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2009 Pontiac Vibe – Click above for high-res image gallery

When the original Pontiac Vibe hit dealer showrooms for the 2003 model year, it was a different kind of General Motors vehicle in just about every way. Sure, it wore a Pontiac badge and had that horrible plastic cladding hanging off its sides, but the vehicle's basic shape was unlike anything else in the General's lineup. There was a very good reason for this, as the Vibe is produced by GM's joint venture with Toyota called NUMMI, or the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. This JV currently produces the Vibe, Corolla and Tacoma pickup for both automakers, and the new Vibe is basically the same vehicle as the 2009 Toyota Matrix with a different skin and interior.

For 2009, the Vibe loses all that plastic armor but keeps its Toyota ties, receiving the recently updated Corolla underpinnings and powertrains. Will the Vibe's many changes make the little Pontiac good enough for prospective buyers to consider again? We took a brand new 2009 Vibe GT for a week-long spin to find out.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

Our Red Hot Metallic Vibe GT came in at a total MSRP of $20,595 with standard features like five-spoke 18-inch wheels, a 158-hp 2.4L engine, leather-trimmed sport bucket seats, and 320-watt Monsoon sound system. The only option of note was a $700 power sunroof that we could've gone without.

The basic shape of the outgoing Vibe was kept, but overall the appearance is more aggressive than the previous model. The hatchback shape is now comprised of smooth sheetmetal that contrasts with hard creases, which gives the updated five-door a more dynamic look than its predecessor. Our GT tester's set of striking 18-inch rims also made the little Vibe look sportier than it does in base form, even if both models share the same anemic four-cylinder. We liked the looks of the Vibe GT quite a bit, and more so than the direction Toyota chose to go with the Matrix and its new styling.

The new Vibe is within an inch of the old model in almost every dimension, yet the new GT weighs almost 300 lbs. more than the outgoing sport model. While additional safety equipment and larger wheels account for some of the heft, the tall wagon's new 2.4L engine also adds to the tonnage. The larger engine is much smoother and more refined than the smaller 1.8L offered in lower trim levels, but the extra weight and torque is felt at the pump where fuel economy is 21 mpg around the city and 29 highway. The available 1.8L four-cylinder in the base Vibe gets 26 mpg city/32 highway for those interested in pinching a few pennies at the pump, but both engines feature Toyota's VVT-i technology to make the most of their meager displacements.

On the inside, the basic look of the old model carries over though dash materials have been upgraded with a more tactile feel. The center stack looks much the same as the outgoing model, and while the cartoonish bulging plastic knobs look very '90s, everything is at least easy to use. Console-mounted shifters like the one in the Vibe are usually a pet-peeve of this blogger, and though it still looks goofy, the upright ergonomics in the Vibe make it a necessity.

The leather, sport-bolstered seats in the GT are the big bright-spot of the Vibe interior, with plenty of support for when you're diving nose-first into the twisties. They were also comfortable on long commutes, which is a big deal on my daily 35-mile trek to the office. The Vibe is a tall hatch that also rewards you with plenty of space on the inside. With the rear seats folded down and their flat plastic backs facing the ceiling, you can fit some big things in this little car. We would have liked a deep well carved out behind the second row of seats when they're not folded, but aside from that found the Vibe to be an immensely practical package.

On the road, the car's Corolla-based chassis handles bumps and pot-holes adequately and is a bit stiffer than the 2008 model, but this GT is no sports car. While it looks the part of a sporty hatch, neither the engine nor chassis allows the Vibe GT to act the part. Hitting corners at moderate speeds results in significant body roll, and while we appreciate the silky nature of Toyota's 2.4L engine, we would have preferred a bit more power than what it had to offer.

More attractive styling and an improved interior makes the 2009 Pontiac Vibe a better car than the outgoing model, for sure. Both GM and Toyota did a nice job modernizing the Vibe/Matrix and the update couldn't have come at a better time. Gas prices are at historic all-time highs and smaller, more utilitarian vehicles are becoming more popular. That description fits the Vibe to a tee, and we wouldn't be at all surprised if sales increased as a result. If you don't mind spending $20,000 on a sporty-looking vehicle that delivers in the practical department but not on performance, then the Vibe GT is for you. If you want the power and athleticism of a true hot hatch, however, look elsewhere.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      Yeah cause the CTS and Malibu are bad cars.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Funny. In the previous generation, the Vibe had it all over the Matrix in terms of styling. I'd say the reverse is true this time around.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I just have to ask...

