2009 Pontiac G8 Expert Review:Autoblog
There's a Looney Tunes cartoon where Bugs Bunny is in charge of Yosemite Sam's inheritance, and every time Yosemite Sam loses his temper at something Bugs has done, the rabbit subtracts money. By the time Yosemite gets his act together... he's out of money. Substitute GM for Yosemite Sam and the buying public for Bugs Bunny, throw in a little credit crisis, and all we can say is that it would be a shame if the Pontiac G8 GXP fell victim to this scenario: GM running out of money just when it gets its act together. Because we're here to tell you – and you can quote us on this – the Pontiac G8 GXP is @#$%&*! Awesome.
All photos copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
When Doug Houlihan, the GM engineer who spent years in Melbourne, Australia attending to the Camaro, dropped off the G8 GXP, he used the word "subtle" a lot. If you were seeing the car for the first time and didn't know anything about Pontiac, "subtle" might not be the first word that comes to mind. Even though the car's busiest aspect is up front, from the front fenders back it eschews any gimmicks for a smooth upward sweep of gently massaged bodywork. For those of us who do know a little about Pontiac, we can rejoice in the visual pleasure afforded now that those old tacky tricks – wings, cladding and hectares of dubious plastic – have been left in the bag.
That word "subtle" comes into sharper play when you sit the Pontiac next to its core competition: the Dodge Charger SRT/8. The Dodge is all furrowed brow and hulking brawn. The Pontiac is practically Clark Kent mild, perhaps without the tie and a few buttons undone. Outside, it steps the game up from the G8 GT with a more sculpted, focused front dam – the fog lights are set off in their own corners and the lower mesh grille is uninterrupted by a dark, vertical strip. Out back, the GXP's rear diffuser gets a steroid injection and a slightly larger set of dual pipes. The body is placed atop four 19-inch wheels that communicate seriousness without screaming. It's all quite... subtle... you see. And it looks good.
Inside, the car is nice – and we don't mean "nice for a Pontiac." Since it will probably come up at some point, no, the interior isn't fastened together with the Absolutely No Play Allowed tolerances and super soft touch materials for which the Germans are credited. The leather seats are plenty plush, and though the leather on the doors isn't Nappa soft, it's decently padded and has the look of quality. And the GXP is unquestionably solid – so much so that, if you're looking for something to compare it to, you'll compare it to the Germans. There were no squeaks, no rattles. When you press any of the large, clearly-marked and well-laid-out buttons, they all perform their functions immediately. Give the metallic finish center console the tap test, it responds with "Yes, sir?", not "I really wish you wouldn't do that." The stalks make a pleasant "thunk" when employed. The switchgear is allergic to fuss.
Speaking of switchgear, what could be the best thing about it is that there really isn't much of it. We are fatigued by getting into yet another car that looks like a giant button monster got drunk and threw up everywhere. This is especially true when they're supposed to be driver-focused cars. It's hard to be a hardcore driver when you want to turn the A/C off but know you'll have to stop driving in order to find the button. The G8 GXP doesn't go in for all that. The digital gauges atop the center stack have now been eliminated. The center screen is large and legible in all light. The climate controls are immediately friendly. And there's not much else to worry about.
Except driving. Which is as it should be.
But before we get to that, one last word on the interior: capacious. Or how about these: commodious, voluminous, ample. There's a ton of room inside. And since this car was put together in Australia, we don't mean one of those miserly U.S. tons, either. No, there's a British long ton of room in there. Four 6-foot-plus men could fit inside and enjoy an interstate ride and still have room for that humongous center armrest in the back. Or a goat. It's that roomy.
Our niggles with the interior: we didn't like the CD dials on the steering wheel – we find buttons easier to deal with. And speaking of easier to deal with, getting directions with OnStar was awful. Like Here Comes the Inquisition awful. Like we'd rather ask that dude sleeping in the street if he knows where to go awful. GM, please give us proper GPS navigation with a map screen. Even as an option. Please.
