• Feb 29, 2008

2008 Pontiac G8 – Click above for high-res image gallery

Here's a question: what builds excitement? For Pontiac, the General's erstwhile "excitement" division, the answer hails from Oz. No, it's not another attempt to rebadge a Holden Monaro with the lofty GTO moniker, it's to rebadge a Commodore with some G-flava.

The Pontiac G8 has potential, both from an enthusiast perspective and as a means to remake a brand that's lost its sheen in the last few product cycles. Overall, the G8's a looker. With a purposeful stance, flared wheel arches and a nose that makes puttering Prii piss their proverbial pants, the Pontiac G8 arrives with equal parts menace and promise. But beyond outward appearances, what does this new sports sedan have to offer in a segment that's been left largely untapped (save the Dodge Charger)? That's what we're in sunny San Diego to find out.




Real drivers rejoice! We've got what we want... almost. Two engine choices, either a 3.6-liter V6 or a 6.0-liter V8 mounted up front, send power to the rear-wheels. Good and good. Manual? Nope. In a move that will surely be rectified by this time next year, Pontiac has decided that swapping your own cogs is not in a potential G8 buyer's interest. While that's disappointing enough, the two auto 'box offerings are just as dispiriting. If you opt for the 256-hp V6, you're saddled with a five-speed auto with manu-matic. Similarly with the V8, a six-speed slush box shovels 361 hp and 385 lb.-ft. of torque to the back while allowing you to choose your own ratios by throwing the gear selector to the right and pushing up or down for that not-quite-manual experience. Both are fine gearboxes, but for a vehicle that aims to put driver enjoyment first and foremost, it's an option that's sorely lacking from the spec sheet. However, we've been assured that a manual is coming, but launching the G8 without one seems to be the biggest mistake so far.



Getting back to the engines, the base G8 comes equipped with the same 3.6-liter V6 that's found on the entry-level Cadillac CTS. That means sequential fuel injection is used in favor of the direct-injection available on the upper-echelon Caddy. It's a bit of a disappointment that Pontiac opted out of what's arguably one of the better sixes on the market, but again, it's likely to make its way under hood in the future.

That said, the V6 is a good enough engine providing sufficient motivation to match the base G8's 3,885-pound curb weight. The key word in that last sentence, if you didn't pick up on it, was "sufficient." While the six-equipped model can get out of its own way when shoved and the 6,900-rpm redline is fun to cane through the corners, it remains merely adequate. However, a GT model packing 5,967cc of V8 goodness was just a few short words away. Time for a car swap.



Pontiac is stressing that those buyers who've decided a stock V6 will suit their needs won't be losing much in terms of exterior and interior appointments. Outside, the spoiler, fog lamps, color-keyed mirrors and in-your-face front all make the transition over from the GT. The only exterior difference is the quad exhaust pipes on the GT versus the standard dual exhausts on the base model. An optional chrome surround on the door handles is available on both models, but we'd skip it when ticking boxes. On the inside, it's a similar story, but optioning the G8 up with the premium package includes dual-zone climate control, heated seats and leather thrones.



The interior materials are typical nuevo-GM; incredibly improved over the last two decade's offerings, but still lacking in a few areas. The dash gets a swath of soft-touch plastic stretching from A-pillar to A-pillar, bisected by some hard plastic that waterfalls down into the center console. Mounted at the top of that stack is an LED read-out of the oil temp and battery charge. That's the only bit of information you can get from the display, which left us a bit confused since it takes up so much real estate on the dash. Below that is a sizable screen dispalying everything from climate information to where your stereo is set. Overall, it's one of the nicest user interfaces we've seen recently; props to GM's computer geeks. The knobs below control volume and mode, while underneath those are all the switchgear necessary to keep occupants in comfortable climes. Most of the controls feel good to the touch, with the silver knobs getting rubber inlays that keep sensitive digits away from the iffy plastic in between. The seats proved their GT-cred throughout our cruise, with just enough bolster to keep things mildly snug. But if we had a choice, we'd opt for the cloth covered chairs whose grippy material and appearance easily beat out their dead-cow competition – too bad leather is standard with the premium pack.



After suitably molesting every interior bit we could find, we finally got underway. Every G8 comes equipped with the FE2 suspension package, which boasts slightly stiffer springs and sporting dampers. Coupled with either the 18x8-inch or 19x8-inch aluminum rollers (the latter fitted on sport pack-equipped models), the ride is a subtle balance of rigid and relaxed. The steering's variable-ratio rack-and-pinion setup never felt twitchy and the summer tires provided adequate feedback through the wheel. While it's not the most direct tiller we've sampled, we never caught ourselves asking for more, or less.



