress with a four door is a pain in the butt, especially when you have strollers and car seats involved. The back seats are close enough to the front seats that, with my car seat ensconced little-ones in the back, I get a never ending series of kicks to the seatback which causes me a rough ride and lots of dirty little foot prints that demand cleaning. It is not a great family vehicle for little kids and its limited space feels quite similar to the VW Golf TDI I used to own. At least in the Golf, while it ran, I was rewarded by its fuel sipping frugality, but here I am getting econobox space without any of the benefits. That bothers me.

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Should you buy one? That depends, I suppose. The Torrent, I think, is a decent bargain priced entry into the midsized crossover market. If you must have a crossover, are sans children and have a commute that requires some AWD capability, and I have to confess that the Torrent has been fantastic in the Buffalo winters it has endured, making the commute on its normal, all weather tires without so much as a slip or a slide, then why the heck not? If you have a burgeoning family, need something that gets great mileage or are looking for a place that you can comfortably grind out a long commute, then I would advise against it. That then, is The Truth About Cars from this author’s perspective.

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Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Review: 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/04/review-200-pontiac-g8-gxp/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/04/review-200-pontiac-g8-gxp/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2009 17:34:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=312423

This site is not generally known as a fan of GM’s cars. And yet TTAC has lavished much love upon Pontiac's thunder from down under: the G8 GT. The general line: if the 361-horsepower V8 version is magic, the 415-horsepower GXP should be an automotive miracle. Especially as the GXP offers the option of a manual gearbox. So, did Pontiac save its best car ever for last?

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This site is not generally known as a fan of GM’s cars. And yet TTAC has lavished much love upon Pontiac’s thunder from down under: the G8 GT. The general line: if the 361-horsepower V8 version is magic, the 415-horsepower GXP should be an automotive miracle. Especially as the GXP offers the option of a manual gearbox. So, did Pontiac save its best car ever for last?

The Pontiac G8 GXP includes model-specific 19-inch wheels and a more aggressive front fascia. If you were expecting something more distinctive, you’re SOL. Just like the G8 GT most people will mistake it for, the GXP is a tasteful (aside from the hood scoops) homage to BMW’s E46 M3—that lacks the visual punch of Chrysler’s large SRT sedans. For all the talk that tastefully reserved pre-Bangle BMWs were da bomb, the Pontiac G8 proves that subtle styling doesn’t attract buyers to a new model.

The G8 GXP’s roomy (this is a LARGE sedan) cabin is virtually identical to that of other G8s. It’s dark and functional (i.e., dreadfully austere). Another homage to the way BMWs used to be? Like those traditional Bimmer interiors, the G8’s cabin says “only serious drivers need apply.” Well, there’s one exception: the seats. They’re comfortable, but as in other G8s the side bolsters could be more aggressive.

The 361-horsepower G8 GT doesn’t feel as quick as the specs suggest. Blame an overly muffled exhaust and an insufficiently responsive automatic transmission. The GXP provides solutions: another 54 horsepower, a louder (thankfully only when you push it) exhaust system and the option of a six-speed manual transmission. Of the three, the extra horses are probably least necessary, and probably aren’t worth the toll they take on fuel economy.

[Quick aside: the G8 GXP's EPA ratings fall from 15/24 to 13/20, incurring a $1,700 gas guzzler tax. The problem isn’t so much the extra displacement as the elimination of cylinder deactivation. Not a good call with the automatic, but probably unavoidable with the manual. To further maximize the EPA ratings (how bad would they have been otherwise?), the manual shifter skips from first to fourth in relaxed driving. Diehard pistonheads may complain; in practice, it's not an issue. If you’re not pushing the car, the engine has more than enough low-end torque to motivate the G9 GXP even in fourth gear. If you are pushing the car, the shifter won’t skip second and third.]

The Pontiac G8 GXP’s medium-throw shifter and low-effort clutch don’t annoy in traffic or frustrate in hard driving. You won’t mistake them for those in a Miata or S2000, but they’re far better than those in the Pontiac GTO and first-gen CTS-V. Again, pair a manual cog-swapper with the G8 GXP’s appropriately throaty 415-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 and you’ve got a large sedan that not only is quick, but feels quick. Need to scrub some speed? Big GXP-only Brembos make the task easy.

Get on the gas in a turn, and oversteer happens. No surprise, given the pounds-feet in play. And yet the G8 GXP won’t be coming soon to a ditch near you. Especially with the direct linkage provided by the manual transmission, the G8 GXP oversteers in such a predictable linear fashion that right-foot steering is the default option.

Push too hard despite clear feedback through the seat of your pants? A touch of countersteer restores your intended line. (The standard stability control doesn’t kill the fun until it stops being fun.) Though the steering isn’t quite as communicative as the chassis, the G8 GXP’s handling could hardly be more intuitive. Step up the tempo, and the G8 shrinks around you. It feels much more tossable than a 196-inch-long, two-ton sedan has any right to. Even some of the world’s thickest A-pillars barely dent driver confidence. Simply put: you won’t find a large sedan that’s more fun to drive.

The GXP’s suspension tuning is just a scosh firmer than the GT’s. Those seeking a hardcore feel might be disappointed. Those seeking a livable ride won’t.

And so, while the G8 GXP could make a stronger styling statement, it’s the best all-around driver’s car the brand has ever offered. Still, there are two big problems. First, the G8 GT is nearly as much fun to drive, while getting substantially better gas mileage and costing over $6K less. Clutch-avoiders should buy the GT, then spend a fraction of the savings on a sweet-sounding aftermarket exhaust.

But if you want a large sedan with a manual transmission, then the G8 GXP is not only the best game in town, it’s the only game in town. Which brings us to the second big problem: this game is leaving town. With the Pontiac brand headed for the dustbin, all G8s will soon be gone. Get one while you can.

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2008 Pontiac G8 GT Take Two http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/09/2008-pontiac-g8-gt-take-two/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/09/2008-pontiac-g8-gt-take-two/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2008 07:11:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=76022

When it comes to cars from General Motors, I’m always prepared for disappointment. No matter how promising the new vehicle is (Corvette!), GM finds a way to let me down (Corvette seats!) Take the Pontiac Solstice GXP. Flat gorgeous. More important, that sweet turbocharged engine with its (relatively) massive power and torque. Hell yeah, right? But the shift linkage is made from hamster bedding. The interior was designed for Gitmo inmates. And the brakes -- when pushed -- stink. I mention this because I was wholly ready to be let down by the new Pontiac G8 GT.

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When it comes to cars from General Motors, I’m always prepared for disappointment. No matter how promising the new vehicle is (Corvette!), GM finds a way to let me down (Corvette seats!) Take the Pontiac Solstice GXP. Flat gorgeous. More important, that sweet turbocharged engine with its (relatively) massive power and torque. Hell yeah, right? But the shift linkage is made from hamster bedding. The interior was designed for Gitmo inmates. And the brakes — when pushed — stink. I mention this because I was wholly ready to be let down by the new Pontiac G8 GT.

