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AMR Review: 2005 Pontiac G6 - Finally, Entry-Level Driving Excitement
    Managing Editor

No car in recent memory has had so much controversy surrounding its introduction than the new Pontiac G6. I'm sure everyone by now has at least heard of Oprah Winfrey's giveaway of 276 brand spankin' new G6's to lucky audience members. I don't think the majority of the winners realized they'd have to pay the taxes on the vehicles (title and registration fees, plus the income tax on a gift) before taking them home, but that's beside the point. 276 cars is a large number to just give away, even if it's all in the name of promoting a new vehicle. The G6 replaces the aging (and not gracefully, at that) Grand Am, which limped through the past couple of years with mediocre engine choices and sub-par quality that relegated it to rental-fleet status. In fact, the Grand Am name had been so tainted, that Pontiac dropped it altogether for this new model. With a brand new design and new moniker to go with it, Pontiac hopes the G6 will garner the respect and interest of consumers that the Grand-Am never relished. They could use all the interest they can get, too, as the GTO is the only bright spot in an otherwise lackluster lineup.

Pontic G6The G6 certainly has a tough job ahead. Since the Grand-Am didn't really place the bar that high, Pontiac Execs did it themselves. Citing cars like the Honda Accord, Volkswagen Passat and other mainstream players, Pontiac aspires for the new G6 to finally bring them eye to eye with those lofty targets. Will the G6 herald the end of import dominance in the midsize segment? Will it just be another mediocre effort by Pontiac? Read on to find out.

The G6's exterior styling is extremely different from the old Grand-Am. Smooth body panels with tasteful creases replace the plastic body cladding that plagued almost every Pontiac offering at one point or another. The G6 features a modern Pontiac family grill as well as a variation on the familiar teardrop shaped headlamps. The rear end is like nothing else in the Pontiac camp. If anything, from a distance, it has a bit of Dodge Neon to it. While that's not very flattering, it doesn't matter much, as the rear end complements the overall style and "wedge" shape of the car. Pontiac said that they used the Volkswagen Passat as inspiration for their new design, but the arcing roofline is really the only VW design cue that I can pick out. The rest of the design is pretty unique and original, unlike the new Ford Five Hundred, which makes its Audi-inspired styling blatantly obvious. While the new G6 is attractive from the outside, it's also fairly conservative. This car will turn a few heads, but it certainly won't cause whiplash. That's ok though, as too extreme a design can actually turn prospective buyers away. Pontiac knows this all too well after the horrible mistake that was the Aztek. Overall, the exterior style can't be faulted too much. It conveys a sentiment of solidity that the old Grand-Am couldn't even touch. There are no differences in the body going from the base to GT models, except the GT gets tasteful chrome exhaust tips to accent the rear end. Pontiac will eventually introduce a coupe version in early 2005, with a ragtop convertible following in the summer, but for now the sedan will be the only body style offered. I, personally, will be excited to see how Pontiac executes the convertible version of the G6, as it should be a sportier and more youth-oriented alternative to Chrysler's Sebring.

As for wheel choices, no G6 has less than a 16-inch wheel diameter. In fact, the only model with 16-inch wheels (steel wheels with hubcaps) is the base model. The GT model comes standard with attractive 17-inch alloys shod with V-rated rubber. No word on what the GTP model will come equipped with but it's safe to say that it will be equal to or maybe even larger than 18-inch wheels.

The G6 does have an interesting option that seems destined to become its calling card. A sectioned, panoramic sunroof is available on all models and it opens up accordion style to make a much larger opening than what would be possible with a standard sliding sunroof. Ordering up the panoramic roof also gives you a trick electric sunshade, as well. Even though it's an expensive option at $1500, you can still opt for a regular tilt-sliding sunroof if you like your sun-bathing on the cheap.