The headrests were canted too far forward on the seats for our liking. You have to use the button on the keyfob to unlock the trunk. We figure there's a trunk release button inside the car but we couldn't find it. (We're seeing this trend on more and more cars, and we wish it would stop.) You can't unlock the doors when you're inside the car by pulling the handle – you have to press the central locking button or manually unlock the door yourself, and then pull the handle. (Legal Department, you have a call on line two, legal, line two...)
Those are minor annoyances all, barely worth thinking about. Why? Because everything we've said so far is about the G8 GXP when it's static, not moving, and the crucial word to associate with this car is: "drive." The G8 GXP means little when it's not moving. It's a nice looking car, but you're not likely to simply want to sit and gaze at it, Mona Lisa-like. The interior is nice, but it won't make you think "I could live in here." Turn the car on, and what you'll hear is... practically nothing. The rumble at idle is so small, so muted, it should be called a rumblito. More of that GXP subtlety.
This is the most powerful Pontiac ever, and here's the nut: the LS3 6.2-liter small block V8 is good for 415 hp and 415 lb-ft., which is something like a solid 8.5 on the family sedan Richter scale. Pontiac claims a 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds, though we recently heard of an outlet putting down a 4.4, and the quarter will go by in 13 seconds. Of course, if you have some past Pontiac products in mind, this might not provoke the aimed-for respect of driving prowess, and in fact it could all be rather worrisome.
Cringe not, fair reader – here's the bolt: 4-wheel, fully-adjustable independent suspension that, need you even ask, was tuned on The 'Ring. MacPherson struts up front are paired with a four-link, coil-over-shock setup out back, and the pair tied down with front and rear stabilizer bars. Up front, everything is adjustable: caster, camber and toe. To the stern, you can fiddle with camber and toe.
And here's the lockring to make sure it all sticks just so: a 6-speed Tremec TR6060 manual transmission as an available option. The Hydra-Matic 6L80 automatic transmission is standard, but if you want that... do you really want a GXP?
It's all controlled through steering on a variable-rate rack, and it's all stopped with 4-piston Brembos up front, single-piston calipers out back. This leaves an equation giving us six speeds to unleash 415 hp and 415 lb-ft through a sport suspension and P245/40 R19 tires. On a 4,000-pound car. That means there are quite a few possible answers. The answer we came up with: "Oh @#%*! yeah."
Take off from a standstill on a smooth road, and it's Go-Go-Gadget horsepower. The GXP is set up to react like a sports car, so there's 2-percent squat and 98-percent "Baby, it's time to go!" Take off on a bumpy road and the birds will chirp, those being the 19-inch tires looking for anything that will offer some traction. But they'll do it efficiently, business-like and in a straight line – the car doesn't jump around looking for purchase, it simply looks. And you can hit the 'Repeat' button on that as often as you like.
Straight line speed, however, has never been an issue. The pearly gates open up when you start cramming the car through turns and discover home-baked, heavenly goodness. Houlihan told us that they got rid of telescoping steering in order to keep the rack stiffer, and the rear brace across the top of the back seat remains as well, even though it eats into the pass-through space. Stiffness here was the name of all games. And in keeping the bodyshell stiff, they didn't need to make undue compromises with the suspension to keep everything in line.
The steering doesn't weight up as much as we would like, but that's because we drove the car like a high horsepower 2-seater and so we began to expect more resistance. But it is meaty enough to be plenty filling, and the wheels will pass all messages instantly through the rack, telling you everything you need to know.
LA has a mess of curvy roads with awful pavement, and the GXP never came unglued. If it was an excessively large expansion joint taken at impressive speeds on the highway, the car skooched over a couple of millimeters and continued on course. If it was a hairpin that looked like the pavement had caught the measles, the back end and its wider track did nearly all of the work and left you plenty of options for correction should you need it: steering, throttle, brakes and even lifting off. It would not come unstuck.
Only once were we reminded that the car weighs 4,000 pounds, and that was because we had come around a corner at something like Ludicrous Speed and there was a log in the road. A quick, instinctual juke to the left, and the log was gone and forgotten. All we thought was, "Hey, that was 4,000 pounds right there..."