The French have seven types of love. Eskimos have 40 words for snow. Jews have 78 ways to call you the village idiot. As such, pistonheads need a few ways to explain “ugly.” There’s Deformed Mutant Awful Ugly (Aztek, BMW 1-Series, anything made in Malaysia), Dull Ugly (Toyota, BMW 3-Series), Bizarre, Avant-Gross Ugly (BMW 6-series, modern French cars) and Exciting Ugly (BMW X6, Nissan GT-R). The Pontiac G8’s face is without question Exciting Ugly. Whereas the side and rear views are just kinda an homage to Acura.

Inside, I love every inch. I love the font they chose for the gauges. I love the bolt-action clack-clack-clack-clack when the doors lock. I love the rubber bellows coverings on the column stalks. Hell, I love the column stalks. And after 100-years the General finally gives us world-class seats. Sure, the glove box isn’t made from the same top shelf petrochemicals as the rest of the G8′s dash, but do you really care? Really?

As nice as the G8’s innards are, that’s all just bunting. I’m here to crow about how damn well this Pontiac drives. Every review of the G8 has mentioned that the wunda from down unda is nearly identical to the BMW 5-series. Why be different? But here’s the thing — the Pontiac’s better. BMW has scientifically bested themselves out of the ultimate driving machine game with drowsy steering and rock hard run flats that necessitate softer springs. Meanwhile, the G8 is old-school and coarse enough to provide actual feedback. Which makes it not only a hoot and a holler, but easy to hoon.

The secret sauce is the G8’s completely neutral and compliant chassis. There’s no predilection towards under or oversteer. Thrown hard into a corner, the big boy’s content to just gently break grip before calmly (and quickly) regaining purchase. Kick the fun-pedal and the Pontiac simply heads off in whatever direction you’re pointing. While losing traction (for a moment) sounds frightening, in reality, it’s confidence inspiring. Meaning the G8′s predictable; the most you can ask for in a performance car.

Two little qualifications, if I may. First, my test car showed up with 18″ all-season tires. As Southern California doesn’t have seasons, slathering some larger wheels with USDA Choice meats would’ve provided more stick ‘em. The other caveat is when I say the G8 breaks grip, it only does so with the traction control disabled and the driver punching the snot out of it. Which I certainly did. In fact, let me paint you a picture.

My buddy’s been babysitting a replica 1973 Porsche RS 2.7. The Porsche’s owner finally demanded the RS back. So we set out over Mulholland Drive to return it. In case you’ve never been, it’s a fall-off-a-cliff curvy road. I was behind him in the G8 and the Porsche never got more than two car lengths ahead of me. How is a four-door, two-ton American sedan able to keep up with a race-ready, 2,000-pounds lighter German sports car? Because the G8 GT’s handling is totally awesome, dude.

Then there’s that hunk of an engine.

Under the Pontiac’s blistered hood resides a 6.0-liter V8 that’s good for 361 horses and 385 sweet lb-ft of torque. That works out to a 0 – 60 time of 5.3 seconds, even with the less-than-stellar six-speed slush-a-roo. But drag racing’s not this car’s prime directive. The G8 with the V8 is all about confidence. That weaving van? Of course you can get in front of it. Just dip your foot, prepare your ears for a snarling sonic treat and go! Easy like Sunday morning. And thanks to the torqued-out simplicity of pushrods, with the cruise control set at 80 mph, I was getting 27 mpg.

I suppose there are a few G8-related bugaboos you could fret over. That muscular motor makes triple-digit speeds far too easy. I constantly found myself over 95 mph when I wasn’t even in the mood. Conversely, without explaining that you’re actually driving a thuggish, high performance antipodean sports sedan, everyone will assume you spent $32k on a rental car. And you can’t have three pedals. But even with only two, the G8 GT is the best American car I’ve ever driven. Color me smitten.

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2008 Pontiac G8 V6 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/05/2008-pontiac-g8-v6/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/05/2008-pontiac-g8-v6/#comments Fri, 09 May 2008 11:15:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008-pontiac-g8-v6/ x08pn_g8026.jpgLet’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?

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x08pn_g8026.jpgLet’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.

x08pn_g8020.jpgUnfortunately, 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?

x08pn_g8024.jpgThe 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.

x08pn_g8027_01.jpgFuel 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.

chicagopontiacg801.jpgThis 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.

2007gmcarcadiav6engine01fixedsmall.jpgOnly it doesn’t. For two decades, GM has been finding ways to make DOHC engines sound and feel absolutely ordinary– or worse. This Zeta iteration of GM’s DOHC 3.6 continues this oft-tragic tradition.

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.

x08pn_g8023.jpgThere’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.

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2008 Pontiac G8 GT Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/04/2008-pontiac-g8-gt-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/04/2008-pontiac-g8-gt-review/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2008 09:40:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008-pontiac-g8-gt-review/ x08pn_g8022.jpg

The first time GM attempted to create a BMW 3-Series fighter, we got the Cadillac Cimarron. After 27 years of trying again (and again and again) to take on the rear-wheel drive driver's car, we've got a rebadged Australian import that goes by the name Pontiac G8. No question: the G8 is a far better automobile than the Cimarron (what modern car isn't?). But it's still no 3-Series. Frankly, it's not clear what it is.

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The first time GM attempted to create a BMW 3-Series fighter, we got the Cadillac Cimarron. After 27 years of trying again (and again and again) to take on the rear-wheel drive driver's car, we've got a rebadged Australian import that goes by the name Pontiac G8. No question: the G8 is a far better automobile than the Cimarron (what modern car isn't?). But it's still no 3-Series. Frankly, it's not clear what it is.

The G8's bodysides couldn't be more purely E46 if they'd been penned in China. Sure, some hood fauxpenings were added at the eleventh hour to provide Pontiac "character." But look at this car a thousand times, and it still won't look like a Pontiac. The sides are too clean, the proportions too slender for Detroit iron. (Or post-Bangle BMW, for that matter.) And as with Chinese knock-offs, such a close copy can't hope to have its own identity.

x08pn_g8020.jpgMany enthusiasts pine for the days when BMW interiors were designed for driving, with solid if unflashy materials, minimalist lines and no gadgetry. Welcome to the cabin of the G8. Someone Down Under appears to have made it their personal mission to squeeze all of the power window, power lock and power mirror controls into a single compact module located on the center console. (As seen previously in the GTO, there's ergonomics, and then there's Aussie ergonomics.) As a result, the front door panels are button-free; you can't get cleaner than that.

x08pn_g8017.jpgOne thing GM didn't copy: the dimensions of an E46. People who've seen the G8 only in photos often think it's the size of a 3-Series, or perhaps a 5-Series. In fact, the G8 falls closest to the regular wheelbase 7. For GM, bigger has always equaled better. What better way to improve on the 3-Series than to add 20 inches of length and a half-foot of width?

