Category Archives: Pontiac

2009 Pontiac Vibe (726)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2009 Pontiac Vibe Small SUV / wagon. It sets on a Toyota Corolla chassis just like its twin sister Toyota Matrix.

These cars, as is true of so many on the road today, are aerodynamically designed to improve fuel economy and unlike cars of old, today’s cars are stealth like by comparison. It is most noticeable to me as I pass trucks on the freeway. You don’t get buffeted around as you did in the past because of the newer wind tunnel designs. Little things like this go mostly unnoticed. Cars have less personality however as they take on that computer design and are not subject to the designers creative wishes. They are constrained by what the computer says will work best.

I suspect that is inevitable and we go faster, become more efficient and all that, but I can’t help but think we’d be better off if we went back to horse and buggies. Slow down and smell the roses … ok and other odors created by the horses. But really, is that any worse than the smell of fossil fuels burning our nostrils?

Think about it.

General Info:

Parts – US/Canadian 61%, Japan 39%,

Assembly – Fremont, CA USA.

Class:  – Small Wagons

Cars: – Vibe, G5, G6, G8, Grand Prix, Solstice, Torrent.

 Observation:

I have a suggestion for Navigation system makers. When it searches for a route to an intended destination it should provide a few alternates and let you choose which is best in the circumstances. That would be cool. It should also have an automatic feature that takes you around jam ups at the push of a button as you enter the next so many miles of the backup on the selected route.

Handling & Performance:

A delight to drive, for the most part, but although it is comfortable and relatively smooth on the highway you’ll notice a lot of road noise too. With today’s (perceived) need for cell phones new laws dictate no use except with hands free devices. This was a bit of a problem since it is harder to hear with the background noise.

Styling:

Plain Jane, or plain wrap or some would say clean exterior lines is what you’ll see in the look of this utility commuter. That is also true of even the most expensive of cars these days. Paying more won’t buy you the unique styling that was typical 50 years ago. This is the age of computers and Uni-sex and lots of other boring changes in the name of “progress”.

Fit and Finish:

Very good but pretty typical in class.

Cost:

Well… the price is right even with options. Good value here.

Features and Conveniences:

Light on the creature comforts but appropriate for the price. And of course you won’t suffer too much even at the base price that has manual roll up windows. You don’t see that much any more. Do you think we should be embarrassed if we drove a car with roll up windows?

Consumer Recommendation:

Resource – www.safercar.gov

My brother and sister in law have a 2003 Vibe they bought new about 6 years ago and now it has 100,000 trouble free miles on it and still ticking. They would buy another but now will likely wait to see who is elected. Their testimony is good enough for me coming from conservative careful spenders. He’s an accident reconstruction engineer and picky about things – especially the cars he drives. I can’t think of a better recommendation.

Recognized Competition:

Pontiac Vibe $16-21,000, Chrysler PT Cruiser $17-24,000, Subaru Impreza $17-28,000, Nissan Versa $13-16,000, Suzuki SX4 $15-17,000, Toyota Matrix $16-22,000, Chevrolet Malibu Maxxt $21-23,000, Scion xB $15,750, VW Jetta Sportwagon $19-26,000, Kia Rondo $17-21,000, Ford Focus $17-18,000, Mazda 3 $14-21,000, Mazda 5 $18-23,000, Dodge Caliber $16-24,000, Honda Fit $15-19,000, Chevrolet HHR $19-25,000.

Good News:

Outstanding fuel economy, good recommendation and comfy nice ride. Perhaps more important – It’s made in the good old USA.

Bad News:

A bit more road noise than is necessary. They should fix that.

Standard Equipment:

1.8 liter 132 hp inline 4-cylinder engine, 5-speed manual trans, power rack & pinion steering, air bags all over the place, OnStar with 1-year included, 4-wheel ABS disc brake system, rear child safety locks, stability control, tire pressure monitor, adjustable steering wheel, stereo with CD player, XM Satellite radio with 3 months included, center console, 60/40 fold flat rear seats, 16” steel wheels, power mirrors and rear wiper and defogger.

Options: Preferred package includes remote keyless entry, power door locks and windows and cruise control $945; Air conditioning $950 and MP3 player $150.

Gas Stats:

$3.19/ Gal avg. October 22, ‘08

www.fueleconomy.gov

for more information.

26 City and 32 Highway MPG

www.safercar.gov  or   888-327-4236

Pricing:

MSRP $15,310, with options $17,355..

2007 Pontiac G6 – GT Convertible (630)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2007 Pontiac G6 – GT Convertible and although it isn’t terrible on fuel usage I’m beginning to believe people just don’t care all that much about the need for improvement.

It would appear they have resigned themselves to the fact it will cost about $1,000 a year more for gas and they are helpless to change that fact. That’s a bad sign, because without consumer pressure manufacturers will give up trying to improve as quickly as they might otherwise do.  

I say, give ‘em hell until they find a better way for us to be transported in this fast moving world of information and high tech stuff. In a world where 7 year olds get cell phones for Christmas and all manner of technology amazes and boggles the mind we should be able to do better on fuel economy.

I continue to be impressed by all of the technical stuff in autos like XM Radio, NAV systems and OnStar communications links that are some of the most useful additions to the driving experience ever.

General Info:

Parts – n/a

Assembly – Lake Orion , Michigan , USA

Class:  – Compact

Cars: – G5, G6, Grand Prix, GTO, Solstice, SV6, Torrent and Vibe.

Public Service:

Slow down… breath through your nose … Relax… Don’t worry… Be happy (song written by composer Bobby McFerrin in the late 1980s). It’s a good message and so I suggest you make 2007 a year of more peace and quiet in your life. A side effect of that prescription will be less stress on the highways and by-ways of this wonderful country – America – for all of us.

