Preview: 2008 Pontiac G8

ON SALE: EARLY 2008 / $26,000-$33,000 (est.)

General Motors is aiming high with the new G8. This Pontiac is the first car based on GM's global rear-wheel-drive architecture to be sold in the United States - the next-generation Chevy Camaro will ride on the same platform. Ambitious GM engineers have benchmarked the likes of Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. In fact, the latest C-class was the target for interior space, and as our early drive of the Pontiac's Australian Holden twin indicated [August 2007], the G8 should easily meet or surpass that goal. For interior quality, GM looked to Audi to set the bar - if GM can do as well on that score as it apparently has with packaging, the G8 will sport one of the finest interiors ever seen on a mass-market Pontiac.

The G8 will get a 3.6-liter DOHC V-6 that makes about 260 hp and is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, while the G8 GT will be powered by a 6.0-liter OHV V-8 sending at least 360 hp through a six-speed automatic. Engineers concede that the V-8 could be tuned for more power, and a hotter version of the G8 GT - possibly with as much as 450 hp - is likely for later in the model cycle. At that time, Pontiac might also offer a six-speed manual for the V-8.

As it stands, though, the G8 GT's performance will be strong, with the V-8 pushing the car to 60 mph in about 5.2 seconds. The V-6 model is no slouch, either, with an estimated 0-to-60-mph time of 6.9 seconds - not bad for a 3850-pound sedan. The V-8 will feature cylinder deactivation, which engineers claim can improve fuel economy by up to ten percent. Both the V-6 and V-8 models, though, receive the aggressive hood scoop and rear-spoiler treatment to leave no doubt about their sporting aspirations. And to support its performance credentials, the V-8 has a limited-slip differential, great for smoky burnouts and power slides. Eighteen-inch wheels are standard, and nineteens are optional, although we imagine that dealers will offer larger ones as accessories.

Dynamically, the G8 should be a much better car to drive than Pontiac's last attempt at rear-wheel-drive muscle, the GTO. Indeed, our early drive of the Holden HSV GT revealed a car that grips well and corners with little body roll, with ride quality that isn't badly compromised. So, all the signs are good for the G8, which will be built in Adelaide, Australia, alongside the Holden, and will start hitting U.S. shores early next year.

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