Of course, for buyers seeking a roomy sedan the space will be welcome. The comfortably high rear seat cushion can easily transport three adults, and the trunk can swallow everyone's luggage. The entire rear seat does not fold, but the center pass-through provides a larger opening than some folding seats.

When behind the wheel, a relatively high seating position and a driver-oriented design helps the largest Pontiac feel smaller than it is. It doesn't feel like a 3, but it doesn't feel like a Dodge Charger, either. A 5 perhaps. Even some of the world's thickest A-pillars (no room in the budget for high-strength steel?) don't ruin the pistonhead party.

x08pn_g8019.jpgThe G8 GT's rear-drive chassis feels nearly as balanced as a BMW's. The rear end can be smoothly throttle-steered through turns–without the standard stability control killing the joy. There's more kickback through the steering than desirable road feel, but at least there's road feel– something that can be said of fewer and fewer cars in the post-Lexus age. Body control is tight and precise, with very little in the way of ungainly slop.

With such a firm standard suspension, ride comfort isn't a G8 strength, even with the 18-inch tires (even less compliant nineteens are optional). Think 3, with the Sport Package. Hardcore enthusiasts won't mind feeling every bump. But the rest of the driving population? Sell this one to Avis, and renters will complain. Apparently GM has (finally) bought its own hype, and created a Pontiac suitable only for enthusiasts.

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If there's anything American about the G8, it's the GT's 361-horsepower 6.0-liter V8. Except this one is more refined than the typical American pushrod V8. This refinement cuts both ways. You won't mistake the L76 for a high-winding DOHC unit, but it doesn't seem out of place in such an otherwise European car. The downside? While the G8 GT is undeniably quick when you plant your right foot, you have to rely on the rapidly rotating needle for this info. It would feel quicker with a more visceral powerplant.

If only the six-speed automatic was a willing partner; it often resists downshifting. The best slushboxes smoothly select the optimal ratio before the driver is aware that he's called for a new gear. This isn't one of those cog swappers.

Aside from making a car larger, GM can also be counted on to make it cheaper. In this case, you get a 7-sized 5-handling 3-looking 361-horsepower sedan for the price of a 1, and a 128i at that.

x08pn_g8023.jpgWhile not clearly a Pontiac, the G8 is clearly a bargain for anyone who's been seeking a super-sized, pushrod-powered, two-ton 3-Series. Unless the 15/24 on the window sticker scares even this crowd, GM will sell all it cares to lose money on. (The Australian dollar near parity with the greenback? Gotta hurt.) With a clearer identity, less spartan interior and more compliant suspension, there'd be less need to rely– in traditional GM fashion–on a low price.

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2008 Pontiac G6 GT Hardtop Covertible vs. 2008 Chrysler Sebring Limited Hardtop Convertible http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/03/2008-pontiac-g6-gt-hardtop-covertible-vs-chrysler-sebring-limited-hardtop-convertible/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/03/2008-pontiac-g6-gt-hardtop-covertible-vs-chrysler-sebring-limited-hardtop-convertible/#comments Mon, 17 Mar 2008 15:00:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/reviews/2008-pontiac-g6-gt-hardtop-covertible-vs-chrysler-sebring-limited-hardtop-convertible/ x08pn_g6007.jpgSpring: the season of love, flowers and convertibles. As warmer weather approaches, car dealers put away the 4x4 SUV’s and pull the drop-tops from the back of the lots in the hopes of snagging passersby wanting a vehicle to celebrate the (global?) warming weather. Pontiac tempts buyers with the G6 GT Hardtop Convertible while Chrysler lures in the public with the newly-introduced Sebring Limited Hardtop Convertible. As the only American-branded hardtop convertibles, which one truly deserves your hard-earned income? Or should both be tossed into the bonfire of the vanities?

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x08pn_g6007.jpgSpring: the season of love, flowers and convertibles. As warmer weather approaches, car dealers put away the 4×4 SUV’s and pull the drop-tops from the back of the lots in the hopes of snagging passersby wanting a vehicle to celebrate the (global?) warming weather. Pontiac tempts buyers with the G6 GT Hardtop Convertible while Chrysler lures in the public with the newly-introduced Sebring Limited Hardtop Convertible. As the only American-branded four-passenger hardtop convertibles, which one truly deserves your hard-earned income? Or should both be tossed into the bonfire of the vanities?

The Pontiac instantly seduces you with a restrained and handsome profile– terminating in a rear end stolen from the Toyota Solara. In midnight black, the gargantuan panel gaps disappear to present a nicely- integrated whole, set off by similarly restrained 18 inch wheels. The G6 looks like a svelte coupe with the top up, and a boulevard cruiser with it down. Dalmatians of the world rejoice! GM left the Cruella De Vil grill intakes from the G6 GXP off the convertible.

ch008_032se.jpgWhile the Pontiac might pass as a little black dress, the Chrysler looks like a prom gown from the 1980’s, complete with poofed sleeves. Design cues from around the world are presented in a discombobulated package, attempting to look refined. The American hood strakes and chrome grill start the mess, European crease lines and rub strips make up the middle, and last decade’s Japanese tail lamps wrap up the rear.

The Sebring looks best when topless. Yet no one would ever call the Sebring handsome. The omnipresent rental-car beige (Chrysler offers three shades) and black paint subdue the “we will try anything and everything” style to almost inoffensive levels. Almost.

The excitement the Pontiac presents outside only makes your jaw drop harder when gazing upon the acres and acres of cheap black plastic slathered throughout the interior. The G6’s interior is like that popular girl in high school who shows up at the reunion ten years later, a complete throwback to the past with a lot more jiggly bits and a reminder that some things from previous decades should be consigned to the scrap heap of history.

0501_4452006_pontiac_g6_coupe_and_convertibleinterior_view_steering_wheel.jpgNot only do the plastics disappoint, Pontiac also completely screwed up the ergonomics. Want to change tracks on the CD player? You reach for the skip button only to accidentally increase the volume, and then cut your finger on the sharp-edged chrome trim around the knob. Tiny buttons abound, from the stereo to the cruise control to the convertible top switch. All are cheap and insubstantial feeling. The only relief from the oppressive blackness of the instrument panel: the chrome rings tossed around the cabin in sufficient quantity to leave you with suspicions of Ringling Brothers Circus sponsorship.

Chrysler barely edges out the Pontiac in the better-looking cheap plastics contest. Avoiding Pontiac’s “black hole of despair” theme, Chrysler offers a pleasant palette for a light airy feel. Yes, but– the polymers are harder to the touch than Barack Obama’s rhetoric; shiny in some places, dull in others. The Sebring’s tortoiseshell veneers are a laudable attempt to do something different, but the execution makes it look as if sunglasses melted on the dashboard.

ch008_067se.jpgAt least Chrysler spent more than ten minutes working out the ergonomic details. The LCD stereo display is aesthetically pleasing and ergonomically sound, especially when accessing the MyGig system. The upmarket-looking climate control dials click reassuringly; another bright spot on a barely passing grade. The seats on the Chrysler are as springy as Grandma’s couch, a completely opposite feel to the Pontiac’s grippy and more comfortable Recaro-esque buckets.