Observation:

I couldn’t resist sharing this with you. I drive highway 14 often and wonder if anyone else has noticed how heavy the traffic is Tuesday through Thursday and Monday and Friday are much lighter? Well I’ve concluded that is because there is a large number of people who just can’t get out of bed after a busy weekend, and then they have to take off Friday after a harrowing three days of work. What do you think?

Handling & Performance:

Very good feel and therefore this convertible is fun to drive for those who enjoy sporty feeling cars. This reminds me of the Camaro I owned and which I loved so much for its low profile wide track stability. Pontiac is the closest thing to that car, of course,

Styling:

Truly well done sleek lines that flow beautifully. The bad news is you bump your head on the inside of the top. “Dear, just put the seat back”. I know love, I tried that but then I can’t reach the pedals. “Then you should have bought the adjustable pedals option”. She always gets the last word.

]For the money I was a little disappointed with the interior trim. The trunk is ok with the top up but it was no surprise there is almost no room with it down. But they did find a way to make the rear seat functional for even adults. Most sport cars have unusable rear seats.

Fit and Finish:

Nothing to write home about, but good.

Cost:

Some say it is Affordable… But I say it is pricey for a compact Pontiac car. The only justification for the high cost is the hard top that turns into a convertible very nicely.

MSRP isn’t chump change at over $28,000, and when you upgrade to premium and sport packages the price quickly goes over $32,000.

Conveniences and comfort:

On the other hand, it’s worth looking at the options in the Premium Package which includes XM that is wonderful, but I can do without remote starting, heated seats, and leather isn’t a must. Now if you spend a lot of time in cold climates I take it all back. The sport package includes one very important item – Stability control. The 3.9 liter engine upgrade is not necessary. I think the auto air (climate control) is a plus.

Consumer Recommendation:

Pack a lunch because you have a lot of competition to look at.

Recognized Competition:

Pontiac G6 $17-32,000, Nissan Altima $18-28,000, Saturn Aura $20-24,000, Mercury Milan $19-25,000, Hyundai Sonata $17-23,000, Ford Fusion $17-24,000, Chevrolet Impala $21-28,000, Toyota Camry $18-28,000, Buick LaCrosse $22-27,000, Mitsubishi Galant $20-27,000, Honda Accord $19-30,000, Subaru Legacy $20-34,000, Mazda 6 $19-28,000.

Good News:

Decent fuel economy, roomy rear seat (for a convertible) and fun to drive.

Bad News:

Top is a little low in front, a bit of a rattle that seemed to be related to the convertible top mechanism and a bit pricey for a compact.

Standard Equipment:

3.5 liter 217 hp V6 engine front wheel drive, 4-speed auto trans with manual shift mode, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, traction control, dual air bags with passenger sensing system, daytime running lights, theft deterrent system with passlock system, power mirrors, fog lights, manual air conditioning, remote keyless entry, rear window defroster, height adjustable power 4-way seat, power windows and locks, stereo with 6 disc CD player w/ 8 speaker monsoon system, tilt and telescopic steering wheel with audio controls, power release trunk lid, cruise control and power retractable hard top.

Gas Stats:

$2.50/ Gal avg. Dec 06

17 City and 24 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $28,500.

2006 Pontiac Solstice (595)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2006 Pontiac Solstice two seater sport car. Its twin sister is the Sky from Saturn. I’ve got one on order so we can see how it compares with this very lovely lady – the Solstice.

The closest competition is the Mazda Miata MX5, but you know what, it is half the price of the BMW M which is over $51,000. The better news is that it is not “Half” the car. This will be the hottest car of the year. I rarely am so impressed with a car so quickly and after a week of driving in the mountains I became more and more impressed. Looking at the side by side comparison with such cars as the Miata, the BMW Z4 and even the BMW M, all these 2 seater convertibles make the Solstice the top dog for an underdog new kid on the block. Nice job GM… I say GM because I understand this design came from Saturn originally but they re-designed it and named it the Sky.

General Info:

Parts – n/a

Assembly – Wilmington , DE USA

Class:  – Two Seater

Cars: – Aztek, G6, Grand Prix, GTO, Solstice, SV6, Torrent and Vibe.

sol·stice  noun

Etymology: Middle English, from Old French, from Latin solstitium, from sol sun + -stit-, -stes standing; akin to Latin stare to stand

1 : either of the two points on the ecliptic at which its distance from the celestial equator is greatest and which is reached by the sun each year about June 22d and December 22d

2 : the time of the sun’s passing a solstice which occurs about June 22d to begin summer in the northern hemisphere and about December 22d to begin winter in the northern hemisphere

Handling & Performance:

Outstanding – especially when you look at the price tag. Ok I have to say I wish it had Traction Control and ABS brakes and with its guaranteed success you can look for a supercharged version with more of the bells and whistles that will make it handle even better.

Styling:

Fantastic. It surely rivals cars at twice the money. Consider the chopped up styling of the much more expensive BMW Z4 and you begin to appreciate the clean sexy lines of this Solstice.

Fit and Finish:

Very good for the money, but there are some things Pontiac needs to improve. There is a virtual sea of plastic and grommets that are cheap spongy material that falls off in your hand. This is not an indictment but rather a bitch and complaint that tells GM it needs attention.

Cost:

Aggressive. The solstice came to play and GM is like a cornered animal that makes it that much more formidable an adversary. Look out Toyota you haven’t slain the Giant yet.

