The Automotive Amanojaku

This is where you'll find news, random car-related thoughts and personal views from a rabid car nut. "Amanojaku" is Japanese slang that means "person who is deliberately contradictory". I've always found myself drawn to the less appreciated car makes - the "underdogs" if you will. Suzuki, Pontiac, GM Daewoo and Holden, are among my favorite brands to watch and comment on. Let me hear your thoughts!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Pontiac: Excitement, Fuel for the Soul, Action - Words Finally Made Real


Pontiac: Excitement, Fuel for the Soul, Action - Words Finally Made Real
Commentary by Ming


Paging through the latest auto magazines at my local bookstore it struck me like a hammer: Pontiac is finally delivering on its promises of the past.

As I went from magazine to magazine, the glowing reviews for the new performance cars in Pontiac's lineup kept coming like a flurry of blows, beating back the tired stereotype of Pontiac as GM's forgotten, irrelevant brand. My eyes nearly popped out of their sockets when I read Car & Driver's strongly positive comments on the Grand Prix GXP they had tested. With the 2006 model year Pontiac is back with the kind of performance lineup we haven't seen since the 1960's. No, its not exactly the same kind of performance, but it deserves respect nonetheless.

After so many years waiting for the promise of a full GXP lineup, I had almost given up. Pontiac brought us cars like the Grand Prix GTP w/CompG and the quickly retired Bonneville GXP to only lukewarm reviews. They also foisted upon us such pretenders as the Grand Am SC/T with fake hoodscoops and not much else, and the largely unfulfilled promise of "performance" in the Vibe GT. Chevy clones like the SV6 and Torrent only added to my concern for the brand's performance credentials, and the lack of a lightweight "sport compact" continued to trouble me. At any given time we have only had one GXP model in the lineup, and that is still true as of this writing. Pontiac's "Total Performance Lineup" always seemed like a promise that was coming "Next year". What I failed to notice was that, even though I knew about all of these great models Pontiac had been promising, the year is upon us. Now. And by all accounts they are as great as had been promised. Even if they don't all have GXP badges - yet.

In the midst of all the bad news coming out against GM, Pontiac has given a GM fan like me something to cheer about. Not mostly reskinned Chevies that look fast standing still, but cars that really are fast, and engineered for enthusiasts.

Not every car in the Pontiac lineup is worthy of praise. But there are four flavors of performance cars that GM is offering us in the brand this year, and four is a lot compared to the 1990's when the Firebird/Trans Am and a few supercharged 3800's like the "Wide Track" Grand Prix GTP were just about all Pontiac had to show for its promises of Driving Excitement. Those few surrounded by a lot of ho-hum mediocre cars. But no more.

Here is how Pontiac has performance enthusiasts covered for 2004:

The Big Bruiser - RWD V8 Coupe

1. The GTO still gets criticized by some for its jellybean styling, but those naysayers who have driven one usually find their frowns turned upside down rather quickly, and seeing one in person is always more impressive than the bulk of stock GM photos. Proof is in a recent AutoPacific SURVEY that ranked the GTO as the "Most Satisfying Sporty Car" of all cars sold in the U.S. The GTO is picking up momentum in Motorsports as well, with WINS in Road Racing, and taking the Formula Drift TITLE. The GTO offers refined, smooth RWD V8 performance that can be just as nasty and satisfying when pushed to its limits, and performance enthusiasts who aren't die-hard GM fans have been taking notice. One suggestion to GM - make that grille from the Sport Appearance Package standard!

The Stealth Addition - 240hp V6 w/6-speed Stick Shift

2. The G6 GTP w/6-speed manual continues to fly under the radar and get little attention from the automotive media, but I still maintain that it is an important new part of Pontiac's performance offerings, and of a type that has not been offered by GM for many years. GM has agreed that many performance enthusiasts want to shift gears by themselves, and GM V6 FWD cars should not be excluded from their lists. REVIEWS by members have been positive and enthusiastic about the sleek-looking FWD coupe that actually offers a (gasp!) manual transmission mated to a powerful new pushrod V6 with Variable Valve Timing. For whatever reason the 6-speeds still seem to be rare beasts to track down, however, and unless you order a GTP specifically with the manual transmission you might never see one at your local Pontiac dealership. I have yet to find one myself on casual visits to the dealerships near me. But at least the option exists, and for that we can be thankful.

The Surprise Success - V8 FWD Sedan

3. When GM said it would put V8s in W-bodies for the Grand Prix GXP and Impala SS I could already hear the negative reviews about "too much torque steer" coming in from the press and regular FWD critics. But with a little American ingenuity the GXP (but not the Impala SS) dealt with the problem in a unique way: Unequal tire sizes with more rubber up front than in the rear (Don't let that cheap lube shop rotate your tires the wrong way!). The setup works so well that it even has Car & Driver calling it a "Front-drive breakthrough". The base price of a discounted Grand Prix GXP has fans cheering, and I have to admit as the owner of an aging 2000 Bonneville SSEi being tempted myself. The lone drawback is a familiar 4-speed transmission, but not even that can douse the enthusiasm I've seen for the car around the web.

The Crown Jewel - RWD Purpose-built Roadster

4. The Solstice...what more can be said? I praised it long before it arrived simply for the effort GM was making to put out a car like this for Pontiac. Now, with the svelte roadster having gone through the wringer of tests by the critics, it seems that they have hardly a negative thing to say about it. This car is an instant classic. Pick up just about any car magazine and you're likely to find heaping spoonfulls of praise for the handling, the engine, and the platform - right down to the details. Not to mention the car is dead sexy, and in a very different way than the upcoming Sky with its sharp character lines and more "techy" appearance. I can't believe I'm the only one who looks forward to the Solstice Coupe taking on the Miata in the SCCA Showroom Stock-B and Grand Am Cup.

The Rest

So what about the rest of the Pontiac lineup? It's not too shabby at all. The Torrent for now is a shameless rebadge with an obsolete version of GM's 60-degree V6, but rumors have it getting a much newer and significantly more powerful 3900-VVT engine next year. The SV6, while also a virtual Chevy clone, (sans "Montana" cowboy SUV pretensions, finally) gets a "Sport Package" that is much more than the regular turquoise vinyl "Sport" lettering and a spoiler you'd expect on a typical minivan of the 90's. You can actually get an up-level engine as part of the package - the new 3900, and a performance tuned suspension along with it, making it less of a weak pretender to the Pontiac split twin grille and more like the "Sport Van" it claims to be. If you don't quite have the bucks for the Grand Prix GXP, you can still get the Supercharged 3800 engine in the GT version of the 'Prix. The Vibe GT is still a Toyota and that's all I have to say about that, but at least GM seems to be selling a lot of them to potential long-time GM customers buying their first cars. The base Vibe also has a dealer-installed supercharger option which only further adds to Pontiac's performance lineup. I'd love to see a true "sport wagon" in the lineup similar to the Saab 9-3 Sportcombi, but a Torrent GT packing a 3900 would be just as nice if the fuel economy can be kept reasonably high (with DOD?) and the suspension dropped a tad lower.

Having said all that, if you've been waiting for a better Pontiac, then wait no longer. It's here right now. And no matter what happens to GM or its many brands in the years ahead, no one can say that GM didn't try to deliver on its promises of performance. The real question now is will people buy what they've been asking for - or have they already gone to brands like Mazda and Nissan, never to return? I can only hope that Pontiac has a shot at some of the glory it deserves for its recent efforts.


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