Both manufacturers claim to provide luxury for four, but first class on a Greyhound bus is still first class on a Greyhound bus. Both cars claim top operation only takes 30 seconds. Pontiac guessed right, Chrysler got it wrong by a lot.

x07ar_pn003.jpgThe Pontiac’s top lurches into the trunk (and takes up ALL the space) with a bit of hesitation while providing a “will this work in three years?” origami display of engineering. The Chrysler takes nearly 45 seconds of whining. When the trunk lid pops to swallow the top, the entire car shakes like a pole dancer, wobbles a bit and then clunks alarmingly when sealing shut. I wouldn’t keep the Sebring past the standard warranty period based solely on the scary top operation.

At least you still get some accessible storage when the Chrysler goes topless (enough for two golf bags).  You might be able to store a pizza in the Pontiac’s 2.2 cubic feet, but you have to raise the top to get to it.

ch008_009se.jpgOnce the finicky tops are lowered, you’re all set to blast down Highway 190 into the sunset-drenched Sierra Nevadas and let your cares blow away in the wind… or not.

The Pontiac G6 GT Convertible wouldn’t know the word “blast” if it was shot in the face by a Howitzer. With either the standard 3.5-liter VVT pushrod V6 (217bhp), or the 3.9-liter 222bhp V6 (again with ancient pushrods), forward progress requires that you squeeze the throttle about three inches until you meet some resistance. At which point the engine pops a Valium, gives you a dirty look and groans up the rpm band.

The older-than-Bob-Lutz engine designs might actually have shown some pep were they not coupled to an incredibly lousy four-speed automatic transmission. The tranny either bogs the engine down or kicks down into noise-making gear. Neither situation is conducive to either sporty or relaxing driving. You are always trying to out guess the slushbox.

x08pn_g6008.jpgSlip the lever into “manual” mode and it gets even worse. The experience proves irritating to the point where you want to rip the gear lever out of its cheap plastic housing and proceed to beat the rest of the car with it (which I wouldn’t advise, considering the poor build quality). GM offers a good six-speed automatic on other G6’s, so why not here?

After the G6, the drive train in the Chrysler Sebring Limited Hardtop Convertible seems like a breath of fresh air. The Sebring’s 3.5-liter SOHC V6 (with a G6-bettering 235bhp) is equipped with a six-speed automatic as standard. The engine and transmission work together smoothly to launch the Sebring quickly and semi-serenely. The tranny always keeps the power band on the boil while never letting it get raucous. It’s perfect for a cruiser convertible.

ch008_035se.jpgThe downside: a non-existent exhaust note. In place of a V6 growl, you get to hear a bit of cooling fan roar and the fuel pump. As interesting as I find it to listen to an electric motor whir its little heart out, it’s not nearly as blissful as the mechanical symphony found on most drop-tops.

After putting in your earplugs to silence both the G6’s heavy metal and the Sebring’s electronic disco, you find both cars want to sit on the side of the dance floor and pretend they know the proper steps. The Sebring offends the least with a stable and smooth-riding platform that provides rental-car-friendly safe handling. Understeer only becomes annoying should you want to go faster than the legal speed limit. The standard stabilizer bars front and rear keep the body roll to less-than-yacht-like conditions and the standard suspension dampers keep the vertical bouncy motions to a minimum.

Drive it like you retired in it, and the Sebring manages to create a sedate and somewhat relaxing experience; it demands nothing from the driver who has all the time in the world. Top down or up, body quiver is never an issue, although small wiggles find their way through the rack-and-pinion steering. One weird gripe: at cruising speed, the wind buffets the sun visors, creating a boring gray flutter in your line of vision. Epileptics should not purchase this vehicle.

x08pn_g6010.jpgAt the first turn of the G6’s wheel, you might as well stop turning. Typical of all G6’s, understeer reigns with a tyrannical vengeance. Vague steering and precious little feedback degrade the experience to the point where the G6 GT becomes almost dangerous to drive in any conditions other than a straight line. The harder you press the car (provided you could stand the transmission), the less fun it provides. When the 18-inch tires finally start to grip, the chassis slides slightly in its bushings, creating a strange plywood-on-springs sensation.

Keeping the G6 on the straight and level reveals the Pontiac engineers were listening to Chubby Checker belt out “The Twist.” A 1986 SAAB 900 convertible has less cowl shake. On the rough Oklahoma interstates, the Pontiac shook so badly I started to get motion sickness– and I fly for a living! I could only listen to the top secured in the trunk crack in protest. I give the standard glass rear window about two-and-a-half years before it needs replacing.

ch008_040se.jpgDriving both cars back-to-back reveals one clear “winner:” the Chrysler Sebring Limited. It may have awkward aesthetics, but its decent drivetrain and nicer interior make the Pontiac G6 GT look like the classic dumb blond: all looks with absolutely no substance to back it up. If offered a Sebring drop top as a rental car, I wouldn’t turn it down. 

I know: that’s not exactly what you’d call high praise. Compared to the competition– ANY competition– both cars are losers. If it was my hard-earned $30Kish, I’d spend it on a Mustang GT Convertible, VW EOS, SAAB 9-3, Mazda MX-5 or ANYTHING else. Hell, I might even spend it on nothing. And the fact that the G6 and Sebring’s manufacturers have put these underdeveloped cars on the market brings glory to neither.

G6 Ratings

Sebring Ratings  

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2008 Pontiac G5 Coupe Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/02/2008-pontiac-g5-coupe-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/02/2008-pontiac-g5-coupe-review/#comments Wed, 06 Feb 2008 11:53:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/reviews/2008-pontiac-g5-coupe-review/ x07pn_g50052.jpgThe 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.” 

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x07pn_g50052.jpgThe 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.

x07pn_g5009.jpgStep 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.

x07pn_g5008.jpgI 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.

x07pn_g5006.jpgHandling 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.

x07pn_g5010.jpgHow 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] 

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Pontiac Grand Prix Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/09/pontiac-grand-prix-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/09/pontiac-grand-prix-review/#comments Mon, 17 Sep 2007 14:53:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=5343 pontiacgp-2b.JPGI sometimes get sentimental for the Good Old Days, a bygone era when gas was cheap (and the good stuff was called Ethyl), back seats were the ticket to romance, and tailfins were a mark of distinction, rather than bad taste. Back in the day, the coolest metal was Detroit born-and-bred, bearing real nameplates that paid homage to fast animals and faraway places and auto races, not to alphanumeric jumbles inspired by IRS tax forms. It was during one of these recent waves of nostalgia that I found myself looking forward to spending some quality time flogging one of America’s last remaining full-size touring sedans, the Grand Prix. That is, until I drove one.