Yet the G8 GXP is still, finally, a G8: an around-town Home-Depot-to-the-grocery-store-to-the-babysitter's-to-the-barbecue family car. Potholes and uneven roads are handled easily with no crashing, no bucking, none of the intrusive noises of a hard working yet pliable suspension. Highway manners are aplenty, with just a little bit of wind and tire noise that is effectively dispensed with once you turn on the 230-watt Blaupunkt stereo. And that might also explain the nearly invisible exhaust noise, since Grandma – and maybe even the wife and kids – aren't looking for constant reminders about the aluminum colossus sitting in the engine bay.
What didn't we like about the the driving? Just this: the first-to-fourth shift pattern. And we can't believe anyone likes it, gas mileage be damned. We buy a manual because we wanted to be in control, and then the engineers take it away. All that made us do was run the revs up past 3,500 in first, which was neither hard nor un-enjoyable. Twenty mpg on the highway wasn't so nice to think about, either, especially when the Corvette outdoes it by 9 mpg. And it was a mild annoyance that the redline isn't marked on the rpm gauge.
How much will it run you? The early, unconfirmed word is about $40K. That will be about $39,000, plus $685 destination charge and gas guzzler tax – oh yeah, estimated ratings of 14/20 mpg on the manual will do that. Beyond that, the sole cost options will be the 6-speed manual for $695 and the sunroof $900.
But we can change the shift pattern, we'll learn the redline, and we'll deal with the gas mileage. Gladly. Easily. Without even thinking about it. And it all comes down to the incredible driving experience. No, we didn't take it to the track. No, we didn't do the skidpad or slalom. Others will do that, and they might have something to say about it. But we drove this car on the same roads we have taken Bentleys, Bugattis, Corvettes, BMWs, Porsches, and all the rest. We drove this car in ways we don't recommend, trying to get it unstuck. We did the city run in urban Los Angeles, blasting from light to light for hours - so long in fact that the gearshift got a little warm glow to it.
And after all of that, we don't need to make one excuse for this car's driving. None. Zero. It really is the most powerful Pontiac ever, and that's about so much more than just the engine. The car is fantastic. Which means our last quote of the day will be: "Get one while you can."
Ah, GM, where have you been all this time...
Live photos copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
PONTIAC G8 GXP SETS NEW PERFORMANCE BENCHMARK
Flagship Sedan is Most Powerful, Sophisticated Pontiac Ever
NEW YORK – With a proven, high-output engine linked to a track-tuned suspension system, the 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP represents the brand's ultimate expression of style and sporty capability: a functional, family sedan for the true driving enthusiast. When it arrives in Pontiac dealerships in early 2009, the G8 GXP will be the most powerful production Pontiac ever built and will start at $xx,xxx.
"Modern Pontiacs are about far more than just raw, straight-line power," said Susan Docherty, vice president of Buick-Pontiac-GMC. "The G8 GXP offers a high degree of sophistication with its performance pedigree, melding comfort, safety and its own unique style into a five-passenger sedan that we believe holds its own against European vehicles costing far more."
The heart of the G8 GXP is the 6.2L LS3 small-block V-8 rated at 415 horsepower (309 kW) and 415 lb.-ft. of torque (563 Nm) through SAE certification. It's the newest member of GM's small-block V-8 family and features a revised, larger-bore cylinder block, high-flow, L92-style cylinder heads; larger-diameter pistons; unique camshaft and camshaft timing; revised valvetrain with offset intake rocker arms; high-flow intake manifold; and high-flow fuel injectors.
The LS3 engine has an aluminum cylinder block with cast-in-place iron cylinder liners. Larger bores help create a 376-cubic-inch displacement. The block casting also features revisions and machining in the bulkheads to enhance its strength and improve bay-to-bay breathing. The pistons were specifically designed for high-rpm performance.
New, high-flow cylinder heads aid engine breathing and are based on the large port and valve design found on the LS7 engine and other GM L76 engines. The larger-capacity, straighter intake port-design optimizes intake flow to the combustion chamber, an effect augmented by large valves, measuring 2.16 inches (55.0 mm) on the intake side and 1.59 inches (40.4 mm) on the exhaust side.