If you've read any of my other articles, you know I have a penchant for interior quality. Domestic interiors typically fall short in this category, but it's clear that times are changing. Ford, Chrysler and GM have all shown that they can produce quality interiors as of late. Unfortunately, most of these examples are limited to premium-level offerings. With the current Pontiac Grand Prix and Bonneville still using downgrade materials for their interiors, one wouldn't expect the G6, which is positioned lower on the food chain than the aforementioned two vehicles, to display any better quality. Fortunately, this is not the case. The G6 is most decidedly Pontiac's best effort in producing a quality interior in a while (aside from the GTO, which is manufactured by Holden of Australia). It simply blows away the glossy hard plastics that plagued the Grand-Am. I wouldn't go as far as to say it matches what's featured in the Accord, Camry or Passat, but it's much more acceptable and tasteful than before. Adopting a Euro-like two tone interior, black above the belt-line, tan below, the G6's interior is much warmer and more inviting than the previous Grand-Am. The interior design is also more refined in its appearance and use of shapes. I actually see a tiny bit of Audi TT in there, what with the chrome-ringed air vents and square-ish center stack. The signature Pontiac red instrument illumination is retained, and is great for night vision. The climate controls are of much higher quality than before, as is most every other button and switch in the interior. Tasteful wood touches adorn the interior, but I think brushed aluminum would be a much better match for a car with sporting intentions such as the G6. That's just my opinion though, because with the tan coloring below the belt line, the wood doesn't look too out of place.

Pontic G6I know Bryan will chime in here. The steering wheel, in deference to the wood trim, does look a bit out of place in this vehicle. It's a little on the large side and has a kind of pseudo-three-spoke design. By that I mean it still uses four spokes, but they are arranged to appear like a three-spoke with the vertical spoke split in two. My feeling is that if Pontiac really wanted the G6 to convey a sporty attitude, the steering wheel should be smaller in diameter, have a thicker rim and a true three-spoke design. It's amazing how much effect a steering wheel's aesthetics and feel can have on the way the entire car is perceived, and this G6 is no exception to that rule. This is probably another attempt on Pontiac's part to play it safe (by being conservative and appealing to a wider audience), but Pontiac is the "excitement" division of GM and the G6 is supposed to be the sport-oriented alternative to Chevy's Malibu, so why not treat it as such?

Leather seating can be had on the GT model, with the base model making do with cloth only. 4-way adjustable seats with power height adjustment for the driver's seat is standard on the GT and optional on the base model, but if you order the leath! er seats, you will also benefit from an upgraded 6-way power driver's seat. Given the G6's main competition though (Accord, Passat, etc.), Pontiac should have at least given it an 8-way power driver's seat, and maybe even offer a power passenger seat as an option. It's nice to see that Pontiac offers heated driver and passenger seats as an option, though. This seemingly minor feature goes a long way in making winter commutes that much more bearable. Another interesting optional feature in the cockpit of the G6 is power-adjustable brake and gas pedals. This allows all drivers to maintain a safe/proper distance from the steering wheel, which also tilts and telescopes to provide an even greater degree of adjustability.

For musical reproduction, Pontiac gives you a 6-speaker CD stereo in the base model, with a Monsoon 8-speaker system as an option. The GT comes standard with the Monsoon stereo and a 6-disc CD Changer is optional for both the base and GT models. Steering wheel mounted controls for the stereo come packaged with the leather seating. XM satellite radio can be had as an option, as well. As far as interior safety features go, the G6 gives you front driver and passenger airbags as standard equipment, but side-impact and side curtain airbags can be added as optional equipment.

Here is where the G6 really shines. With a standard 3.5L V6 in the base and GT models, the G6 delivers 200 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque right from the gate. Now, while this output is not spectacular when you consider Nissan does a heck of a lot more with the same displacement, it's worth noting that this base engine offers more standard hp and torque than all of its competitors. There's something to be said for getting a standard V6 instead of dealing with tepid four-cylinder performance, especially when you're dealing with American consumers. This V6 is also fairly efficient for such a large displacement engine, returning 22 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway. In the Base model, the engine is linked to a 4 speed automatic. Why Pontiac didn't install a 5-speed automatic is beyond me, as it could only improve performance and efficiency. The GT model at least gives you manumatic-shifting ability, but a proper manual is non-existent in the two currently available models. While this makes economic sense in the eyes of GM execs (most Americans purchase automatics), it does very little as far as strengthening the G6's sports sedan credentials. We will have to wait for the GTP model, which pairs a 3.9L V6 bumping out an estimated 250 hp and a 6-speed manual pirated from the Saab 9-3, to be able to row our own in a G6. I'm sure the GTP will prove well worth the wait, but Pontiac should have at least given consumers a 5-speed manual option in the GT model. It's interesting to note that the Pontiac offers two different axle ratios in the G6. The base model comes with a 3.05:1 axle ratio while the GT gives the consumer a 3.29:1 axle ratio. The higher ratio on the GT allows for more spirited acceleration (even though both models have the same engine) at the expense of having the engine rev faster at highway speeds. It's definitely a detail that few consumers will even notice, but it represents good attention to detail on Pontiac's part.