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pontiacgp-2b.JPGI sometimes get sentimental for the Good Old Days, a bygone era when gas was cheap (and the good stuff was called Ethyl), back seats were the ticket to romance, and tailfins were a mark of distinction, rather than bad taste. Back in the day, the coolest metal was Detroit born-and-bred, bearing real nameplates that paid homage to fast animals and faraway places and auto races, not to alphanumeric jumbles inspired by IRS tax forms. It was during one of these recent waves of nostalgia that I found myself looking forward to spending some quality time flogging one of America’s last remaining full-size touring sedans, the Grand Prix. That is, until I drove one.

True to its legacy as a highway cruiser, the Grand Prix is, well, big. At 198 inches, the grand dame consumes as much curb space as a 7-series BMW. Unlike its original 1962 namesake, the current Pontiac looks uninteresting and ill-proportioned. The blandly inoffensive profile is disrupted by a garish boy-racer front air dam and a bulbous, excessively ridged tail that has all the charm of a plumber’s hindquarters. It’s quite sporty looking– assuming you limit your choices of sport to roller derby and championship wrestling. 

x07pn_gp005.jpgEnter this lame-duck’s cabin and welcome to another GM-sponsored edition of "Bad Designers Gone Wild." The Grand Prix' dashboard is an unfortunate mishmash of odd angles and mismatched plastics, paired with conspicuously cheap aluminum trim that missed the turn for the soda can factory. The buttons are lower rent than an apartment overlooking Chicago's L and as awkward to manipulate on the fly as a Psion organizer (from the same era).

The large-print gauges are intrusive pie plates more suited to geriatric reading rooms than an inspired driver’s car. The steering wheel continues the size trumps all theme. The mass transit-sized interface obviates the possibility of serious switchbacks shenanigans– if only because the metal cladding is ideally located to cut into any sporting driver trained to place his or her hands at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions.  

The Grand Prix’s cloth buckets are adequate for extended cruising. However, they lack lumbar and side support; I never managed to maneuver the six-way power adjustments to a position that was anything better than rental car compliant. But interior space is abundant, and the spacious trunk will please even the most ambitious of Costco shoppers.

pontiacgp-15c.jpgAlthough most reviewers test the livelier 5.3-liter V8 or supercharged 3.8-liter editions of this car, “my” Grand Prix lumbered along with Ye Olde “3800” V6. It’s the naturally-aspirated, transverse-mounted 200hp pushrod found in most Grand Prix that trudge along US highways. It’s a powerplant in name only: mechanical motivation perfectly designed to discourage any accelerative aspirations.  

Fire it up, and the 3800’s familiar whirr settles into an engine note that oozes all the sonic sensuality (and none of the precision) of a Cuisinart. Mated to a drive-by-wire throttle and four-speed automatic, the not-so-mighty mill pushes the Pontiac to 60mph in a bit over eight seconds. For those aspiring to gaze deeply into the taillights of Toyota Avalons, it’s the stuff of which dreams are made.

pontiacgp-2c-newplate.jpgThe Grand Prix' anemic engine renders it as far from autobahn material as a dirt bike. But at a more languid pace, the Grand Prix proceeds without trial or tribulation. The Pontiac stalwarts’ 110” wheelbase and independent suspension deliver a gentle ride without the excessive floaty boatiness typical of most old-school GM automobiles. Toss some good old fashioned American expansion joints and potholes its way, and neither driver nor passengers will be any worse for wear. 

In keeping with tradition, the Grand Prix’ over-boosted steering is as vague and disconnected as a stoned surfer, offering that Novocain numbness that makes Detroit front-drivers the last choice for anyone who enjoys driving. Just as long as you don’t harbor any pistonhead passion whatsoever, you and Grand Prix may get along just fine.

pontiacgp-6b-newplate.jpgThe Grand Prix may share the name and most of the length of its throaty four-barreled ancestor, but it fails miserably to deliver on its promise of sports sedanitude.  This Pontiac is ultimately a charm-free appliance– one that inspires little confidence. With barely 500 miles on the clock, my tester was already beginning to creak and groan. Owners should not be surprised if their enjoyment of the Lunesta-like driving dynamics is interrupted by an untimely visit or two with Mr. Goodwrench.

This party will be ending soon. Next year, Pontiac will put the Grand Prix out to the pasture that’s been waiting for it for a very long time. All hail “world cars” and automotive alphanumerics! Pontiac dealers will soon begin peddling the G8, a rear-driver based upon the world-famous-in-Australia Holden Commodore that will sport (one hopes) a 3.6-liter 261hp DOHC V6 and a five-speed autobox.

Meanwhile, on the cusp of this glorious transition, you can pick up a brand new, fully-loaded Pontiac Grand Prix for a song.  Don’t.

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Pontiac Vibe Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/08/pontiac-vibe-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/08/pontiac-vibe-review/#comments Wed, 22 Aug 2007 19:47:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=4887 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.

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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.

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Pontiac Solstice GXP Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/03/pontiac-solstice-gxp/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/03/pontiac-solstice-gxp/#comments Thu, 01 Mar 2007 11:37:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=3243 x07pn_st001.jpgI once drove off the road, screaming, at 80mph. Why? I was in love. When love turns blind, men do irrational things. As far as healthy, loving relationships go, the one presaging my off-highway excursion was a malignant tumor wrapped in an iron lung. I imagine that owning a Pontiac Solstice GXP is a similar affair. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury; the prosecution calls her a “femme fatale on wheels.” I ask you: how could something this beautiful be so damn dangerous?

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x07pn_st001.jpgI once drove off the road, screaming, at 80mph. Why? I was in love. When love turns blind, men do irrational things. As far as healthy, loving relationships go, the one presaging my off-highway excursion was a malignant tumor wrapped in an iron lung. I imagine that owning a Pontiac Solstice GXP is a similar affair. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury; the prosecution calls her a “femme fatale on wheels.” I ask you: how could something this beautiful be so damn dangerous?

The Solstice GXP is the first modern car I’ve ever felt like licking. More hygienically, the petite Pontiac is a slam dunk that shatters the backboard of gorgeous. I could describe the velvety sexiness of each angle. The perfectly judged headlight cluster. The long, European nose and properly sculpted flanks. The classic five spoke alloys. Suffice it to say, look at the pictures. Well, OK; here’s one:

x07pn_st003.jpgGreat looking rear ends have eluded car designers for decades. The Solstice gets it right. Park the Pontiac's derriere next to a TT Convertible and Ingolstadt's droptop looks like a Bug in a soiled diaper.

Entering the excitement division's roadster, I wasn’t entirely disheartened by the usual litany of sub-third world interior parts. In fact, I only counted one hard plastic edge capable of slicing open flesh (ideally positioned right near the door handle). And how could a gainfully employed designer place cup holders behind your elbow, strategically situated to open when selecting second gear? 