Pontiac's driving route spoke directly to the brand's intentions for the G8. We'd estimate that 80-percent of the drive was on spaghetti-inspired roads that wound their way through the hills east of San Diego. What minimal time we spent in town or on the freeway was brief and the G8 handled it with ease, including a quick stop to meet the region's incredibly affable boarder patrol officers.

The mountainous roads proved that the G8 is equal parts corner carver and four-door GT. It's substantial heft is obvious at first, but as the road turned twisty the G8 showed that it has the skills to back up its demeanor. Turn in is crisp, with the tires tracking predictably through the bends. Braking force is substantial, although initial bite on the V8 model equipped with slightly larger discs (12.64- versus 11.73-inches up front and 12.76- versus 11.89-inches in the rear) caused a momentary lurch forward followed by progressive pedal pressure on down. And then there's the acceleration.

While the V6 model's minimal motivation was only matched by its sedate sound, the V8 is a glorious combination of aural assault and potent propulsion. With 6.0-liters of All American Australian goodness underfoot, a quick stab of the long pedal drops the six-speed automatic down a few cogs and rockets the G8 into extra-legal speeds at a moment's notice. It's quick, entertaining and only sucks about two miles-per-gallon more fuel compared to the V6 version thanks to cylinder deactivation. If you're going to go for a G8, the GT is arguably the best version to get – until a GXP version is released.



The thought of an amped-up G8 is incredibly appealing and the mind reels with possible powertrains and suspension setups. One of our hosts for the day made it clear that a GXP is a natural consideration saying, "If we weren't considering [a GXP model], we should be fired." Same with a coupe. Agreed on both fronts and may we suggest Pontiac check out Holden's just-unveiled Coupe 60? We'll let you two talk.

While we understand that the release of a serious high-performance model should come later in a product's life-cycle, and as much as we enjoyed our time behind the wheel of the G8, there's always the sneaking suspicion that Pontiac left something on the table with the quick (by GM standards) release of the G8. The lack of a manual option, a direct-injection engine and a handful of other minor gripes left us wanting a little bit more from the experience. The G8 is rife with potential and may finally bring Pontiac back from the brink, but until the higher-ups decide that we're worthy of those extra goodies – from interior materials to powertrain options – the G8 remains a viable choice for buyers looking for rear-driven, V8 power on a moderate budget. With all the option boxes marked, you'd be hard-pressed to crack the $32,000 ceiling; not a bad value for a vehicle that offers drivers most of what they want and little else.




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  • 72 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      Should have brought the actual Australian/European body over, this Pontiac makes me want to throw up :( The front end looks like a POS from the 80's! The interior while nicer the GM's in the 80's and 90's still uses the same parts as every other GM including the lowest end Aveo and Cobalt. It's still pretty much junk except for the engine.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I've got nothing against GM, I actually have family that work for them. I am from Detroit no less as well. But I hate when I see cars made for other parts of the world that look better then the ones we get here in America. Another example the Ford Mondeo, looks great, do we get it no. We get a Taurus!! I want to see American companies exceed so bad, but I am not going to cut them slack when they rehash old designs hoping people will be loyal. How many years has pontiac being doing the same old fake vents on every model on the hood with huge ugly honey comb grilles. Come on, give us something new to be excited about. They did the same thing with the GTO, it looked so BLAH in America, but the Holden version look hot. That's what I am really saying.
        • 6 Years Ago
        You, sir, know very little about GM and it's interiors.
        • 6 Years Ago
        You have no clue what you are talking about; the G8 shares NO interior switchgear or surfaces with the Cobalt or Aveo. I checked your other comments too, you are also wrong in saying that the steering wheels are the same as in the Corvette/Malibu. Again, not even close, they are completely different. Check your facts next time.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I dare you to show me one interior part from the G8 on either the Cobalt or the Aveo. Just come straight up and say you don't like either the car or the company. No need for this BS that ain't the truth.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I WANT to love this car. I want to WANT to buy this car.
      I’m not normally a GM guy, but they’ve earned the glances we’re all throwing their way lately. Motor Trend had been giving the General a hard time for a while and it was deserved. GM started turning things around when they started looking overseas for inspiration in design, powertrains, performance and mostly fit and refinement. I’m not talking only about Holden, Opel, etc. but the interior of the G8 was modeled after Audi’s current interior themes. Good for them. That’s the way to do it!

