[cars name="Pontiac"]‘s G8 sedan has been getting a lot of love from the automotive press, especially when you consider that it’s a rebadged version of a car that’s been in production since 2006. But most of the hype surrounding the Adelaide-made G8 has focused on the V-8-powered GT model. Indeed, that attention bias has been validated by the fact that three in five G8 buyers opt for the gutsier version. After all, what better way to enjoy a solid rear-wheel-drive platform than with a powerful eight-cylinder at the beck and call of your right foot?
Going into 2009 another V-8 will attempt to steal the spotlight, this time in the new GXP model packing a 402-hp 6.2-liter small block. In the interest of going against the automotive grain, we took a base G8 for a spin to see how it stacks up against other big V-6 sedans. Boring? We’ll see.
If looks could thrill
Pontiac has done very little to visually differentiate the three G8 trim levels, so buyers of the six-cylinder G8 will happily note that their cars have most of the show of the V-8-powered models, even if the 3.6-liter engine provides a good deal less go. We like the aggressive front-end treatment, although the faux ram-air hood nostrils may be a bit much, especially on the V-6 model. The car has a decidedly Pontiac, wide stance – despite the fact that it started life as a Holden – and looks the part of a muscle sedan. The V-6 model loses the GT’s odd, chrome-accented door handles in favor of body-color pieces that we think look better. Both the V-6 and the GT get the same standard 18-inch wheels, though the base car’s have black center caps that cheapen the look. (Nineteen-inch wheels are optional on the GT and standard on the new-for-2009 GXP.) A different taillight design, a dual- instead quad-outlet exhaust, and the lack of a GT badge are clues at the rear that you’re looking at a V-6 G8.
Hard plastics make it possible
The good looks extend into the G8‘s cabin, with its European-style instrument cluster and center stack. The front seats are well bolstered, supportive, and comfortable, and there’s plenty of room front and rear. While its design is generally handsome, the interior is a strange mix of attractive soft materials and harsh, unfinished-looking plastics. Fit and finish are not strong points of the G8’s cabin – our test car was already exhibiting squeaks and rattles in the dash, and a gap between two panels on the center console was wide enough to expose the underlying metal structure. (Again, Holden has been building this same basic car for three years now. We’d expect the kinks to have been worked out.) Ergonomics are a mixed bag; controls are well placed for the most part, although the cruise-control stalk is nearly hidden by the steering wheel and it’s very difficult to get at the seat adjustments with the door closed due to a small tray next to the seat that gets in the way. Steering wheel-mounted audio controls are a welcome standard feature, but the thumb wheels lack positive feedback making it hard to effect precise changes. Two different stereo packages are available, though a navigation unit is noticeably absent from the options list.
One thing we noticed upon popping the hood of this G8 is that the engine actually looks like an engine. While most engine bays these days are a sea of black plastic shrouds, only broken up by idiot-proof, color-coded fluid filler necks, the V-6 G8 has a good ol’ metal intake plenum visible atop the engine. Okay, so the brightly colored fillers remain, but isn’t it refreshing to at least get a glimpse of where the ponies reside? The engine makes 256 of them and 248 lb-ft of torque with the help of variable valve timing. We were never wanting for power, which isn’t to say the GT‘s extra 100-plus horsepower would have gone unused. The engine has a good amount of intake noise that is sometimes pleasant, but can get annoying when holding high revs.
The only transmission offered with the V-6 is a five-speed automatic that offers a shift-it-yourself function as well as a Sport mode and blips the throttle on downshifts. When Sport is engaged, the gearbox isn’t shy about holding a gear for a tick or two, but conversely will grab the highest gear once your right foot has settled down to improve fuel economy.
We’re happy to report that along with the GT‘s good looks, the base G8 also shares its big brother’s well-balanced chassis. The V-6 car is at once at home on back roads and comfortable on long highway jaunts. We did experience some stiffness and float at times, but overall the suspension offers a respectable balance of comfort and sport for everyday driving. The well-weighted steering offers decent on-center feel and the car turns in predictably. Stability control is standard and can be turned down, but never fully off, making tail-out shenanigans difficult but not impossible.
The base G8 is a fun-to-drive mid-size V-6 sedan, certainly the exception to a boring rule. Its rear-wheel-drive layout keeps things interesting. None of the front-wheel-drive four-doors in its class offers the same level of driving enjoyment. The comes closest, but it can’t match the G8’s comfort. The only rear-wheel-drive competition the G8 faces is Dodge‘s Charger. Neither offers a stellar interior, but the Pontiac feels smaller and more nimble than the Dodge. So far, 60 percent of G8 buyers have chosen the GT, but we are not going to say that the other 40 made the wrong choice.
2009 Pontiac G8 V-6
Base Price: $27,995
As Tested Price: $29,370
Engine: 3.6-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 256 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 248 lb-ft @ 2100 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
L x W x H: 196.1 x 74.8 x 57.7 in
Legroom F/R: 42.2/39.4 in
Headroom F/R: 38.7/38.0 in
Cargo capacity: 17.5 cu ft
Curb Weight: 3885 lb
EPA Rating (city/highway): 17/25 mpg