Pontiacs are ubiquitous in the Motor City, but the rest of the country is less interested in the marque. During our first test-drive of the new G6, which replaces the Grand Am, a Pontiac engineer admitted that when he flies to California, he holds his breath after leaving the airport terminal until he sees a Pontiac. Sometimes he nearly passes out before conceding that there are no Grand Ams, Grand Prixs, or Bonne-villes swimming in the sea of Hondas, Toyotas, and BMWs. Pontiac is hoping to change that with the G6 and has even ditched its best-selling nameplate-Grand Am-to make the point that this is a truly different Pontiac.
The G6’s sleek, unadorned styling is certainly a refreshing change from the Grand Am’s ribbed plastic and bizarre spoilers. The car’s long, 112-inch wheelbase, which is shared with its Epsilon platform mate, the Maxx, helps give the car a great road stance, with a flowing profile and short overhangs. The interior is less appealing. Although a huge improvement over the Grand Am’s, it still suffers from subpar switchgear, imprecisely molded plastics, and discordant shapes and textures. Legroom is plentiful, but headroom is sacrificed for a low, sexy roofline.
This year, a 3.5-liter V-6 sending 200 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque through a four-speed automatic is the sole powertrain for both the base model and the GT. While smooth at idle, the pushrod V-6 coarsens as the revs rise. For 2006, a GTP model will debut with a 240-horsepower, 3.9-liter pushrod V-6 and an optional six-speed manual. A modern, DOHC, 2.4-liter, 170-horsepower Ecotec four-cylinder also arrives next year, along with coupe and convertible body styles.
Pontiac offered a Mazda 6, a , and a for comparison, all of which had markedly better interiors and more refined powertrains. The Pontiac’s numb, electrically assisted steering conspires with excess weight to dumb down the driving ex-perience. Lots of grip from stiff springs and big tires can’t overcome excessive understeer and a lack of damping. The brakes are excellent, though.
Despite Pontiac’s claims of “a value proposition,” the G6 is priced in lockstep with the Mazda and the Honda, at $21,300 for the base model and $23,925 for the GT. Distinctive styling only goes so far, and other than generous rear legroom and an available panorama roof, the G6 has little to distinguish it. It’s a significant step up from the Grand Am, but the G6 is still off the pace in a segment full of great cars. GM has shown it can make cars that you really might see driving through the passenger-pickup lanes at LAX-witness the and the -but we wouldn’t hold our breath waiting for a G6.