      However, the center dash screen with volts and oil- I’ve seen better graphics on Pong. It would be embarrassing for me to show that car off and try to explain that dopey little screen. In the era of the iPhone, why settle for sloppy design. That one item has not escaped one reviewer/ journalist/ blogger yet. I think they’ll change that out ASAP, much to the dismay of the first 888 buyers!

      The reason I’ll reluctantly not buy one of these; it’s not the four doors, or the Pontiac emblem (like the new silver one by the way); No- it’s the less than evocative styling -front end mostly. More than anything, I want my car to look special. And this G8 GT doesn’t look special. It looks like a long G6. The G6 doesn’t do anything for me. I like the rear of the G8, the sides, the overall stance, but I don’t like the front end with the cheesy fake intakes (way too boy toy racer, not the intended buyer by the way). The family resemblance is very strong, and that’s not a good thing. Some of you have noted that we only have one generation or two of these cars left. Let’s get this right Pontiac. Holden has it right. They listen to their customers. Design and build cars that people want to buy. Trickle the technology down from Cadillac to save gas for CAFÉ. Nothing accounts for style, like style. Just ask Apple, Mustang, Porsche, Sub-Zero and Coach.
      It pains me to say it, but I just can’t buy this car.
      • 6 Years Ago
      dan, over half of GTOs sold were manual transmissions and that car cost more and the manual was an extra cost option.

      The G8 is appealing to the same people who bought GTOs and those who intended on buying one, and they all want manual transmissions.

      GM bet that people will be okay with the automatic and would not have paid more for the manual as an option, they bet wrong. The demand for a manual in this car is great.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The GTO was a sports coupe, not a large sedan.

        And the stick was $600 on the options sheet, but it wasn't hit by the $1000 federal gas guzzler tax that the auto got so the bottom line was cheaper.

        Manual transmission take rates on the few entry lux sports sedans that still offer them are in the 5-7% range.
      • 6 Years Ago
      MikeW:

      I should hope the Charger is faster, it's also using an engine with ~70 more horse power, and ~45 more ft-lbs.

      Also,

      "Pontiac will sell every G8 without any incentives till they do come so who cares?"

      is very true. You have to remember, not everybody enjoys a stick... I love my automatic, and if I feel like being a poser, manu-matic is there at my disposal.

      I think the ommission of a manual is a negative, but the fact they're adding it next year makes up for it. Also, while the lack of "the good 3.6" is disappointing, I can imagine the pricing of it just not working out for GM or the consumers.

      The only *real* negative I see is that oil temp gauge on the top screen not being changeable to other information. If anybody's driven a G6, Cobalt, etc they are familiar with GM's wonderful "Driver Information Center", which displays all kinds of crap in a computerized display/menu, and it's a real shame that that either seems to be missing entirely from the G8, or if it is implemented in the large, center screen (which I imagine it probably will be/is), it could have had more use from the top screen.
        • 6 Years Ago
        If Chrysler increases the output of the 5.7 Hemi in the LX cars for '09 to 400hp, 410ft-lbs, say via premium fuel instead of mid-grade, a dual length intake manifold, and VCT variable camshaft timing.
        That should be 13.5@105, easily. and in the stripped down version (all seasons, open differential) it should still be 14@100

        Chrysler is being stupid and hamstringing it.
        All the daytona package gives you is 245/45 all seasons, on heavy 20" wheels. and magically 10 more hp, without any increase of torque.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Very nice car--saw many similar in Australia when visiting there in January. Still a quite ordinary-looking sedan that will not do much to make Pontiac a star again.

      GM could save big bucks making what's called the G8 a Buick and killing off the redundant Pontiac brand.

      The G8 is a good car--it's V8 model competes well with the Chrysler 300C which is old now. So, GM has given V8 sedan buyers a good choice if the price is right.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Buick is in even worse shape than Pontiac. Pontiac outsold Buick by 70% last year, and it was better than 2:1 for the part of the year before the Enclave arrived.

        Putting a hot car in the geezer showrooms doesn't reinvigorate the nameplate with young buyers, it makes a good car die anonymously. Ford made that mistake with the Marauder.

        I agree Pontiac should be killed off. Let Chevy have this car.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Good points there. Buick's Enclave seems to be helping the brand just as the G8 will add some juice to Pontiac.

        Seems to me (us?) that GM has too many brands for the relatively few good cars it's offering now. Chevy, Saturn, and Cadillac can cover all the bases quite well. Pontiac, Buick, Saab, and GMC are all redundant except for Saab which is unique, but too dead to be revived in its BMW and Acura, and Volvo segment.

        At least GM offers some very fine cars now: Malibu/Aura, Enclave/Acadia, CTS, and G8. These are superior MODELS whose brands mean nothing because GM ruined its brands under the late Roger Smith.