Please, no accusations of nitpicking. The laundry list of ergonomic catastrophes continues.

x07pn_st008.jpgThere's no oil temperature gauge– essential for aggressive GXP’ers who fancy a track attack. There is an oil temp readout, but you have to toggle a button on the steering wheel to see it. Only the buttons on the steering wheel are too small for human thumbs. And even if there was a proper gauge, it wouldn't matter; the deep set dials are illegible.

When the Solstice debuted, it was rightly chided for having a center tunnel harder than tooth enamel. For 2007, Pontiac tried to rectify the situation by installing a slab of softer-touch plastic. It’s still as hard and cheap as Katja Kassin. If only they made it (the GXP) out of the softer, nicer material used for the door inserts. Sigh…

Notice I didn't even mention the complete and total lack of storage, hidden controls or the fact that you can raise and lower a Miata's soft top fifteen times in the span it takes to retract the Solstice's just once. And now, the good stuff…

solsticegxp07_engine22.jpgThe GXP's engine should replace every non-V8 in The General's stable. In the same way that Cadillac reduced the displacement of the Northstar V8 when fitting a supercharger to it for STS-V duty, Pontiac decreased the Solstice's Ecotec I4 from 2.4 to 2.0-liters. This was largely accomplished by reducing the stroke, which allows the eager motor to rev faster. Result? A four-banger with a single turbocharger and no detectable lag. No really. None.

Spitting out 130hp-per-liter, the GXP's direct-injected mill produces the highest specific output of any GM engine. Ever. The torque ain't bad, what with 260 ft. lbs. of the good stuff available between 2000 – 5300rpm. Sure, the engine sounds like it is made from sick clocks (what’s with that continual ticking just in front of the steering wheel?), but with the top down and the monumental thrump-a-thrump from the clownishly over-sized wheels, nothing could matter less.

x07pn_st010.jpgPerformance? Rest to 60mph happens in well under six seconds. A MX-5 Miata takes about seven flat. That's a big difference. In strict, straight-line terms, it’s worth the few thousand extra for the Pontiac. If the truncated (and rather brutal) Corvette driveline was massaged a bit more by the boffins, 60mph would live in the low 5s, if not less. But what about when the road, you know, bends?

Here's the truth. At or below 8/10ths, few cars are as entertaining to fling around bent backroads as the Solstice GXP. Turn in: sharp. Chassis: flat. Attitude: neutral. Brakes: faultless. Push a little harder and the car utterly fails. The steering goes from vague to dangerous. The suspension moans and stops thinking straight. The transmission backfires. You are suddenly overcome by the sensation that you are a driving a mutant machine made of cast-off pieces from other vehicles. Which, of course, you are.

How can Pontiac get so much right (looks, engine) and, at the same time, get so much wrong (everything else)? Enthusiasts (OK fine, Alfa Romeo and Triumph owners) are used to looking the other way when confronted with the sins of their beloved. Will Solstice GXP buyers be able to do the same? Sure. All's fair in love.

[Click on play to hear RF and JL discuss the GXP below.] 

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http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/03/pontiac-solstice-gxp/feed/ 99 I once drove off the road, screaming, at 80mph. Why? I was in love. When love turns blind, men do irrational things. As far as healthy, loving relationships go, the one presaging my off-highway excursion was a malignant tumor wrapped in an iron lung. I once drove off the road, screaming, at 80mph. Why? I was in love. When love turns blind, men do irrational things. As far as healthy, loving relationships go, the one presaging my off-highway excursion was a malignant tumor wrapped in an iron lung. I imagine that owning a Pontiac Solstice GXP is a similar affair. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury; the prosecution calls her a “femme fatale on wheels.” I ask you: how could something this beautiful be so damn dangerous? The Truth About Cars no
Pontiac Solstice Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/07/pontiac-solstice/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/07/pontiac-solstice/#comments Mon, 31 Jul 2006 12:43:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1921 X06PN_ST065.jpgWhen you punch the Pontiac Solstice’s go pedal to the floor, you can almost hear that great Les McCann/Eddie Harris tune “Compared to what?”  Normally, the Solstice is compared to the Mazda MX5 or its twin-under-the-skin, the Saturn Sky-- which is a bit like comparing Heather Graham to Sarah Michelle Gellar and Salma Hayek.  While it's clear that the GM cars have more visual appeal than the Japanese roadster, looks can be deceiving.  Has GM “made it real,” or is the Solstice just playing a part?   

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X06PN_ST065.jpgWhen you punch the Pontiac Solstice’s go pedal to the floor, you can almost hear that great Les McCann/Eddie Harris tune “Compared to what?”  Normally, the Solstice is compared to the Mazda MX5 or its twin-under-the-skin, the Saturn Sky– which is a bit like comparing Heather Graham to Sarah Michelle Gellar and Salma Hayek.  While it's clear that the GM cars have more visual appeal than the Japanese roadster, looks can be deceiving.  Has GM “made it real,” or is the Solstice just playing a part?   

The Solstice’s flowing sheetmetal is soft, sensuous and good-to-go.  From the front, it’s a superb retro reworking of a mid-Fifties Thunderbird.  (I reckon cops in several US states will specialize in writing Solstii tickets for failure to display a front license plate.)  Move to the right, and it’s a Corvette mini-me.  The wheels fill the arches so completely the car seems designed as an extra for “Cars.”  The stubby rear end deserves twin pipes, but it might as well have that old white trash bumper sticker on it that says “I’m nuts about butts.”  The sports car’s stance is yang to the body’s yin: it hunkers on the pavement like a crouching bobcat. 

X06PN_ST089MX.jpg For old MG owners, lowering the Solstice’s soft-top is a piece of cake.  For anyone else, it’s a nightmare.  The small tent-like rear flutings must be drawn taut and attached via fasteners to the rear deck.  And once you fold the canvas top into the trunk, there is no storage space whatsoever-– unless you count the passenger’s foot well.  Whereas an MX5 driver can pack light and live, a Solstice driver is hard pressed to stow enough H2O to make it between Arizona rest areas.  At a stroke, Pontiac has rendered the Solstice a toy, a four-wheeled motorcycle.

The Solstice’s seats place you low with the hood out high; it’s highly reminiscent of the last generation Chevrolet Camaro.  Large, graphically dull black-on-white gauges (courtesy of the Chevy Cobalt) nestle in a nacelle that swoops away to encompass the shift lever.  Three simple, round controls for the heat and air-conditioning (courtesy of the Hummer H3) sit just above the radio.  Although the GM plastics [still] won’t worry Audi’s haptic team, the Solstice’s much-appreciated minimalism and aesthetic restraint give the cabin a purposeful mien.         

