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.