Conveniences:

Not a lot of stuff. Pretty austere as a matter of fact. But I was never impressed with anything that needed too much make up. I like natural beauty and this is surely the girl next door. You learn to appreciate her simplicity the older you get. And you wonder why you looked any further than the “Girl Next Door”.

Consumer Recommendation:

I would buy this for my daughter in a heartbeat. The price is right, it’s too small for boys to get too friendly and you can’t get an overnight bag in the non-existent trunk. School books and lunch, tennis racket and gym clothes are about it. With the top up you can get a few other things in there too. Forget the golf clubs too. If that is a must this is not the sports car for you. As a comparison the BMW Z4 at $37,000 has twice the cargo area at 9.2 cubic feet and only 5.4 for the Solstice.

Recognized Competition:

Pontiac Solstice $19,915, Toyota MR2 Spyder $25,000, BMW Z4 $35-42,000, Mitsubishi Eclipse $19-24,000, Mazda Miata MX-5 $20-27,000, Nissan 350Z $28-40,000, Mini Cooper $17-25,000, Audi TT $34-47,000, Volkswagen New Beetle $17-22,000, Honda S2000 $34,050.

Good News:

Great styling (and that means great resale value), decent fuel economy, good engine power, very fun to drive and the top is easy to put up and down even if it isn’t power actuated. This is a keeper.

Bad News:

No standard ABS, no option for Traction control, poor visibility, some wind noise from the top fitting, rag top rear mounts are a bit wrinkled when up and in place, not for people over 5′ 9” tall and like so many cars today it is a sea of plastic components and some questionable sponge grommets and spacers.

Standard Equipment:

2.4 liter inline 4 cylinder dual overhead cam 177 hp engine, 5-speed manual transmission, rear wheel drive, 4-wheel independent suspension, power rack and pinion steering, Bilstein monotube shocks, dual stage air bags, 4-wheel disc brakes, theft deterrent passkey, cloth convertible top with glass window with defogger, front hinged hood, tinted glass, intermittent wipers, stainless steel exhaust, 6 speaker radio with CD player, leather wrapped shift knob, adjustable steering wheel, 3 cup holders, remote trunk release. Options: Cruise control, driver information center, steering wheel controls, fog lights, power locks, remote keyless entry, power windows and power mirrors, air conditioning, polished aluminum 18” wheels, 4-wheel ABS brakes, limited slip rear differential and MP3 player.

Gas Stats:

20 City and 28 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $19,915.

2005 Pontiac G6 GT Sedan (524)

Overview:

This week I tested the 2005 Pontiac G6, GT Sedan. I remember when mom owned a Pontiac way back when. In those days it was not politically incorrect to talk about Cowboys and Indians or Speedy Gonzalez, or Pepe Le Pew.

Pontiac advertising used American Indians in their ads showing an Indian with hand held to his brow to shade the glare of the sun enunciating clearly but with an Indian accent, “Ugh, Pontiac heap good car”. Of course us kids would shorten it a bit and make fun of the ad, saying “Ugh, Pontiac heap”. Funny how that made a lasting impression on how it can make you feel about the quality of a car like this Pontiac.

I could hardly reach the pedals on mom’s Pontiac so any car would be cool then. Don’t tell the police I was driving without a license. Of course that was pretty common back then and you could even get a learners permit at age 15 and to us that was an obvious validation of our right to drive. Perhaps that’s where I formed the belief it is a God given right to drive on the highways. After all, I help pay for them. Today the government would have you believe it is a “privilege” to drive. Don’t you believe it, or before you know it, they will blackmail you and use that “privilege” and next make it a privilege to breath or exercise other bodily functions. Then you can bet our wise elected officials would tax those functions too. Whoa, better hold it there or I’ll get on my soapbox and tell you what I really think about our “Out-of-Control” government.

General Info:

Parts 

Assembly – Lake Orion, MI, USA

Class:  – Compact

Cars:  – Aztek, Bonneville, G6, Grand AM, Grand Prix, GTO, Montana, Sunfire and Vibe.

Handling & Performance:

This is an all American muscle car. Yes, it is the last of the Mohechans – (gee, I wonder if that is politically correct to use the name of an Indian Tribe in this context?). Muscle cars imply brute force, which has always been a sign of Americana. Kids have tweaked cars to the max and beyond and our pioneer spirit and rebel attitude has, at the end of the day, worked to make cars and other things better. It is the individual that pushes the envelope and given enough time and money they will make a space ship better than NASA. I’d like to think this Pontiac is a reflection of the demands of our youth on performance, which made companies like General Motors do what our youth had wanted all along.

A criticism of American cars is that Detroit has not changed with the times and technology. That they refuse to get rid of the old “Tried and True” pushrod engines, whilst the rest of the world is moving on to better performing engines. Thus you will notice the rough sounding engine noise on this G6 that is so characteristic of American cars, as compared to smooth running (little or no vibration) from engines in all Japanese cars for example with overhead camshafts and 4 valves per cylinder.

Ok, so old dogs can learn new tricks, and next year the G6 will offer a new 2.4-liter, overhead camshaft, 16-valve 4-cylinder engine with 170 horsepower.

Styling:

This is the best Pontiac has produced in too many years. You gotta love the great look even if you’re not a Pontiac fan.

Fit and Finish:

Plastic, like so many new cars today forced to continue cutting costs. But more importantly, it is done with more attention to detail. The air conditioning vents for example feel good to the touch. I like the ratchet solid settings you get which is far better than in the past and better than much of the competition. Nice touch GM, which shows some sensitivity to the criticism of the past.

