2008 Pontiac G5 Coupe Review

Megan Benoit
by Megan Benoit

The Pontiac G5 Coupe reminds me of John Steinbeck’s classic novel “Of Mice and Men.” Best-laid schemes aside, no car deserves more to be taken out to a field and shot in the back of the head. This brand-engineered blight bleeds bureaucratic bumbling. No doubt someone at GM figured that Pontiac should share some of the Cobalt love with a derivative of their own (a la the Cavalier/Sunfire). Rather than taking a pass-worthy platform and making it into something worthwhile, they gave us the G5, “lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain.”

At its most basic level, the Pontiac G5 is an entry-level coupe built with all the love, care, and attention of a post-writers strike reality show, with about as much public interest. It’s likely some beancounter vetoed making the exterior of the G5 look like a lean, mean, road-carving machine in favor of slapping a Pontiac grille on a Cobalt and ever-so-slightly reshaping the lights. You can purchase a little exterior upgrade bling to set your Pontiac apart, but at 70mph no one will know the difference. You’ve probably seen dozens of these and didn’t realize it wasn’t a Cobalt.

Step inside and cold, hard reality slaps you in the face. The Coupe's interior is 99.99 percent identical to the Colbalt’s cabin. Unfortunately, GM forgot to engineer the suck out of it. Only a few differently-shaped buttons and some ill-fitting faux carbon-fiber trim (the sort of ‘finesse’ touch that serves double-duty as an ipecac) differentiate the two models. A Mercury may be nothing but an expensive Ford, but at least they make you feel like you’ve gotten something for your money.

At the turn of the key, the 2.2-liter Ecotec engine grunts itself conscious, rolls over, farts, fluffs the sheets and settles back in for the duration. Ostensibly, the powerplant boasts 148hp and 152 ft.-lbs. of torque. In reality, you feel like you’re being towed by a wheelchair-bound octogenarian with a rope slung over his shoulder. Pushing the gas is about as fun as checking your credit card balance after Christmas. The ill-designed four-speed slushbox makes precision merging impractical, and passing improbable.

I hear the naysayers already. It’s an entry-level economy car coupe. It’s not supposed to be fast! Mission accomplished. Except the Excitement Division’s Cobalt clone ain’t no fun neither. I can forgive weak acceleration if the car makes up for it in handling, but the G5 is firmly entrenched in Molasses Swamp.

The G5 Coupe lacks any hint of the light, tossable quality and sharp, rewarding steering that many of its competitors possess (think Civic or original Focus). The G5’s tiller is numb and joyless, and the brakes have a definite “Come to Jesus” vibe about them (i.e, they certainly won’t save you, so you’d better have a backup plan). It’s every bit as spine-jarring, noisy, and unrefined as the Cobalt.

Handling at the limit… what are you, kidding? You’d be hard-pressed to put a Pontiac G5 into an unsafe position, given that every nut and bolt and Chinese plastic fastener is fashioned from anti-fun. The payment booklet should come with free samples of Valium. It won’t add any performance to the car, but at least you won’t care. Speaking of driving into a tree…

Nearly every safety feature is optional. But again, the G5’s best safety feature is the car itself. A Pontiac Solstice can get an 18-year-old kid (or anyone else for that matter) into a lot of trouble. The G5 will make Junior swear-off hoonery entirely. At which point things can go three ways: either he’ll start saving for his first STI, or beg for a bus pass, or both.

Worse, GM’s reliability has improved to the point where the punishment is endless; you can only justify ridding yourself of the G5 because you hate it. Note: arson and insurance fraud are still illegal, even for cars like this.

How about shelling out a $4k premium for the GT trim and 0.2 more Ecotecage? A used Civic Si costs the same and inspires half the self-loathing. The only way GM could redeem this car (and the Pontiac brand) would be to offer it with a supercharged Ecotec. But GM’s abandoned the LSJ and it’s unlikely the upcoming SS Turbo will make it to the G5.

It’s no wonder Pontiac sold fewer than 30k of these bad (in the traditional sense of the word) boys last year. So why does the G5 exist, if people don’t even want the Cobalt? There are still places where the Buick – GMC – Pontiac dealer is the most exciting showroom in town, complete with brand-loyal customers. The net is killing the ignorance that allows GM to stuff these dens of pistonhead inequity with substandard machinery. And not a moment too soon.

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

Megan Benoit
Megan Benoit

I'm a computer security geek raised in Nebraska and recently transplanted to Atlanta. I like me some cars, got into car geekery a few years ago and haven't looked back since. I also volunteer at a local ferret shelter and participate in various charity and fund-raising events related to that.

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  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Jan 08, 2009

    Quote: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. Lol your take on the Ecotec is hilarious and at odds with any car I have driven with this powerplant. A 4 door Cobalt with automatic will blow the doors off any 1.8 liter Corolla or Civic automatic I have driven. And guess what? They still use 4 speed automatics too and make lots of noise when pushed! I have seen plenty of Ecotec engines with over 200k miles an zero problems in company cars and commuters. My best friend has a heavier 2007 Malibu LT with the 2.2 Ecotec and has never had a problem passing cars on two lane roads and the tranny shifts very responsive unlike the Camry my neighbor has. But to each his own. I do agree that Pontiac screwed up big by cloning the Cobalt and sticking on a Pontiac grille and taillights and calling it a day.

  • BrighterdougG8 BrighterdougG8 on Jan 20, 2011

    Sad to see how the small Pontiac went after I had a 1986 Sunbird Turbo GT 2 door for a dozen years. GREAT CAR! Good size, great power. 150 Horses from 1.8 liter. And some styling EXCITEMENT! Had a unique front and back. Awesome seats better than the Firebird! Now I have taken a long road back to a 2009 Pontiac G8 GT! Way more amazing than anything else out there on the road the last few years. To bad it was the final Pontiac model. I am going to keep it going as long as I can.

  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.
  • GregLocock Car companies can only really sell cars that people who are new car buyers will pay a profitable price for. As it turns out fewer and fewer new car buyers want sedans. Large sedans can be nice to drive, certainly, but the number of new car buyers (the only ones that matter in this discussion) are prepared to sacrifice steering and handling for more obvious things like passenger and cargo space, or even some attempt at off roading. We know US new car buyers don't really care about handling because they fell for FWD in large cars.
  • Slavuta Why is everybody sweating? Like sedans? - go buy one. Better - 2. Let CRV/RAV rust on the dealer lot. I have 3 sedans on the driveway. My neighbor - 2. Neighbors on each of our other side - 8 SUVs.
  • Theflyersfan With sedans, especially, I wonder how many of those sales are to rental fleets. With the exception of the Civic and Accord, there are still rows of sedans mixed in with the RAV4s at every airport rental lot. I doubt the breakdown in sales is publicly published, so who knows... GM isn't out of the sedan business - Cadillac exists and I can't believe I'm typing this but they are actually decent - and I think they are making a huge mistake, especially if there's an extended oil price hike (cough...Iran...cough) and people want smaller and hybrids. But if one is only tied to the quarterly shareholder reports and not trends and the big picture, bad decisions like this get made.
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