The G8 GXP is capable of moving from 0-to-60 mph in 4.6 seconds, and can turn a quarter-mile time of 13.0 seconds at 108 mph. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.
Six on the floor
The GXP will be the first vehicle in the G8 family to offer an optional six-speed Tremec TR6060 manual transmission. This next-generation manual smoothly transfers the engine's power and torque to the rear wheels with a shorter shift throw than previous models. The transmission features a host of refinements including premium gear synchronizers; stronger gears, housing, and bell housing; a single-piece counter shaft; and machined gear teeth.
Standard equipment on the GXP and shared with the G8 GT, the Hydra-Matic six-speed 6L80 automatic transmission is one of GM's most technologically advanced and robust. It uses a clutch-to-clutch operation and an integrated 32-bit transmission controller to deliver smooth and precise shifts. The six-speed has a generous 6.04:1 overall ratio that enables a "steep" first-gear. The result is strong launch acceleration along with "tall" overdrive ratios that lower engine rpms for better fuel economy and reduced noise.
A 3.27 final drive ratio comes with automatic-equipped GXPs, and a 3.70 gear is matched with the manual transmission. A limited-slip differential is standard.
The G8 GXP rides on the G8's 114.8-inch (2915 mm) wheelbase with wide front (62.7 inches / 1,592 mm) and rear (63.3 inches / 1,608 mm) tracks. The four-wheel independent suspension is fully adjustable and is tuned for the highest performance in the G8 family. The GXP's ride and handling was developed and validated the famed Nurbergring, the first Pontiac ever to be tuned on the legendary course. It rewards the driver with sharp, immediate responses, as well as a well-balanced road feel even during more aggressive steering inputs.
The suspension employs a MacPherson strut design in the front and a four-link, coil-over-shock design in the rear. A direct-acting front stabilizer bar, decoupled rear stabilizer bar and lateral ball joints on the rear suspension deliver increased lateral stiffness for more responsive handling. The front suspension features fully adjustable caster, camber and toe; the rear suspension has fully adjustable camber and toe, for more precise tuning.
Steering and brakes
The steering rate for the GXP is tuned to provide immediate response with definitive driver feedback. Like the G8 sedan and GT, the GXP's steering box is located ahead of the front axle line for a quicker, more direct feel.
The Brembo braking system matches the GXP's boost in performance with an equivalent increase in stopping power. The system includes 14-inch (355 mm) vented front and 12.76-inch (324 mm) rear disc rotors, with special quad-piston alloy calipers in front. The alloy calipers on the rear brakes have single-piston actuation. The four-wheel disc brake system includes standard anti-lock brakes and traction control.
Wheels and tires
The GXP rides on 19-inch polished aluminum wheels with a special machined face. Performance-oriented summer P245/40R19 tires are standard, and a comparable all-season tire is available. Combined with the suspension and steering enhancements, this setup gives the GXP exceptional cornering grip, with a lateral acceleration rate of 0.88 g.
The G8 GXP exhibits strong Pontiac design cues. A unique front fascia with a lower splitter and a distinctive rear fascia diffuser contribute to its sporty look. The dual-port grille, fog lamps, bold wheels and confident, wheels-at-the-corners stance are all unmistakably Pontiac traits.
Interior amenities and comfort
The G8 GXP's interior is driver-oriented with aesthetic and tactile details like instruments with a sporty appearance that match the car's performance. Interior materials consist of satin and chrome trim and high-quality textured materials throughout. The instrument cluster glows with crisp, white light on the primary instruments. Pontiac's signature red lighting illuminates the rest of the instrument panel cluster.
Standard comfort and convenience amenities include:
• Highly bolstered seats with color-coordinated gauge cluster and GXP embroidery
• Leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear shifter
• Power-adjustable front seats
• Fog lamps
• Alloy sport pedals
• Dual-zone electronic climate control system
• A 230-watt Blaupunkt audio system
• XM Satellite Radio
• Bluetooth phone compatible
The seats offer firm support to hold occupants in place during aggressive cornering. The standard heated leather seats were designed to deliver excellent comfort during long drives. They are available in Ebony or an Ebony/Red two-tone (on select exterior colors).