Cost:

American made cars remain the best buys from a price to value standpoint. There isn’t much question, in my mind, that for the long haul you are better to pay more if you intend to keep your car longer than 4 or 5 years or you put a lot of miles on each year. Me, I don’t keep a car long and in this “Throw away” world it will be cheaper to replace almost anything after a few years than try to fix it. Consider for example any consumer electronics item or appliance. Seldom is it worth saving the receipt or filling out the warranty card. Why? Because it would cost more to return it or send it back for repair than to simply get the latest and greatest and toss the other.

Repairing a vintage television, record player, tape recorder or most anything you can think of is not cost effective, even if you could find a repair technician above grass level. Cars have just about achieved that status these days as well. Hard to believe, but true.

If you want to pump the price up a bit, an option package is available to add Chrome to the wheels, upgrade the stereo with a 6-disc CD player, power panoramic roof, which is an over sized sun roof that opens like an accordion and OnStar system for $3,145 and a leather package including seats, steering wheel, hand brake and shift knob, heated seats and a 6-way power driver seat for $1,365. And you can add side impact airbags and head curtain side bags for $690 and finally a remote starter system costs an additional $150.

Conveniences:

Ho hum – unless, of course, you go for the optional equipment to jazz things up a bit. For example, you can start the car from the warmth and comfort of your house at the push of a button on the remote keyless fob. Don’t laugh, if it’s snowing or frosty out, you can start the car and it will be warm and defrosted when you walk out the front door and step into it.

Consumer Recommendation:

If you are into muscle cars and like the availability of cars like the fabulous GTO of the 1960’s there isn’t much left to choose from. Camaro is gone now and only this and the Mustang remain in my memory. If you are simply into performance from the car you drive, the competition is rich in the area power off the line, without all the noise and fanfare.

The competition:

Pontiac G6 $21-23,000, Dodge Intrepid $21-25,000, Chrysler Concorde $23-29,000, Hyundai Sonata $16-20,000, VW Jetta $17-24,000, Mitsubishi Galant $18-26,000, Kia Amanti $24,995, Nissan Altima $17-29,000, Ford Taurus $21-24,000, Subaru Legacy $21-29,000, Chevrolet Malibu $19-24,000, Toyota Camry $18-25,000, Honda Accord $16-29,000, Mazda 6 $19-26,000.

Good News:

It’s a traditional muscle car, fast, sporty and great styling, fun to drive, roomy interior and a nice roomy trunk and finally you can’t ignore the great pricing.

Bad News:

Plastic, clunky suspension at times and perceived planned obsolescence.

Standard Equipment:

3.5 liter 200 horsepower V6 engine, 4-speed auto trans w/ overdrive and manual shift mode, sport suspension, 17” cast alum wheels, 4-wheel antilock disc brakes with traction control, front airbags, remote keyless entry, theft deterrent system, power mirrors, spoiler, fog lights, air conditioning, stereo with CD player and 8-speakers, tilt and telescopic wheel, power trunk release, power widows and locks and cruise control.

Gas Stats:

21 City and 29 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $23,300.

2004 Pontiac GTO Coupe (488)

Overview:

This week I drove the 2004 Pontiac GTO Coupe (Coo – Pay as they would pronounce in the 1940’s). You’ll definitely want to buckle up real tight and lash everything else down for rough seas when you drive this bad boy.

I have to tell you up front that the price noted below includes a $1,000 gas-guzzler tax. I agree with half of you that we should tax those who like to burn an inordinate amount of gasoline to travel one mile, while sympathizing with the other half who say, “What’s that all about?” If I burn a lot of gas I pay the tax at the pump.

Well, those who hold the power over these kinds of laws are control freaks and if they want a “Gas-Guzzler” tax they’ll find a way to convince us we need it. I think both halves would agree on that point.

Well, the GTO was first introduced in 1964 and with over half a million sold during the 10 years it was made. It has a lot of followers who think highly of that early GTO. They are primarily made up of energetic baby boomers that came of age with that James Dean rebel in them. Remember the Brando days “On the Waterfront” and “The Wild One”? It was a restless time, and cars were a symbol of freedom that gave a new meaning to independence from parents and authority. It was the vehicle that gave wings to would-be eagles. It afforded a place to experiment and spawn the next generation if you lived through the back street drags. Ok, so they weren’t simpler days and it’s time to come clean with our kids who we’ve convinced we were angles back then.

General Info:

Parts –  n/a

Assembly – Elizabeth, Australia

Class:  – Compact

Cars: – Aztek (Specialty SUV), Bonneville, Grand AM, Grand Prix, GTO, Montana (Van), Sunfire, Vibe (SUV).

 

Handling & Performance:

Awesome. Like, what do I need 350 horses for, dude? My brother has 20 and feeding them takes a lot of hay too. Not as much as the price of these 350 horses, but then he can only ride one at a time, while I was riding all 350 at the same time. Don’t tell the Highway Patrol. Ok so it takes brother John longer to get places but just think how much more of the countryside he gets to see. Oh for the simple life.

I note the pricey price tag on this GTO, but if you are hell bent on performance and brute force from your car, you won’t find one that will give more for the money. Example: I just finished testing the Cadillac XLR at $76,000 that will do 0-60 in about the same 5 seconds. Wanna race for pink slips? Other than racing, however, I just don’t think most folks will ever need this kind of speed capability from either car.

One last observation about these two cars – the GTO gets 21 highway mpg and the XLR is rated at 25 mpg. Why no gas-guzzler tax on the XLR? If you know I’d like to hear from you.

Styling:

I don’t know about you but a GTO doesn’t look like this. Oh, this is a GTO, you say. Well, some folks will always see a GTO like they were in the mid 1960’s to the mid 1970’s.