X06PN_ST085.jpgFire-up the 177 horsepower Eco-Tec and the mini-mill produces a warbling base note.  Once underway, the 2.4-liter powerplant proves adequate shove for the task at hand; zero to sixty in 7.2 seconds may not set the world on fire, but it will warm it up a bit.  Acceleration comes on steadily, like a turbo-prop desperate to leave an aircraft carrier.  On the downside, the motor’s as thrashy as an International Harvester combine in an Iowa hay field.  Peak torque (166 ft.-lbs.) arrives at 4800 rpm, generating more than enough vibration to discourage a regular exploration of the top of the rev range.

The Solstice’s five-speed transmission is a short throw work of art, snicking home like a Honda S2000’s shifter.  No surprise there.  Aisin manufactures the Solstice’s five-speed gearbox as well as Honda’s six.  Yes, but– the Pontiac’s clutch has a decidedly springy feel and a distinctly heavy action.  It’s not exactly truck-like, but those who look at this machine and think “girl car” will change their mind after driving it a dozen miles or so.  Still, loping along with just a trace of suspension travel, you’d swear you were in a much larger car.  Which is not always a good thing…

X06PN_ST066.jpgThe sports car law of the decreasing radius will carry you deep into a turn, with more than a bit of understeer.  There’s enough push at the throttle and rubber underfoot to get you through with [mostly] neutral balance registering at your seat.  That said, the lightly powered Solstice is a porky little thing.  Although the fully independent suspension (A-arms, coil springs, tube shocks and anti-roll bars front and rear) keep things tied down tight, with little cowl shake to disturb the proceedings, you still feel all of the Solstice’s 2888 lbs. through a bend.  Unlike its deadly rival, the highly-evolved Mazda Miata, the Solstice doesn’t beg to be thrown about.  And with ABS a $400 option, you really need to keep on top of things. 

There’s no question that the Pontiac Solstice is a driver’s car.  If nothing else, the slick shifter and communicative rack-and-pinion steering demand constant involvement, in the same sense an intelligent, beautiful woman always keeps you on your toes.  But the Solstice lacks that final measure of entertainment– a rorty engine note, a bit of unnecessary shove, some real delicacy at the limit– that would make it a “fun” driver’s car.  For the vast majority of owners, that won’t be a problem.  They’ll love the looks, live with the lid and laugh as they go. 

 

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2006 Pontiac Torrent Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/01/pontiac-torrent/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/01/pontiac-torrent/#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1423 I'll take re-badged mid-sized utes for $23k.  Or not. 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.

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I'll take re-badged mid-sized utes for $23k.  Or not. 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.

Twin guages (the daily double)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.

Ready for a torrential downpour. 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.

Is it final jeopardy for Pontiac?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.'

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Pontiac G6 GT Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2004/11/pontiac-g6-gt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2004/11/pontiac-g6-gt/#comments Tue, 02 Nov 2004 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=876 A rare (but beautiful) shot of the G6's Gallic derriere 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.

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A rare (but beautiful) shot of the G6's Gallic derriere 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.

Funereal can be fun!   Or so says Pontiac.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".

GM's venerable 3500 3.5L V-6 (LX9), currently on duty in the Chevrolet Malibu, Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, Chevrolet Uplander, Pontiac G6 Sedan, Pontiac Montana, Saturn Relay and Buick Terraza.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.

The G6 GT is a frisky not-so-little car for the moneyMake 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.

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Pontiac GTO Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2004/04/pontiac-gto/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2004/04/pontiac-gto/#comments Fri, 23 Apr 2004 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=247   Nostalgia ain't what it used to be. Once upon a time, brand heritage kept customers loyal. "I'm a Chevy man" actually meant something. These days, Chevrolet sells a Korean compact with about as much Chevy DNA as a Manchurian ring-necked pheasant. Ford's offers a retro-Thunderbird whose driving dynamics, ergonomics and style would have found few takers in 1955. And the new Pontiac GTO is a distant cousin of the old GTO, adopted and twice removed.

The original GTO started life in 1964 as option 382 on a Pontiac Tempest LeMans. Two-hundred and ninety-five dollars bought a bigger engine (389 cubic inches) and air scoops (non-functional). The new GTO is an Australian coupe, slightly modified for the US market, with a 5.7-liter V8. In other words, if you're a heritage freak looking for a connection between the old "goat" and the new, don't bother. Unlike its illustrious predecessor, the new GTO has no kinship with any other Pontiac automobile made, ever.

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  Nostalgia ain't what it used to be. Once upon a time, brand heritage kept customers loyal. "I'm a Chevy man" actually meant something. These days, Chevrolet sells a Korean compact with about as much Chevy DNA as a Manchurian ring-necked pheasant. Ford's offers a retro-Thunderbird whose driving dynamics, ergonomics and style would have found few takers in 1955. And the new Pontiac GTO is a distant cousin of the old GTO, adopted and twice removed.

The original GTO started life in 1964 as option 382 on a Pontiac Tempest LeMans. Two-hundred and ninety-five dollars bought a bigger engine (389 cubic inches) and air scoops (non-functional). The new GTO is an Australian coupe, slightly modified for the US market, with a 5.7-liter V8. In other words, if you're a heritage freak looking for a connection between the old "goat" and the new, don't bother. Unlike its illustrious predecessor, the new GTO has no kinship with any other Pontiac automobile made, ever.

  Does that really matter? Shouldn't we cut the new GTO some slack, and simply thank God (a.k.a. Bob Lutz) that Pontiac sells a performance car that actually performs? Ask the guy who works down at my local deli counter. He used to own a black GTO. "Is that the new goat? It looks like a rental car."

Slack gone. At the very least, Pontiac should have made the Monaro a rental car on steroids. You know: fat rubber, 20" wheels, blistered arches, fake scoops, quad exhausts, Hovercraft rear wing, decals, racing stripe, something, anything to give the new car some of the old car's charisma. In fact, all that the antipodean GTO offers GM's coveted YAMs ("Young Affluent Males") is a few discreet badges and the distinctive rumble, burble, snarl, pop, thud and roar of a full-on V8.

  Close your eyes, give the goat some gas and you can easily imagine you're pedal-to-the-metal in a '69 GTO Judge. [NB: Don't try this away from home.] Saying that, the Judge's ram-air V8 cranked-out 370hp, while the modern GTO's engine stumps-up "only" 350 horses. Saying that, the new GTO's aluminum LS1 powerplant weighs 110lbs dripping wet and boasts a torque curve flatter than Kansas.

Zero to 60mph occupies only 5.3 seconds of your time, while the quarter mile comes up in 13.8. That's just a few ticks behind a stock 'Vette, and more than fast enough to give the GTO's fully independent suspension and 17" tires something to do around corners. And a fine job they do too, providing adequate comfort at low speed and superb control at velocities that would frighten a 60's street racer to death.