Maintaining the G8's tradition of a full suite of standard safety features, the G8 GXP includes:
• Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and traction control
• Electronic stability control
• Seat-mounted thorax air bags and dual-stage frontal air bags for front passengers, with automatic passenger sensing system
• Roof rail side-impact air bags for both seating rows
2008 PONTIAC G8 GXP SPECIFICATIONS
Models: Pontiac G8 GXP
Body style / driveline: 5-passenger, front-engine, rear-drive sedan
Construction: unitized body frame, 1- and 2-sided galvanized steel
EPA vehicle class: midsize sedan
Manufacturing location: Adelaide, Australia
Key competitors: Dodge Charger SRT-8
6.2L V-8 (LS3)
Application: G8 GXP
Type: 6.2L V-8
Displacement (cu in / cc): 376 / 6162
Bore & stroke (in / mm): 4.06 x 3.62 / 103.25 x 92
Block material: cast aluminum w/ cast-in-place iron bore liners
Cylinder head material: aluminum
Valvetrain: valve-in-head; 2 valves per cylinder; roller lifters
Ignition system: high-energy distributorless ignition; solid state direct-fire ignition w/ coil near plug and integrated ignition
Fuel delivery: returnless, multi-port fuel injection
Compression ratio: 10.7:1
Horsepower (hp / kW @ rpm): 415 / 309 @ 5900 (SAE certified)
Torque (lb-ft / Nm @ rpm): 415 / 563 @ 4600 (SAE certified)
Recommended fuel: premium unleaded
Maximum engine speed (rpm): 6600
Emissions controls: evaporative system, close-coupled catalytic converters, positive crankcase ventilation, electronic throttle control
Estimated fuel economy (city / hwy): 14/20 – manual transmission (estimated)
13/19 – automatic transmission (estimated)
Type: Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic TR6060- six-speed manual
Gear ratios (:1):
First: 4.03 3.01
Second: 2.36 2.07
Third: 1.53 1.43
Fourth: 1.15 1.00
Fifth: 0.85 0.84
Sixth: 0.67 0.57
Reverse: 3.06 3.28
Final drive ratio: 3.27 3.70
Front: multi-link MacPherson strut; direct-acting stabilizer bar; progressive-rate coil springs; fully adjustable camber, caster and toe
Rear: four-link independent; progressive-rate coil springs over shocks; stabilizer bar; fully adjustable camber and toe
Steering type: variable-ratio rack-and-pinion; rack forward of axle centerline
Steering ratio: 46-53 mm per revolution
Steering wheel turns, lock-to-lock: 2.8
Turning circle, curb-to-curb (ft / m): 38.4 / 11.7
Type: four-wheel disc w/ ABS; ventilated front and rear rotors; quad-piston front calipers; single piston alloy rear calipers
Rotor diameter (in / mm): front: 14 / 355
rear: 12.76 / 324
Wheel size and type: 19 x 8-inch polished aluminum with machined face
Tires: P245/40R19 summer (standard); P245/40R19 all-season (optional)
Wheelbase (in / mm): 114.8 / 2915
Overall length (in / mm): 196.1 / 4982
Overall width (in / mm): 74.8 / 1899
Overall height (in / mm): 57.7 / 1465
Track (in / mm): front: 62.7 / 1592
rear: 63.3 / 1608
Curb weight (lb / kg): 4050 / 1837 (automatic)
4023 / 1825 (manual)
Seating capacity (front / rear): 2 / 3
Headroom (in / mm): front: 38.7 / 989
rear: 38 / 965
Legroom (in / mm): front: 42.2 / 1071
rear: 39.4 / 1001
Shoulder room (in / mm): front: 59.1 / 1501
rear: 59.1 / 1500
Hip room (in / mm): front: 56.7 / 1439
rear: 58 / 1472
EPA passenger volume (cu ft / L): 107 / 3047
EPA interior volume (cu ft / L): 124.5 / 3528
Cargo volume (cu ft / L): 17.5 / 496
Trailer towing maximum (lb / kg): 2000 / 907
Fuel tank (gal / L): 19.2 / 72.6
Engine oil (qt / L): 8.9 / 8.5 (dry)
8.8 / 8.3 (w / filter change)
Cooling system (qt / L): 11.3/10.7
New Car Test Drive
Well-engineered sports sedan with rear-wheel drive.
