Say what you will of the knife-edge styling that plagued Pontiacs of the late 1990s, but I really liked the styling of the first-generation Vibe – it was sharp, it was (surprisingly) clean, and the result was a five-door hatch that had some sport to it. I can’t say the same for the new car. Designers seemed to keep some of the sharp lines of the original, but they inexplicably added rotund forms for no real reason. It’s not the Aztek, mind you, but it’s not the sharp, sporty little thing I once admired.
On that note, sporty isn’t a word I’d use to describe the GT package itself. Although it’s equipped with Toyota‘s larger 2.4-liter I-4 (a 1.8-liter is standard on the base car), this thing doesn’t feel swift. The 158-hp engine is sufficient to move the car around, but it doesn’t have the visceral sound or thrust one gets in a true hot hatch. The same goes for the suspension – the softly sprung Vibe is comfortable over most surfaces, but it becomes gelatinous in the corners, where the car’s 3100-pound mass is felt through oodles of body roll. It’s fine if you’re not going to thrash your car, but it’s a bit out of place on what is considered to be the sport model. The Vibe could definitely use a sport suspension option.
Still, it’s roomy, it’s comfortable, and overall the Vibe is a competent car. Competent though it may be, I question the Vibe’s future viability. When it launched, it stood alone as a funky, flexible compact vehicle with some neat tricks up its sleeve. Now that its 115-volt outlet and folding front seat are commonplace in the market, what does the Vibe offer to set it apart from the competition? As an enthusiast, I’d look past the $3500 difference between our car and a four-door GTI and run to a Volkswagen dealer – even if that means eschewing a sunroof and a two-prong outlet.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
I, too, was a fan of the edgy first-generation Vibe. The new Vibe is much frumpier-looking than its predecessor, although the big chrome wheels on this GT help make it look sportier. From the side, it looks pretty pudgy … but at least it’s not covered in Pontiac body cladding. And at some 3100 pounds, the Vibe is pudgy, and its fuel-economy numbers (21/28 mpg) aren’t as good as one would hope, and there’s no blistering performance to pacify this weakness. Hot hatch? To me, the Vibe GT is barely lukewarm.
That said, I think the Vibe (a Toyota/General Motors joint venture) is an extremely important vehicle: it’s a versatile, useful, small wagon from the two top automakers in the universe. (Besides the modified GM radio, the Vibe doesn’t try to hide its Toyota Matrix roots, but that doesn’t bother me in this badge-engineered case.)
Because of its American-ized Japanese engineering, along with its highly competitive price, I’d probably consider buying one for my wife, and I’d definitely recommend it to noncar people who like small, stick-shifted, pseudo-sporty wagons. Despite its grabby brakes and clutch, sloppy shifter action, and vague steering, it drives OK for this type of vehicle. The GT badge and sporty styling are pretty misleading, though.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I’ve always been confused by the Vibe/Matrix. Here we have, as Rusty noted, the two top automakers in the universe cooperating on a single vehicle, and they choose to build an inoffensive, but ultimately irrelevant and uninteresting small car. Did GM decide the Chevrolet HHR is too compelling and quick to rebadge for their supposed performance brand? Did Toyota come to the conclusion that they weren’t squeezing enough volume out of the Corolla (the world’s best-selling vehicle) and somehow think Pontiac gave them access to a missing demographic? These vehicles and the larger NUMMI venture might have made sense back when Toyota needed legitimacy in North America and GM couldn’t make decent small cars, but now it seems a bit of a waste of pooled resources.
Having registered my qualms with the Vibe as a concept, I must say the vehicle itself is not all that bad. I for one prefer its looks to both the first-generation Vibe and the current Matrix. It comes off as sporty and substantial, but without trying too hard to scream “Excitement!” as did many (all?) Pontiacs in the late 1990s. The interior likewise looks at least reasonably upscale and well put together. It’s also worth noting that GM’s corporate radio units have come a long way in recent years. This one looked awfully similar to those in the Malibu and Aveo that recently passed through our fleet, but wasn’t an eyesore by any means.
Dynamically, the Vibe is competent, but far from sporty. It never feels terribly off balance, as do some tall hatches, and has little trouble keeping up with traffic, but it never arouses any emotion. Given that both GM and Toyota have many powerful engines in their portfolio, it’s a bit disappointing that they offer nothing better than this 2.4-liter four.
Like Rusty, I’d probably recommend this to a non-enthusiast looking for practical, cheap, and reasonably attractive transportation. In the long run though, I hope Toyota and GM figure out something more useful to do together.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
2009 Pontiac Vibe GT
Base Price (with destination): $19,895
Price as tested: $20,595
Options: Power Sunroof – $700
Fuel Economy: 21 / 28 / 24 (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 2.4L DOHC I-4
HP: 158 HP @ 6000 (est.)
Torque: 162 lb-ft @ 4000 (est.)
Transmission: 5 Speed Manual
Weight: 3075 lbs.
18″ Aluminum Wheels (size)