2008 Pontiac G8 GT Review

Michael Karesh
by Michael Karesh
2008 pontiac g8 gt review

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.

Many 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.

One 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.

The 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.

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.

While 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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  • Revolver1978 Revolver1978 on Dec 31, 2008

    Thanks Michael for the 6 cylinder review. I'm thinking about one of these as a replacement for my 2003 Mini Cooper S in another year or so. I haven't taken a test drive or a close look at one yet, but am dissappointed to hear about the downgrade to the interior with the V6. An anecdotal comment - a local Pennsylvania used car dealer has no less than 6 G8's on the lot, all 8 cyl GT's, all for under 19 grand. Similar story with several dealers in Eastern Ohio. That's some wicked depreciation - who would by a G8 new?

  • Hk6900 Hk6900 on Feb 14, 2009

    Nice car

  • Arthur Dailey When I grew tired of the T-Bird trying to kill me by refusing to start at the most inconvenient times/places, I replaced it with a '79 fullsized Dodge (Sportsman) van. Similar to this but with a different grille and rectangular headlights. The 4 'captains' chairs in my van were pretty much identical to the ones in this van. Mine certainly was not as nicely finished inside. And it was a handful to drive in snow/ice. One thing that strikes me about this van is that although a conversion it does not seem to have the requisite dark tint on the windows.
  • Jeff S I am not a fan of Tesla and they were niche vehicles but it seems that they have become more common. I doubt if I get an EV that it would be a Tesla. The electrical grid will have to be expanded because people over the long run are not going to accept the excuse of the grid can't handle people charging their EVs.
  • AMcA The '70 Continentals and Town Cars may have been cousins to the standard body Fords and Mercurys, they didn't have to be disguised, because they had unique, unbelievably huge bodies of their own. Looking at the new 1970 interior, I'd say it was also a cost savings in sewing the seat. Button tufted panels like the 1969 interior had require a lot of sewing and tufting work. The 1970 interior is mostly surface sewing on a single sheet of upholstery instead of laboriously assembled smaller pieces. FINALLY: do I remember correctly that the shag carpet shown under these cars was a Photoshop? They didn't really go so peak '70s as to photograph cars on shag carpets, did they?
  • Inside Looking Out Toyota makes mass market cars. Their statement means that EVs are not mass market yet. But then Tesla managed to make mass market car - Mode; 3. Where I live in CA there are more Tesla Model 3s on streets than Corollas.
  • Ltcmgm78 A lot of dirt must turn before there's an EV in every driveway. There must be a national infrastructure plan written by other than politicians chasing votes. There must be reliable batteries that hopefully aren't sourced from strategic rivals. There must be a way to charge a lot of EVs. Toyota is wisely holding their water. There is a danger in urging unplanned and hasty moves away from ICE vehicles. Do we want to listen to unending speeches every election cycle that we are closer than we have ever been to 100% electrification and that voting for certain folks will make it happen faster? Picture every car in your town suddenly becoming all electric and a third of them need a charge or the driver will be late for work. This will take a lot of time and money.
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