The Pontiac G8 is a modern muscle car, with rear-wheel drive and a snarly V8. Under full-throttle acceleration, the new GXP model reminds us of a Corvette, pasting us into the back of the seat as a guttural roar comes from under the hood. In fact, the high-performance GXP is powered by a Corvette engine.
Bigger than the Mustang and Camaro pony cars, the G8 is a four-door like the Dodge Charger. It's smaller than the Charger or Ford Taurus, however, with exterior dimensions close to those of the Cadillac CTS and BMW 5 Series.
The G8 is attractive, smooth and muscular with an unmistakably Pontiac nose. The interior is comfortable and tidy, with good instrumentation and nice materials. The back seat is reasonably roomy and the trunk is big. The standard cloth seats are excellent. Leather is optional, and the 11-speaker Blaupunkt audio upgrade sounds great. The G8 has a comprehensive list of passive and active safety features, including head-protection airbags, electronic stability control, and GM's OnStar telematics system. We found everything in the G8 melds together nicely.
The G8 comes with a 256-hp V6, the same engine found in the brilliant Cadillac CTS. There's adequate power from the V6 engine. The base model lacks the verve of the GT model, however, partly because its five-speed automatic is less responsive. Still, it costs $3,400 less than the GT, and it delivers better fuel economy, earning an EPA rating of 17/25 mpg City/Highway.
The G8 GT features a 361-horsepower V8 that's smooth and responsive at any speed, and it makes for the most powerful sedan in this price range. Step on the gas: The thrill starts at the hood scoops, passes through the seat of the pants and spills from the GT's four stainless-steel exhaust tips as the countryside disappears rapidly in the rearview mirror. The GT's six-speed automatic is one of the smoothest, quickest shifting transmissions anywhere. Its handling character is taut, and its ride is comfortably firm. Thanks to GM's Active Fuel Management cylinder-deactivation technology, mileage isn't bad either, for such a powerful car. The GT delivers up to 24 mpg highway.
For 2009, the high-performance G8 GXP joined the lineup, powered by the same engine as the standard Corvette sports car. GM's 6.2-liter LS3 V8 generates upwards of 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, and the GXP adds other performance upgrades, including an advanced Brembo brake system. It's hot. On a track it would be fantastic. Around town it feels like a muscle car. Order the GXP with the high-performance Tremec six-speed manual gearbox, and the clutch and strong torque conspire to make cruising around the neighborhood smoothly a bit of a challenge.
The G8 is Pontiac's first rear-wheel drive sedan in 20 years. It replaced the Grand Prix in the Pontiac line-up. We have Australia to thank for the Pontiac G8. It's built there by Holden, a division of General Motors, and is sold as the Commodore SS. It's been one Australia's favorites for years, and GM has had a long time to perfect it. North American shoppers seeking an engaging sports sedan with classic V8 thrust can now reap the benefits.
The G8 was launched as a 2008 model. For 2009, XM satellite radio hardware and Bluetooth connectivity come standard on all models.
The 2009 Pontiac G8 is available in three variants, distinguished primarily by engine size and horsepower.
The base G8 ($28,190) features a 3.6-liter, dual-overhead-cam V6, with 256 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque, and a five-speed automatic transmission. It comes with cloth upholstery, a full complement of power features, including seats, a seven-speaker sound system with single CD and auxiliary input jack, and 18-inch aluminum wheels. For 2009, XM satellite radio and Bluetooth connectivity for mobile phones have been added to the standard-equipment list.
The G8 GT ($31,555) upgrades to a 6.0-liter V8, generating 361 horsepower and 385 pound-feet of torque, and a six-speed automatic. The cam-in-block V8 features GM's Active Fuel Management technology, which switches from eight-cylinder to four-cylinder operation during light-load driving conditions to improve fuel economy. The GT also adds dual-zone automatic climate control and upgraded Blaupunkt audio with 11 speakers and six-CD changer.