Fit and Finish:

Actually pretty good for an American car. Ok, so it was built in Australia. But you wouldn’t have known that if I didn’t tell you. Does anyone else wonder what happened to the pride of workmanship in America? We’re not a country who reveres any more the artisan heritage from whence we came. Watchmakers and other fine skilled workers like woodworking, engraving or fine stitch work are no more. Americans simply do not have the patience for that kind of detail. So things are thrown together with little care so they can get back on the freeway and suffer even more.

Not to worry, other countries still have time even though they don’t have watches. But they too will tire of paying attention to detail in time. They will probably have watches by then too.

Conveniences:

Not to many, but enough.

Cost:

Too much for a muscle car. Nostalgia just isn’t worth the extra cost… in my view.

Consumer Recommendation:

Bargain with the dealer because you can. This has a lot of fat in it – from a profit margin standpoint. If you can disprove that statement, call me.

The competition:

Pontiac GTO $31,795, Mazda RX-8 $25-27,000, BMW 3-Series $28-44,000, Volvo C-70 $40-42,000, Chevrolet Corvette $44-52,000, Ford Mustang $18-39,000, Nissan 350 Z $26-36,000, Audi TT $33-43,000, Mercedes Benz C-Class $26-51,000, Infiniti G35 $28-32,000.

Good News:

Powerfully fun car to drive.

Bad News:

Pricey, poor mileage and a Gas Guzzler tax to add insult to injury.

Standard Equipment:

5.7 liter 350 horsepower V8 engine, 4-speed auto trans, 4-wheel independent suspension with 4-channel 4-wheel power ABS disc brakes, Traction control, power steering, dual front air bags, theft deterrent system, rear child anchors, daytime running lights, keyless entry, leather sport bucket seats with 8-way power adjustment, 200-watt 10 speaker audio system with 6 in-dash CD changer, tilt and telescopic steering wheel with radio controls, power windows and locks, driver computer system, air conditioning, cruise control and fog lamps.

Gas Stats:

16 City and 21 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $33,495.

2003 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP Sedan (443)

Overview:

Muscle cars like this 2003 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP Sedan were born in America and are a nostalgic and romantic part of our history and love affair with the automobile. Those of us who are remnants of the 1950’s and 1960’s auto scene, took Ford Model A’s, 32’s, etc., and made our mark on the world of cars.

The next generation of young boys embraced the muscle cars of the 1960’s and 1970’s in a similar fashion. And you know, it’s nice to know there is a history of nostalgia that lives on from generation to generation.

Son Mike latched onto a 1967 Camaro when he was 15 and that is the automotive love of his life. For me it was a 1934 Chevrolet coupe with a rumble seat. It too was my first car and will always occupy a place in my heart. Young men bond with such experiences and their cars become a labor of love. Changing transmissions and tires with care like moms changing diapers – but hopefully not done as often as diaper changes.

Forty years ago when the Grand Prix was introduced it was the time for muscle cars and it brings back memories of greasy fingernails, the smell of gas and busted knuckles from the constant maintenance and modifications. We taught Detroit a lot even if they were slow learners. Those were great fun days. Now we have virtual reality, but somehow I liked the real reality of those “Happy Days”. I wonder what this generation of young folks will have to look back on. Hmmmm.

General Info:

Parts – USA

Assembly – USA

Class:  – Mid Size

Cars: – Aztek, Bonneville, Grand Am, Grand Prix, Montana, Sunfire, Vibe.

Handling & Performance:

Performance is a Muscle cars middle name. But for American cars it’s brute force as compared to the performance sophistication of Japanese cars. On the other hand there is a kind of mystique that surrounds American Muscle Cars that reminds us they came from the back yards of young men who gave birth to SEMA and all the aftermarket companies they represent. And speaking of the “Good old days”, Grand Prix had a big V8 and today Pontiac met the performance challenge with the quick acceleration of a Supercharged 3.8 liter 240 horsepower V6. This powerful engine is mated to a 4-speed automatic trans that shifts great and smooth as silk to use another term from the past. But smooth as silk could not be applied to the way auto transmissions shifted back in the 1960’s and 70’s.

Styling:

Sleek with a faint bit of the past. Cars like this are designed to look fast just standing still. Designers have provided roomy front seating for five but for tall folks the rear is a little tight. They also did a great job on the cockpit with canted driver instrument panel and the gauges are large and clearly readable. Another design feature I like a lot is the hug you get from the bucket seats. They fit so well and add to the driving pleasure that often comes from performance sport cars.

Fit and Finish:

Really quite good. Not quite to the Japanese standards but we’ve come a long way baby. What you’ll find is that American cars are presented in a more rough and tumble fashion where Japanese present a more dainty appearance. Real men don’t care but the ladies will surely lean toward the Japanese frills. Those cars are almost too “Squeaky Clean” for the likes of gear heads like Home Improvements’ Tim Allen, who most guys relate to.

Conveniences:

The Sedan with 4-doors is much more convenient getting in and out and there is nothing given up in styling. If anything it looks better.

Cost:

Still well priced American cars are a great option in the fight back for a struggling US economy.

Consumer Recommendation:

American cars have been on the comeback trail ever since car makers in the US wised up to the fact that Japan was a fierce competitor who had captured a huge share of the market before the sleeping giant woke. But the comeback is coupled with patriotism, mom and apple pie. And although lower prices over the past 5 years will give way to parody once again, I see a growing support for American made products. That’s good news for US automakers. I hope they’re listening and keep closing the quality gap that was painfully obvious in the decade past.

