The Pontiac Vibe is essentially a Toyota Matrix in a party dress--and the clothes make all the difference. The Vibe shares the Matrix's chassis and powertrains, but does so with an exterior style that still looks fresh, hip, and arguably more attractive. It combines this sporty appearance with an interior versatile enough to carry items up to eight feet in length.
For 2006, there are a number of new features, from an available sport package to a new exterior color. Three Vibe models are available: base, Vibe AWD, and Vibe GT. The base car is powered by a 130-horsepower inline-four driving the front wheels; the AWD has a 123-horse engine mated to a standard four-speed automatic; and the front-drive GT gets a sportier 170-horse engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission.
The Vibe eschews Pontiac's former overwrought aesthetic for a clean, sharp, wedge-shaped hatchback that makes the sister Toyota Matrix look downright frumpy. A double-kidney grille and cats-eye headlamps lend a Pontiac face to the Vibe. Pronounced wheel arches convey a sense of sport and imply AWD through the symmetrical application at each corner. The angled beltline gives a visual sense of forward momentum. All the cues work together to create a sporting, even adventurous, presence heightened by bodywork on the GT edition. Base Vibes have 16-inch wheels and tires, but the available 17s create a more aggressive appearance. An integrate roof rack is standard, suggesting a model that seeks an active owner.
We like the Vibe's interior, with its simple, easy-to-follow center stack and instrument panel. The chrome-rimmed gauges are particularly handsome. Because this vehicle is based on the Toyota Matrix, it has the kind of tight panel gaps and quality fits and finishes that few other GM products have, yet the GM designers made the interior feel more inviting than that of the Toyota.
The Vibe has a 60/40-split folding rear seat and a folding front passenger seat. The upshot is a relatively spacious cabin that will hold five adults or accommodate a driver and some quite sizable items from the Home Depot. With the second row seats up, there are 19.3 cubic feet of luggage space; with them folded, a very useful 54.1 cubic feet. More impressive, perhaps, is the 36.3 inches of rear-seat legroom and the 41.8 inches up front. And in terms of headroom--40.6 inches up front, 39.8 inches out back--the Vibe beats some luxury cars.
Base Vibes are pretty basic, with standard air conditioning, CD stereo, and tilt steering wheel. You'll need to buy a power group value package--on the base, AWD, and GT models--to get cruise control and power locks, windows, and external mirrors.
A "Moon and Tunes" package adds a power moonroof and a 200-watt premium sound system with seven speakers and an integrated subwoofer. In keeping with the youth marketing bias of this vehicle, there's a 115-volt power outlet in the front console, into which you can plug a laptop computer, cell phone charger, or even an air compressor. XM satellite radio is an available option, as is GM's OnStar system. A DVD-based navigation system is also available. The GT has a leather-wrapped steering wheel, to complement its sporty pretensions.
In addition to standard front-seat airbags, the Vibe offers full-length head curtain airbags. Anti-lock brakes are standard on the GT and the AWD, but an option on the base trim. Buy ABS, and traction control is part of the package. All-wheel drive is available, along with GM's StabiliTrak electronic stability control system.
The base Vibe is powered by a typically smooth Toyota DOHC, 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder engine that makes 130 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque--although those figures drop to 123 hp and 118 lb-ft should you opt for all-wheel drive. A five-speed manual transmission is standard with this Corolla-shared engine; a four-speed automatic is optional on FWD models and standard on the AWD version.
The GT offers more performance, courtesy of a more-powerful 1.8-liter DOHC inline four that makes 170 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque. With a six-speed manual transmission--the only choice--the GT will sprint from 0 to 60 mph in around 8.0 seconds. However, you'll need to rev this engine to within an inch of its life to see its advantage over the base engine because it develops its power and torque so high in the rev range.
Vibes are nice to drive and remarkable in their efficiency and execution. The sporty GT has nice steering, good brakes, and sharp handling, but you need to rev the engine to the upper end of the tacho dial for the full effect. The rev-happy nature of the engine makes it a bit tiresome in daily driving, and it doesn't fit the generally utilitarian nature of the vehicle. The six-speed manual transmission is a honey, though, adding to the car's versatility and fun.
The AWD model is a boon in the Snow Belt, but performance is blunted by a combination of the lower-powered engine and a standard automatic transmission.
The choicest Vibe is the base model, fitted with a sweet-shifting five-speed manual and that willing, if underpowered, 130-hp engine. It handles just as well as the GT, requires less shifting, and when fitted with the standard StabiliTrak system is just as safe in most conditions as the all-wheel-drive model.
The Vibe comes with a standard three-year/36,000-mile warranty, with a six-year/100,000-mile anti-corrosion policy. Pontiac offers 24-hour roadside assistance during the warranty period--an upscale feature for this basic car.
A compact yet versatile package with Pontiac flair and Toyota dependability.
Sharp looks Intelligent interior packaging Lots of available features
Lack of power Spartan base model Too many options packages
For 2006, Pontiac is offering a number of changes to the available options packages. There's a sport package that offers 16-inch aluminum wheels and a monochromatic appearance; a premium package that incorporates leather seating and a leather-wrapped steering wheel; and a security package that adds OnStar and anti-lock brakes to the base model.
The Power Group Value Package is important as it brings a whole host of convenience features not available elsewhere in the lineup. Side-curtain airbags are another key option, while the StabiliTrak electronic stability control system also makes a lot of sense. If you live in the Snow Belt, all-wheel drive is definitely a consideration, even though it emasculates an already low-powered engine.