The G6 is based on the stretched epsilon platform, which underpins the Chevy Malibu Maxx. This gives the G6 an exceptionally long wheelbase, besting even the gargantuan Nissan Altima in this category. This does a few things for the car, both dynamically and capacity wise. First off, it makes more interior room for passengers and second it gives the G6 a more stable, secure ride. With suspension tuning tauter than the Malibu and approaching the aggressiveness of the Saab 9-3, the G6 delivers handling befitting of a sports sedan, while not pounding occupants incessantly over every road seam. Pontiac struck an excellent compromise here and is to be commended. The G6 base and GT models have the exact same springs and dampers/struts, but the GT model adds thicker front and rear stabilizer bars and a different steering rack bushing to give the driver better road feel.

If Pontiac did in fact use the Passat as inspiration, somewhere along the line they forgot about standard safety features. In this day and age, it just seems odd that any car outside the compact segment would come without standard ABS braking, so it is kind of surprising that Pontiac doesn't include it on the base model of the G6. On the plus side, four-wheel disc brakes are standard, which are better than having drums out back, but it still would have been nice if they made ABS a standard feature throughout the line-up.

Final Review
In the end, the G6 represents a wonderful effort on Pontiac's part. It eclipses the old Grand-Am in every way and definitely gives some of the imports a run for their money. What remains to be seen is whether Pontiac will allow the G6 to become the rental queen that the Grand-Am was. Fleet sales may make them money, but it doesn't make the car look very respectable in the eyes of the consumer and it also is detrimental to resale value. If Pontiac played their cards right and kept the G6 from proliferating in rental lots, they could possibly start turning the tide of total import dominance and become a future concern for the Japanese imports.




So if Apple Computer uses G and then a number for its PowerMac line of computers (i.e. PowerMac G5), is this a PowerPontiac? Not really. Sure, the 3.5L gives good power, but let's think about the size of these power plants. Nissan gets as much as nearly 290 hp out of the same sized motor. Even at 3.9L, Pontiac still only meets the low end of what Nissan can do. Why can't a domestic brand produce the kind of results the Japanese do without resorting to absurdly large engines (3.9L is HUGE in this class...HUGE)?

Ok, so now more specifically about the G6. I think it's a nice effort overall, and worlds ahead of the Grand Am and the new Malibu, which I don't care for. The exterior looks great, truly great. My only complaint is on the odd downward sloping curved slice in the window line near where it meets the side-view mirrors. Why is this there? It adds nothing for visibility like Ford's extra cut-out on the Super Duty trucks (you can fit a VW Beetle in that little cut-out), and if anything it looks completely out of place design-wise. The car is about creased lines on a flowing shape. This becomes a flowing line on a flowing shape, which leads to a bulbous image. It's out of place on this car, and just odd.

Next, Tim was absolutely right, I can't help but comment on the steering wheel. I think the bulges are great, but the shape and size of the thing are all wrong. Why can't GM ever make a nice wheel? Caddy wheels aren't bad, but this is the same wheel you'll find in most current GM products, and it's gross. Sorry for being so blunt, but it is, and there's no reason for it. Ford has moved to nicer wheels, Chrysler has been there for some time, and the Japanese and Germans have been there forever. There's simply no excuse for such a bad looking steering wheel. You may say I'm petty, but every little detail counts, and this detail just happens to be what the drivers sees and feels the entire time they're driving the car.

As for the wood, Tim, I can't agree that it's tasteful. It's above the level we've seen in GM in the past, but it still looks too cheap, and it isn't integrated enough. Actually, it is in the door, but not around the shifter. It just sits on top of the rest of the surface, rather than being worked into a recess, which would have looked so much better. I totally agree, though, that a brushed aluminum surface would have been much better, or perhaps a surface like Jeep puts in the Liberty...very cool.

So I probably sound very negative on the car. I'm really not. I'm impressed, but I think GM needs to get the details right, and it consistently fails. To be a winner in any category, you cannot overlook things, or provide sub-par appointments when a quality image would not cost you more. I'm not saying the materials aren't good, just how they're used (shape, etc), which is something that can be changed without increasing costs (that is, if it's designed that way from the start). So, good car, great step forward, but not quite enough when you're competing with the Accord, Camry, Altima, Legacy and Passat.