      Am I the only one that sees a degree of irony in GM choosing to offer a car that's essentially designed and engineered by *Toyota* under the umbrella of a brand that claims (however accurate or inaccurate it may be) to offer "driving excitement"?
        • 7 Years Ago
        The Vibe has universal appeal. The G8 has mullet appeal. The G6, G5 and Wave have rental appeal.

        Like it or not, the Vibe was, for a long time, one of the few GM cars that didn't need cash on the hood to sell. It's also got great demographics and is well-positioned to win customers as the SUV market crashes. Oh, and it's a better car than the HHR or Optra, all around.

        GM's dealers--at least in Canada--would scream blue bloody murder at one of their better-moving products no longer being available.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Aprime was referring to the "Pontiac is CAR" commercials.
        • 7 Years Ago
        @ psarhjinian

        The G8 has mullet appeal?

        Stop breathing my air. You're clearly letting it go to waste.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I'm one of the few people that thinks this car would have been better off in GMC's stable.

        It's trying to be too many things at once, while we all know it's a fuel-efficient utilitarian vehicle.

        But Pontiac isn't excitement now, Pontiac is CAR CAR CAR CAR CAR
      • 7 Years Ago
      I was very interested in the matrix product. Went to the dealership the new one was sitting right beside the previous version. I was disappointed to find that the leg room (distance from knee to knee) was down significantly. Sat in the older version and found it much more comfortable. I had the same issue with the solara. A non starter for me.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Why do all new cars remind me of the bottom half of a Dalek from Dr. Who?
      • 7 Years Ago
      I dont know. 20K for this... or a Mazda3?
      I'm thinking Mazda.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I really like this car, but not in GT form, that kind of negates the utilitarian purpose of the vehicle. Give me the 1.8L with the 32 mpg, a bigger, more useful version of a Fit/scion/yaris, with standard stability control, in my opinion the most important safety feature since abs (especially in snowy climates), and not even offered as an option on focus.
      • 7 Years Ago
      What's unfortunate is that this comes with the lame torsion beam rear suspension.

      And what's up with the pathetic gas mileage of Toyota's 2.4 liter engine? For all of Toyota's reputation for efficiency, this motor is inexcusably inefficient. The Scion TC should be getting about 10 mpg more than it is rated at (29mpg city). In fact, the larger Altima with the larger 2.5 liter 4-cylinder is rated at better mileage.

      Toyota (and GM) are getting blown away by Honda when it comes to fuel efficiency for a given category of vehicle.

      • 7 Years Ago
      I don't get all the hating on the plastic cladding. At least it was body color. Yet nobody comlpains about the ugly grey trim on the bottom of the GM lambda models!
        • 7 Years Ago
        I know the lambda's are cuv's, i'm saying the grey plastic trim on those cheapen the look much more than the body color cladding that everyone seems to hate on the vibe.

        I'm comparing color general look of the trim.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Honestly, these guys look pretty damn good... but more importantly, do we get AWD and a stick? Even if it's not on the GT?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Interior is a little better than the outgoing, but they could've done so much more. Still has the ugly round AC vents and plain looking steering wheel. Proof that Pontiac/Toyota never invested much into the interior design(besides the awesome flat folding seats): the sunroof controls on a 2005 was the same sunroof controls exactly as my 1993 Geo Prizm (also made at NUMMI).

      I like the exterior better than the new Matrix, though I don't think the beltline needed to be so high, the windows look so small. What's cool about that? I really wonder with so many high volume cars with designs that reduce side and rear visibility will that cause a rise in accidents over the years.

      The muscular sculpts would look real nice if they toned down the belt line. It looks chunky and heavy...like a sport hatch on steroids...Just peak underneath to see the shrunken testicles. The old one looked big, too, but in an SUV way, but with normal proportions. This body is a little disturbing (but not as disturbing as the Matrix)
      • 7 Years Ago
      I would rather walk.
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