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2009 Pontiac G8 GXP

In 1984, when gasoline was suddenly cheap again following the 1970s fuel crises, Pontiac's slogan was, "We Build Excitement."

If you were looking for thrills of the large-sedan variety, the Parisienne was your ride. Stuffed with an asthmatic, 150-hp V-8, it wheezed to 60 mph in, oh, about thirteen seconds. Cornering? Not so much. The lumbering Parisienne was brimming with excitement all right. About as much excitement as an intestinal virus on prom night.

Now it's 2009, gas is suddenly cheap again - at least relatively speaking, and at least for the moment - and this time, Pontiac offers a very different kind of excitement. The G8 GXP may look similar to the 6.0-liter V-8-powered G8 GT, but underneath its vented hood is the 6.2-liter LS3 V-8 from the Corvette. Producing 415 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque, this engine makes the GXP the most powerful production Pontiac ever. Pontiac claims that the GXP, equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission, will hit 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and burst through the quarter mile in 13.2 seconds at 109 mph.

If you're looking to maximize excitement, though, get the optional six-speed manual transmission, with which a permagrin comes standard. The first stick-shift G8 uses the Tremec gearbox from the Corvette, replete with short-throw shifts and a perfectly weighted, easy-to-modulate clutch. Closely spaced ratios keep the LS3 in its power band - not to mention its acoustic sweet spot. However, at highway speeds, revs are just high enough to introduce some driveline vibration into the cabin, and since the LS3 doesn't have the GT's fuel-saving cylinder deactivation, the GXP can barely manage 20 mpg.

The G8 GXP's stopping power is prodigious, thanks to a pair of aluminum four-piston Brembo calipers up front squeezing fourteen-inch rotors. Its FE3 suspension is the most aggressive available on any G8, and it was tuned at the Nürburgring, a Pontiac first. Many hi-po sedans, including the BMW M5 and the Cadillac CTS-V, use staggered (wider) rear wheels that result in steady-state understeer. Not so the G8 GXP, which, with its chunky rear antiroll bar, is one of the most neutral sedans available today. Turn gently into a corner under light throttle, and the car settles into a perfect four-wheel drift. Add any throttle, and the limited-slip differential ensures there's no inside wheel spin or violent snap oversteer - just a smooth transition to a controllable power slide. Despite all the throttle adjustability, however, there is little feedback coming through the GXP's large steering wheel.

Our complaints about lesser G8s still apply here, especially the unavailability of a navigation system due to the radio's low location on the center console. But that oversight can be easily overlooked with a prod of the loud pedal and a turn of the steering wheel. Now that fuel prices have slumped and the economy is in a funk, it might just be the perfect time for a sport sedan with M5 performance credentials at half the price. And besides, with the auto industry in shambles, we could all use a good laugh.