Options are few. The Comfort and Sound Package ($795) for the base model adds dual-zone climate control and the stereo upgrade, bringing interior features up to GT specification. The Premium Package for the G8 ($1,375) and GT ($1,250) includes leather upholstery and heated front seats with more adjustment. A Sport Package for the GT ($600) adds sport pedals and 19-inch wheels with summer performance tires. Stand alone options are limited to a power sunroof ($900) and all-season tires for the 19-inch wheel package ($150).
The G8 GXP ($37,610) is powered by a 402-hp, 6.2-liter LS3 V8 and comes with the six-speed automatic. The GXP adds other performance upgrades, including a more aggressively tuned suspension and Brembo brake system. A six-speed Tremec manual transmission is optional.
Safety features on all G8s includes frontal airbags and side-impact airbags for front passengers, with curtain-type head protection airbags front and rear. Active safety systems include full-feature ABS, traction control and electronic stability control. There's also a tire-pressure monitor. The standard OnStar package includes a one-year subscription to the Safe and Sound accident reporting service, which will direct emergency crews to your location should the airbags deploy.
The G8 may be the largest sedan in Pontiac's line, but it's not as big as traditional domestic full-size cars. Nor is it as big as current full-size models such as the Ford Taurus, and it has a much shorter wheelbase than the Chrysler 300 or Dodge Charger.
The shape of the Pontiac G8 seems exactly what it should be: muscular but smooth, edgy but reasonably subtle. Its styling should appeal to both exes and pretty much all ages. The G8 is unmistakably a Pontiac, especially from the front, with the signature split black grille and hood scoops. The scoops, though, are restrained, almost slits, as opposed to big bulges There's a spilt air intake, also in black, at the bottom of the front fascia. With the angled headlamps and front fender flares, everything is nicely balanced and just aggressive enough.
There's another set of openings in the front fenders, visible in side view right behind the wheels. The one on the left fender is a functioning air intake, while the right side is there merely to match the left. The G8's roofline sweeps enough to disguise the fact it has four doors, and the hips above the back fenders lift fairly high, flowing into a tidy spoiler. The G8 GT and GXP feature clear taillight lenses with four polished exhaust tips, while the base G8 has red lenses and two tips.
The wheels are 18-inch and 19-inch wheels are conservative, with either single, monoblock spokes or split twin-spokes. The wheels on the GXP are flashier.
The Pontiac G8 interior is attractive and nicely finished. The base G8 and the standard cloth interior in the G8 GT are similar. The GT has a bit more faux brushed aluminum trim, and it's tastefully done. The GXP distinguishes itself with two-tone sport seats featuring GXP embroidery and a color-coordinated gauge cluster.
All G8s come with XM Satellite Radio hardware and Bluetooth capability as standard equipment. The XM comes with a complimentary three-month subscription, but the owner will pay for the service after that. Bluetooth connectivity is integrated into the OnStar system and allows hands-free phone calls through your existing cell phone.
The seats are comfortable and power adjustable, four ways in the base G8 and six ways in the GT and GXP. The GT we tested had the optional leather seats, and they were good-looking in black. The seats offer good support for sporty driving. The GXP's sport seats offer more side bolster support for very hard driving, but they're harder to slide in and out of and they feel narrower.
Instrumentation is good, although not without flaws. There's a digital battery/oil pressure gauge in the center of the dash that's unattractive and not particularly useful, and the digital gear indicator is too small to read. The speedometer and tachometer are big enough, easy to read, and appropriate to the performance character of the G8.
The power window buttons are located on the console between the seats. Some drivers will like them there. We don't. They are more difficult to locate quickly without looking than door-mounted window switches, but they do allow the front passenger to operate all the windows, too, rather than just the front-passenger window. The emergency brake handle has been designed not to take up space, and is designed to mimic the grab handle on the right. However, like other similar designs the disguised hand brake can pitch your fingers when lowered, a good way to anger a harried driver.
The rear seats offer good legroom and decent head room. The driveshaft tunnel doesn't intrude too much in the center, either. There are heating and A/C vents in the rear doors, which also have good storage pockets. The front seatbacks have nets, which make easy storage for magazines, discs or plastic bottles.
