2009 Pontiac G8 GT: Where have you been for the past 30 years?

When Pontiac really had its mojo working—back in the Sixties and even parts of the Seventies—its headline makers were performance cars like the GTO and the Trans Am, but the moneymakers were big cars with power and roadholding that were a step above their competitors’. The last of those rear-wheel-drive sedans that really spoke to that brand image might have been the Grand Am of 1970s—either the big, ’73-’75 models or the downsized version that arrived in 1978.

Since then, there’s been nothing save a few, front-wheel-drive Bonnevilles and Grand Prixs with supercharged V-6s. They wereover-tired, torque-steering demons bedecked in bad plastic—outside and in. The thread has been lost.

Now there’s the G8, and all I can think is: Yes! This is exactly what Pontiac should have been doing all along. Yes, I know it’s really a Holden, developed by GM in Australia. Perhaps that’s why it looks kind of anodyne and not truly American (which was the biggest problems with Holden’s last effort for Pontiac, the latter-day GTO). But who cares about that when the G8 drives this good?

The G8 GT’s 6.0-liter V-8 might sound like overkill—a smaller, high-revving turbo would seem a more modern, and economical, solution—but this is not some dumbed-down, one-dimensional muscle car. For one thing, the chassis tuning is spot on—exactly the type of thing those advertising copywriters were dreaming of back in the Wide Track days. The steering is meaty, linear, and responsive. This is a big car (by modern standards anyway) but it was brilliantly easy to place on the narrow, curving, Robert Moses-era parkways north of New York City. With threatening, concrete barriers on one side and lane-wandering, inattentive fellow drivers on the other, piloting these earliest expressways is usually a high-stress affair, but the G8’s steering is so precise, and its firm but supple suspension so effortless coped with the often-battered pavement, that the parkways were actually a pleasure. The V-8 sounds great and jumps when you get on it, but there’s no tiresome droning when you’re just cruising. Likewise, the seats hold you in place, without resorting to contrived, lumpy, needlessly aggressive bolsters.

The exterior has more add-ons than I’d like and this early-Mopar-muscle-car blue seemed out of place; also some of the controls inside are kind of foreign. But otherwise, this is absolutely the best current example of a swaggering, great-driving American big car; it’s the embodiment of what Pontiac did well back then, evolved to today’s far-higher standards. If Pontiac had been fielding cars like this all along, there would be no plan afoot to shrink this once-great nameplate to “niche brand” status. But whatever happens to Pontiac, I certainly hope the G8 survives.

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