        GM is way ahead of both Ford and Chrysler in the U.S.
      • 6 Years Ago
      OOOOPS!
      Make that ITS instead of IT'S V8 model, etc.
      It's a typo--I do know the difference;-).
      • 6 Years Ago
      Where do I start...

      I own a '04 GTO and love but need 4 doors (two little kids). I placed an order for a G8 GT for MSRP, hopefully I'll take delivery in May.

      The info center above the stereo is used for the readout on the low end stereo. The low end stereo doesn't have the big LCD. It does suck that it only does bat and oil. There is an info center in the by the spedo. I believe the screen by the speedo will also do the onstar turn by turn stuff.

      This review did come across as dweeby as someone else said - disappointing.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Manual or not...this car kicks ass.

      I'll take a loaded, red GT please.
        • 6 Years Ago
        +1 Agreed. Enough whining about the manual already.
        • 6 Years Ago
        It's not a ZF trans, it's a Hydramatic 6L80:

        http://media.gm.com/us/powertrain/en/product_services/2008/08car.htm

        Scroll down and find "L76". The 6L80 is the only transmission shown.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I couldn't disagree more. Not nearly enough whining about the lack of a manual. It might as well be a Malibu (although yes, I realize its coming but still...).
      • 6 Years Ago
      This isn't intended a mass market vehicle that needs three engine choices to fit different niches.

      I'm skeptical on the need for a V6 at all - with the V8 only a $2,500 upgrade, who would want the V6 whether it's DI or not?

      The lower option should have been the ~300hp 5.3 V8.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The G8 is not similar to the Commodore, but identical. The only difference is the bumper mouldings.

      Holden is a conservative car bought by fleet managers (80%) and old men (the average age of the private buyer is 65), hence the styling. Australians don't like millions of dials and switches in their cars, so that's why the dash is so bland.

      The V6 engine in practice gets the same fuel economy as a four cylinder Camry, so the comments about $4 petrol are irrelevant.

      The base model in Australia gets a four speed auto (actually a 3 speed plus overdrive) that dates back to the early 60s, so the modern 5 speeed is 'luxury'.
      The DI engine is not made in Australia, and it probably won't be because the fleet managers hate anything too modern (high servicing costs).
      • 6 Years Ago
      No manual transmission? Why doesn't GM just soften the suspension and call it a Buick Park Avenue?
      • 6 Years Ago
      The interior looks very much like an audi. The headlight dial, Instrument Cluster and door handles look like they were taken out of my A3. Very nice change for GM.

      I wish they offered AWD. RWD is fine for most states, but in the midwest, with record snowfall this year, my next car will need to stay AWD.

      Lack of a manual gearbox is fine in the first year. Why do so many Autoblog posters complain? I have a 5 speed legacy and my wife cannot drive it, I'd teach her but you really hate to do that with brand new car. Back to autos for me next time around.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Wholeheartedly agree with every point.

        I am fortunate enough that my wife can drive a 5-speed Legacy in Iowa, and her car is a 5-speed miata.

        Buy a $500 beater, teach her, and then re-sell it. (or buy a little 5-speed ranger or S-10 and use it for yard work, or whatever else, with the side benefit of teaching her)

        Then you can buy a manual-transmission newer car later. :D

        Everyone who has been following this car knows that the manual transmission is coming later, just like the Challenger's late manual trans availability.

        I like the pontiac kidney grilles, and hood scoops. I UNDERSTAND the pontiac placement. And to be Honest, I don't go looking for sporty cars at the Chevy dealer, despite the Camaro and Corvette as the exceptions to the Chevy mass-market car and pickup truck rule.

        Pontiac used to be more than just a re-badged Chevy. It used to be a lineup of various GM cars that were more geared for the enthusiast lineup, before Saturn and Cadillac decided to usurp that more lately.

        Pontiac has a lot of history with people older than 20, despite the re-badging prevalent in the 80s and 90s.

        I don't get all the HATE, though. People just wanting to throw the baby out with the bath-water, and kill off brands like Pontiac and Mercury right and left, rather than investing in re-kindling them, and re-capitalizing on their inherent market awareness.

        Pontiac and Mercury should both be revitalized to market toward those of us who find ourselves pushed to the imports to find niche products with modern non-retro designs, and competent enthusiast hardware.

        That is why I bought a Legacy. A 5-speed stick, at least 250hp, and AWD as a bonus. Automatic and FWD are two stand-alone deal-breakers for me. And I found nothing from the big 3 that offered what the Legacy does for anywhere near the money.
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