The competition:

Pontiac Grand Prix $22-26000, Buick Regal $24-28,000, Chevrolet Impala $21-24,000, Chrysler Concorde $23-29,000, Dodge Intrepid $21-25,000, Ford Taurus $20-24,000, Honda Accord $16-28,000, Mitsubishi Galant $18-24,000, Nissan Maxima $27-29,000, Oldsmobile Intrigue $23-28,000, Saturn LS $16-20,000, Subaru Legacy $20-25,000, Toyota Camry $19-25,000, Volkswagen Passat $22-38,000.

Good News:

Priced well, good quality, quick supercharged V6, roomy front seat, great brakes and respectable fuel economy (consider, a 60’s muscle car probably got 7-10 mpg). See Bad news.

Bad News:

Marginal room in the rear seat for tall folks. Regarding cost of gas: Come to think of it, gas was about 25 cents a gallon then so we continue to lose ground in the cost per mile category. Gas costs 5-7 times more in 2003 and fuel economy only improved 2-3 times since the 1960’s).

Standard Equipment:

3.8 liter supercharged 240 hp V6, 4-speed auto trans, electronic throttle control, dual airbags, OnStar communications, theft deterrent system, tire inflation monitor, ABS brakes with traction control, air conditioning, stereo with CD and 6 speakers, cruise control, tilt wheel, power driver seat, keyless entry, power windows and locks, console, fog lights, power mirrors, spoiler.

Options: Heated leather seats and leather trim, 6 in-dash CD player upgrade and 9 speakers, power sunroof and XM satellite 100-channel digital sound system. This will set you back another $2,480 over standard equipment pricing.

Gas Stats:

18 City and 28 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $25,860.

2003 Pontiac Vibe GT (404)

Overview:

This week we’ll look at the 2003 Pontiac Vibe GT sport utility. New entrants usually draw a lot of attention and especially when they are unique and different.

You may know that the Vibe was developed in a joint venture between GM and Toyota, so the Vibe is mechanically identical to the Toyota Matrix. Styling however is a bit different with Vibe being the bolder. The other competitors noted are truly more station wagon like. Folks who like SUV styling and convenience, but want more economy will  find the Vibe a great match. I would even go so far as to say the Vibe will be considered as an alternative to the likes of Jeep Liberty and Ford Escape even though the Vibe falls somewhere between a small SUV and a station wagon.

I’ve heard it said that “Two heads are better than one, even if they are both cabbage”. Well, it seems getting GM and Toyota together may have developed a better SUV for the times. I predict these will sell well.

General Info:

Parts –  USA

Assembly –USA

Class:  – Compact

Cars: – Aztek, Bonneville, Firebird, Grand Am, Grand Prix, Montana, Sunfire, Vibe.

Handling & Performance:

Fun to drive. A good town car and very capable on the open highway where it is comfortable and smooth. Very SUV like with the advantage of getting upwards of 10 mpg better mileage than a full size SUV and about 4-5 mpg more than the smaller Liberty and Escape.

The engine in the GT is 180 hp but you can also opt for a 130 hp version of the Vibe. Also, the GT only comes with a 6 speed manual transmission.

Styling:

Bold and gutsy which seems to be a new trend by car makers who are breaking away from the “Boorrring” batch of computer generated clones we’ve had to endure over the past couple of decades.

Fit and Finish:

Good in this price range and class.

Cost:

Good and all those noted here are but a freckle apart in cost. Personal preference will be the distinguishing factor more than dollars in the market share battle of the makers.

Consumer Recommendation:

Limited number of competitors so you should test drive them all. But check out the Jeep Liberty and the Ford Escape as well for a better comparison. As for me, in this grouping I’d go for the Vibe. But I would look hard at the Liberty and Escape.

The Competition:

(6) Pontiac Vibe $16-20,000, (5) Chrysler PT Cruiser $16-23,000, (2) Ford Focus Wagon $17-18,000, (1) Mazda Protege5 $16,000, (3t) Subaru Impreza Wagon $17-23,000,        (3t) Toyota Matrix $15-19,000.

* – ranking is based on cost, cu ft, number of features, warranty and gas mileage.

   

Matrix                                      Vibe

Good News:

Great addition to this segment of the market, Jointly developed with Toyota, built in America, distinctive styling, fun to drive, good on the road.

Bad News:

Engine noise in cockpit, shifter not as crisp and clean as it could be.

Standard Equipment:

1.8 liter inline 4 cylinder 180 horsepower engine, 6-speed manual transmission, power moon roof, 200 watt audio system, power windows, door locks, remote keyless entry and cruise control.

Gas Stats:

21 City and 28 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $19,340.

2001 Pontiac Montana Mini Van (347)

Overview:

This week I finally had the opportunity to test the 2001 Pontiac Montana Mini Van. Do you know the way to San Jose? How about Oregon? Well, that’s where I took this top of the line family van. It was really comfortable and as good as they get for a long trip. Up the central valley of California from Los Angeles to southern Oregon is about 700 miles, and not a sore tosch in the crowd.

The automatic doors made our many stops easier and the entertainment center was a lifesaver to occupy the two little ones. Which movie do you want? Mary Poppins was a hit. Timeless, isn’t it. Comfort also goes a long way to keep young passengers from saying, “are we there yet?” Simply put, I was impressed. Charlie, our Border Collie took the whole third row seats and didn’t make a whimper the whole trip. So although we could have seated 6 comfortably we toted five, including Charlie and the luggage fit in the remaining small cargo area.

In the central valley of California the temperatures can get downright uncomfortable but the air conditioning was fantastic. The rear air controls kept the kids and dog oblivious to the outside temps over 100 degrees.

If you’ve made the trip you already know you must cross two mountain ranges with climbs and decents that are long hard grades. The Grapevine, above LA, in California and the Siskious in southern Oregon. The climb from Redding, California begins with the breathtaking vistas of snow covered Mt. Shasta and Shasta Lake. What a beautiful country we live in.