If you think I'm going to continue singing the praises of this latter day muscle car and conclude that it's a victory of modern racing technology over sixties chic, if that's what you want to hear, stop reading now. For the rest of the GTO's package is rude, crude and kinda lame, Dude.

The GTO's climate control knobs set the standard; the cheap rotary dials look like they were designed the same year the first GTO bowed-out (1974). The Tremec T-56 six-speed gearbox is so notchy I began to suspect that the "skip shift" function– recommended by the flashing digital dash– is more about maintaining forward movement than saving fuel.

Once you eventually find a gear and spool-up the GTO's V8, slowing down can be something of a challenge. The vacuum-assisted stoppers lack bite and feel, and seem distinctly rubbery at full stomp. The steering is equally over-assisted and spongy. Thanks to its robust construction (i.e. weight), helming the GTO into a corner produces a fair amount of body roll. And the pushrod V8 feels rough from low revs to red line. You'd no sooner fully wring the GTO's neck than, um, a Manchurian ring-necked pheasant.

But hey, you would if you had to. I mean, if you were hungry enough. And that's the ultimate equation facing potential GTO buyers. Are you hungry enough for rear-wheel-drive horsepower that you'll give up any possibility of style points for sheer, unadulterated grunt and a user-friendly chassis? Thirty-two large also buys you a VW R32, or an awful lot of Japanese sport compact…

GM executives aren't worried. Thanks to US labor unions, the General is only importing 18,000 Aussie-built bruisers. That many people would fork out $32k for a Chevrolet Aveo (don't ask) if it sounded as horny as the new GTO. And there's no question: the GTO is a bit of a hoot. Still, where's the sizzle? Unlike the old GTO, the new version will have to rely on the aftermarket for the visual statement goat owners expect. And deserve.

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Pontiac Grand Prix GTP Comp G Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2003/08/pontiac-grand-prix-gtp-comp-g/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2003/08/pontiac-grand-prix-gtp-comp-g/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2003 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1314  I'm convinced my local highway on-ramp was designed by the Pawtucket (Rhode Island) Fire Department. Drivers have just 100 yards of tarmac to join the outside lane of a three-lane road that immediately and violently kinks left. The ramp ends on a bridge, so there's no breakdown lane for failed mergers and there's an off-ramp 200 yards ahead. As you'd expect, cars line up like F14 pilots on a carrier deck. It's the perfect Death or Glory test track for the Pontiac Grand Prix GTP with Competition Group Package: the "Comp G".

Pontiac gave me a fighting chance by transversely mounting a supercharged V6 under the bonnet. The 3.8 litre unit may be older than Abba, but it stables 260 horses. Equally helpful, the super six cranks out 280 ft. lbs. of torque at 3200rpms. By all accounts, it should have been sufficient oomph to keep Pawtucket's paramedics in front of their soap operas.

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 I'm convinced my local highway on-ramp was designed by the Pawtucket (Rhode Island) Fire Department. Drivers have just 100 yards of tarmac to join the outside lane of a three-lane road that immediately and violently kinks left. The ramp ends on a bridge, so there's no breakdown lane for failed mergers and there's an off-ramp 200 yards ahead. As you'd expect, cars line up like F14 pilots on a carrier deck. It's the perfect Death or Glory test track for the Pontiac Grand Prix GTP with Competition Group Package: the "Comp G".

Pontiac gave me a fighting chance by transversely mounting a supercharged V6 under the bonnet. The 3.8 litre unit may be older than Abba, but it stables 260 horses. Equally helpful, the super six cranks out 280 ft. lbs. of torque at 3200rpms. By all accounts, it should have been sufficient oomph to keep Pawtucket's paramedics in front of their soap operas.

 The instant I mashed the go pedal I realized that a Comp G at full chat handles just like a Ferrari. Not the car; the logo. The one with the rearing stallion. This front-wheel-drive Pontiac simply can't put its power down from a standing start – or anything resembling a standing start. For the first few seconds, I was literally spinning my front wheels. Finally, with the smell of burning rubber wafting through the AC, with the sound of porcine torture ringing in my ears, the Comp G was off and away.

Obviously, I made it. Once the Comp G's front hooves found purchase, once the ironically named StabiliTrak system tamed the torque steer tsunami, the Comp G rocketed forward with welcome determination. It was fast enough to give credence to Pontiac's claim that their car will sprint from zero to sixty in 6.5 seconds, and finish the quarter mile .564 seconds behind a BMW 330i. Whether or not the Comp G is a credible sports saloon, well, that's another matter…

It sure doesn't look like one. In fact, the Comp G's exterior might have been cobbled together by GM's Performance Car Plausibility Testing Team. Their half-hearted designers grafted every sports car cliché known onto a rental car shape. (Tiny) red painted brake calipers, (blobby) rear spoiler, (faux) quad pipes, and side skirts and a chin spoiler that wouldn't stand out on a mountain bike. The Comp G's front end is its only distinctive feature. It resembles nothing so much as a slightly demented Pokemon character.

The interior also fails to advertise or promote the Comp G's sporting intent. Where the nifty little Mazda6 S, superswift VW Golf R32 and other Comp G enemies boast sexy brushed-aluminum dashboards, clever knobs and multi-colored dials, the Comp G has a dark plastic dash, disco era rotary controls and white-on-grey dials. On the positive side, the XM satellite radio provides plenty of distraction, and the Comp G's "heads-up" speed and radio display is exactly the kind of cool feature that gets the Playstation generation's fingers twitching.

Pontiac proudly promotes the fact that twitching fingers can use the Comp G's wheel-mounted Tapshift buttons to "transform its automatic transmission into operating much like a manual". That depends how you define the word "much", as most manual transmissions have more than four gears. Although the Tapshift's a slick shifter, the limited gearing options restrict its utility to changing down a gear for overtaking or "hey watch this" wheel spins – either of which you can do just as easily by simply flooring it.

Even if you baby the throttle, the Comp G is no hoot to drive. Those of you who know about such things will have already clocked the fact that the Comp G's weight transfers rearwards under hard acceleration, resulting in an inevitable and dramatic loss of front end grip and control. It's what the technically-minded call "excessive understeer" and anyone attempting to blast the Comp G around a corner would call "a bad thing". The Comp G may be relatively safe – the front tyres squeal at the onset of an understeer slide – but it wouldn't be my first choice for a high-speed romp down an unfamiliar twisty.

Given the firepower lurking in the engine bay and the average American petrolhead's distaste for anything other than a straight road, even these handling "issues" would be put to one side if the Comp G was cheap. Thirty thousand US dollars says it isn't. Truth to tell, the only good news is that the top-end Grand Prix is a lame duck. Next year, GM will rebadge and sell the Holden Monaro: a rear-wheel-drive, V8-powered, Australian-made, 2+2 sports sedan with an optional manual gearbox. Sources suggest it will cost only slightly more than a loaded Comp G. The Pontiac GTO will go like Hell and handle like a dream. American onrampaphobics' salvation is at hand.

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