The boots are real but cowboys don’t wear Levis. They wear Wranglers. If you know why, drop me a line and I’ll share your answer with the world. Go to Contact Us.

Handling & Performance:

The Montana I tested was equipped with the sport performance suspension and auto leveling plus traction control. It provides excellent handling with plenty of power from the V6, so I never felt the need for more. Passing those trucks was a breeze. Thanks Pontiac for a nice ride.

Styling:

I think they’ve been cloning these things since they stumbled onto the current body style that folks seem to like most. In a way, it is pretty plain but very functional like most of the competition. Before the mini van, “Really Plain” vans were made to function as a family transport vehicle. In the roaring ‘60’s the van got especially popular. The VW van became a symbol of Freedom, from free sex to ban the bomb free speech.

Fit and Finish:

Well done, Detroit. You’ve finally broken the Japanese code and continue to pump out near replicas of your Japanese counterparts that are often priced higher.

Conveniences:

Take a look at the equipment list and if it isn’t there, you don’t need it. Then take a trip with the kids or grandkids and you’ll dump that macho SUV and buy an ultra convenient mini van. And convenience is what really differentiates this class, from every other vehicle out there. It does it all and does it best.

Cost:

You’ll expect to pay as much as a 4X4 Sport Utility, but you’ll save on gas and for the most part accomplish the same thing as the utility vehicle.

Recommendation:

I wouldn’t suggest buying one without the auto doors on both sides. They are simply too convenient for the family who must move kids from place to place. You’re going to have to test ‘em all I’m afraid, unless you wouldn’t own anything but a Ford, then you’ll opt for the Windstar. If you like GM cars you’ll find this Pontiac equal to the challenge of Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, Honda and all the others. On the other hand, I really liked the Honda Odyssey.

The competition:

Chevrolet Venture $21,200-30,315, Chrysler Town & Country $24,430-37,510, Dodge Caravan $19,160-32,235, Ford Windstar $20,220-33,765, Honda Odyssey $23,900-26,400, Mazda MPV $20,675-26,280, Oldsmobile Silhouette $26,655-33,320, Toyota Sienna $23,905-28,436.

Good News:

Great family vehicle with lots of room, third row seats, good performance, entertainment center, comfortable, good alternative to the SUV.

Bad News:

Pricey since it’s at the upper end of the scale.

Standard Equipment:

3.4 liter 185 horsepower V6 engine, 4-speed automatic trans, 25 gallon gas tank, front and side air bags, 4-wheel anti lock brakes, daytime running lights, child security locks, rear wiper washer, theft deterrent system, battery run-down protection, luggage rack, dual sliding doors, tinted glass, power mirrors, power driver and passenger seats, power windows, 2nd row captains chairs, leather, tilt steering, cruise control, 6-disc in dash CD player, power rear quarter windows, keyless entry, OnStar communications system, front and rear air conditioning, leather wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, rear audio controls, traction and auto level control, rear parking sensors, entertainment center for audio and video and game input.

Gas Stats:

19 City and 26 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $34,220.

2001 Pontiac Aztek (327)

Overview:

This week I had the opportunity to drive a very different Pontiac – the new Aztek. It’s based on the Montana minivan. Some folks think it’s ugly, others say it’s futuristic. In short, they either love or hate what Pontiac calls a Sport Recreation Vehicle (SRV). It’s a cross between an SUV and a Van and targeted at younger buyers with active lifestyles.

There are a lot of options on this Aztek to suit the buyer’s needs and wants. You can opt for bucket seats in front with a choice of a three-passenger flip/fold 50/50-split seat or dual captain chairs in back. There is a rear cargo tray that can be securely latched in place inside the vehicle, rolled-out over the tailgate for convenient loading and unloading, or completely removed. There is a reconfigurable rear cargo net system, with two side-panel nets that carry up to 35 pounds each. Two larger cross-vehicle nets restrain up to 200 pounds of cargo (100 pounds per net) and in conjunction with the floor mounted anchor hooks, the net system can be reconfigured in 22 different ways.

Handling & Performance:

Aztek is front-wheel drive, but later in the year an all-wheel-drive system is scheduled for release. It’s referred to as Versatrak, but it’s not suited for serious off-road driving. Because the Aztek has wider track than the Jeep Grand Cherokee, for example, its stance means better control and stability.

All Aztek vehicles are powered by a smooth, strong 3.4-liter OHV V6 185 horsepower engine.

Styling:

Personal taste should be all that counts and that is particularly true with this Aztek since opinions varied widely.  The interior is roomy and utility conscious with things like the center console that is a removable 12-can cooler. The seats are a little bizarre with graphic design that is a little much. The cargo area has a pullout tray for easy loading. My test vehicle did not come with the optional camping package that includes a pop-out tent, air mattress and integrated air pump. It fits over the rear half of the Aztek, and allows you to leave the hatch and tailgate open.

All Aztek’s have other cool things like lantern hooks on the liftgate, four 12-volt power outlets, rear tailgate has cupholders and is molded to form two seating areas. You can also have audio controls in the rear that make the Aztek’s tailgate readymade for pregame parties or camping.

When you remove the easy release back seats you have 93.5 cubic feet of cargo space. There are a dozen securely attached cargo anchors and storage compartments built into the side trim and tailgate to control loose gear. Another nifty option for this GT is a pair of utility packs that nest in each front door trim panel, to provide for stowing a cell phone, camera, CD player or other gear. It’s easily removable so it can be carried with you as you leave the vehicle.

The hiking package includes backpacks that attach to the backs of the front seats when not in use. Another package includes a rooftop or interior bike rack that hold two cycles.

I didn’t ask if they come with a Swiss Army Knife.

Fit and Finish:

Not elegant materials, but well assembled.

Cost:

Not bad considering the versatile options that make this a rather unique option.

Recommendation:

If you have a need for a camping vehicle, this is a good option to an SUV. It’s not as low to the ground as a minivan and not as high as an SUV. But the seating is high which gives the great visibility people love in the very popular SUV’s.

The competition:

Audi A4 Avant $27,290-31,990, Chrysler PT Cruiser $15,935 (not true since they go for about $30,000), Ford Escape $17,645-20,820, Honda CR-V $18,750-22800, Kia Sportage $14,395-19,095, Subaru Forester $20,295-22,895, Suzuki Grand Vitara $18,399-22,999, Toyota RAV4 $16,215-17,615.

Good News:

Well-priced, good mileage, comfortable, several configurations to make it perhaps the most versatile recreation vehicle on the market today.

Bad News:

Sways in the wind, arguably the ugliest new release for 2001.

Standard Equipment:

3.4 liter V6 engine, 4 speed auto trans, front wheel drive, dual and side air bags, 4-wheel antilock brakes, remote keyless entry, battery rundown protection, roof rack, bucket seats, air conditioning, power mirrors, windows and locks, AM/FM with cassette and CD, tilt steering, cruise control, removable console/ cooler, information center.

Gas Stats:

19 City and 26 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $25,435.

2000 Pontiac Sunfire GT Convertible (287)

Overview:

This 2000 Pontiac Sunfire GT Convertible is more of a mid range car and certainly at the higher end of its closest competitors noted below. The coupe base price is $16,295 as compared to the “Rag Top” at $21,745. That is rather betwixt and between its competition range and the Chrysler Sebring Convertible that I tested the week before.

The Sebring I had, well equipped had a sticker price of $26,560. You’ll notice the $5 grand difference, but moreover the Sunfire is more a scaled down version of the Sebring with a lobbed of rear end.  That was the first thing I noticed and also the first thing I disliked about the car. Not that there was a lot to dislike, but the back end is just to short for my liking. Notwithstanding, it is a worthy contender. 

Since I’ve owned several convertibles (MGB, ’67 Camaro, ’91 Camaro) I tend to notice the structural integrity of convertibles. You know how they twist and feel “loosy-goosy”, well, both this Sunfire and the Sebring are great at making you forget you’re in a convertible when the top is up. They do such a nice job these days mostly because the headliner hides the convertible well. But also, the real glass rear window helps to remove the perception of being in a “Rag Top”. Plexiglas, no matter how good it is, it is still “plastic”.

The visibility is rather poor, which is something they haven’t figured out how to improve. Naturally, if you like the advantages of a convertible top, you’ll live with the poor visibility. But, of course, with the top down, visibility doesn’t get any better. And speaking of top up/ top down, this has a single lever in the center at the top of the window that operates the power top. If memory serves me at all, I recall this auto top works much like the $70,000 Jaguar XK8 that I drove in 1997.

Handling & Performance:

Typical small car zip around town control. It hugs the road much better than I expected from this price car. When my two brain cells think of handling they collide with each other and recall the Acura NSX and the Corvette and the Mercedes Benz E55 all with high tech suspensions that make you feel like you’re on rails. So I was pleasantly surprised with the handling characteristics of this relative “Pee Popper”.

Styling:

I don’t much care for the “Bobbed Tail” look but you can’t please everyone, right? Overall, it has decent lines.

Fit and Finish:

Not bad, but Pontiac tends to be “bulby” so your eye doesn’t tend to notice the seams as much as if the surface were smooth, like the Lexus for example.

Conveniences:

Pretty much manual stuff, like the air conditioning, seats, etc., but enough of it for the money. I prefer automatic transmissions for every day drivers since shifting tends to get tiresome after a bit. On the other hand it reduces the price $810 from the standard 4-speed automatic.

Cost:

Convertibles simply cost more to make but the leap in price from the coupe seems too great. It is also high enough that I’d be encouraged to look at other convertibles like the Chrysler Sebring where the price is not so far removed.

Recommendation:

Look at the Sebring and compare for yourself. The price difference may be small enough to justify the added luxury.

The competition:

Chevrolet Cavalier $13,160-19,830, Dodge Neon $12,490, Ford Focus $11,960-15,380, Honda Civic $10,750-17,545, Hyundai Tiburon $13,999, Mazda Protégé $11,970-15,145, Mitsubishi Mirage $11,757-16,947, Nissan Altima $15,140-20,390, Saturn SL $10,685-12,895, Subaru Impreza $15,895-19,295, Toyota Corolla $12,418-15,068.

Good News:

Standard cloth seats are nice on cold mornings. The 2.4 liter engine is very responsive and with the manual transmission it was better than the larger engine in the Sebring, for example. Nice one lever convertible top control which is quite good for this price car.

Bad News:

Floor mat design problem in that it not only slips when you get in, but when it does the clutch pedal catches on it to screw up shifting. The emergency brake handle is too close to the gearshift. Door pockets are inaccessible to the driver with the door closed. They seem to be there more for the folks in the rear seats.

Standard Equipment:

5-speed manual trans, power steering, power top, cruise control, stainless steel exhaust, dual air bags, power front disc/rear drum ABS brakes, theft deterrent system, rear spoiler, rally aluminum wheels, air conditioning, remote keyless entry, power windows/locks/mirrors, full headliner, stereo with CD player and tilt steering wheel.

Gas Stats:

23 City and 33 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $21,310.