Trunk access is wide and lift-over height is reasonable. The G8 boasts provides 17.5 cubic feet of cargo space, a foot or two more than most comparably sized competitors.
From the driver's perspective, the Pontiac G8 has lots of strengths and no glaring weaknesses. From the passenger's perspective, it's quiet and comfortable. From the driver's seat, the G8 feels smaller than it is, and that's a compliment. We'd call the G8 a sports sedan, at least from the mid-line GT upward. Next to the Cadillac CTS, it's the best performance-oriented four-door General Motors has introduced in years.
The 3.6-liter V6 in the G8 is same engine as that used the Cadillac CTS. It has dual overhead cams with continuously variable valve timing, and delivers 256 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque at a low 2100 rpm. The acceleration is good, but the exhaust note is raspy and not very pleasing when you're hard on the throttle. On the freeway at steady light throttle, the V6 is quiet.
What we liked least about the G8 V6 was its five-speed automatic transmission. The combination simply lacks the range and overall responsiveness of the GT's V8 and six-speed automatic. We got some good miles in the base G8, over twisty roads suited for sporty driving, and in Sport mode the transmission kept kicking down multiple gears like crazy. All it really did was make the car feel rougher than it is in Cruise mode.
Further, the suspension on the base G8 doesn't have the same taut feel as that on the GT. The G8 V6 is designed for drivers who love the style but don't need lots of performance. The V6 model is less aggressive in every respect. It gets better fuel economy than the V8 and it runs on regular fuel. The G8 V8 models require premium to achieve full power.
Before the GXP came out, the mid-line G8 GT was one of best performers in the class and we found it to be an enjoyable car to drive.
We drove the GT on one of our favorite roads, from San Diego to Borrego Springs, California, with little traffic, good visibility and the desert in full bloom. We finished without a single gripe about the performance of the G8 GT in areas that matter most: engine, transmission, suspension, brakes. The GT's 6.0-liter cam-in-block engine makes 361 horsepower and 385 pound-feet of torque. The torque peaks at a fairly high 4400 rpm, but the engine doesn't feel peaky all. Overall, the GT feels trim.
Before introduction of the new G8 GXP, the GT already had more power than any production Pontiac in history (take that, you Firebird Trans-Am Ram Air big honkin' hood scoop muscle cars). Yet the GT is totally tame until you want to use that power. Then it will accelerate from 0 to 60 in 5.1 seconds and knock off the quarter-mile in 13.8, according to Pontiac. And with all the torque on tap, the engine just lopes through places and situations that require other sedans to take a harder swing.
The 6.0-liter V8 features GM's Active Fuel Management technology, which allows it to operate as a four-cylinder under light loads: When cruising at a steady 60 mph, for example. The switch between four- and eight-cylinder operation is usually imperceptible, and it edges the GT up to its EPA rating of a combined 20 mpg. That's impressive for 360 horsepower, and it was unthinkable just a few years ago. We averaged 16.2 miles per gallon in our test GT, with a little freeway mixed into hard two-lane running for a couple of hours.
Maybe the best thing about the G8 GT is its six-speed automatic transmission. Pontiac has joined the slim ranks of the savvy by making a tight-shifting automatic with manual control that's absolutely faithful to the driver's commands. It makes sport driving a pleasure in the GT.
There are three modes for Pontiac's Driver Shift Control transmission: Cruise, Sport and Manual. Cruise is fully automatic; Sport is automatic with more aggressive shift points, and Manual is, totally, manual. In Manual, the transmission will short shift, or upshift under hard throttle below redline. Sometimes that's a useful and smooth technique, and far too many manually shifted automatic transmissions are programmed to disallow it. The thinking (by some engineer, somewhere) seems to be that hard throttle means full speed means full revs. No, not necessarily. The G8 GT transmission employs rev matching for smoother downshifting, and the revs are just right. There are rational limits to the manual control, however: It won't let you downshift if the lower gear would cause the engine to over-rev, but it will allow you to reach redline and stay there. It won't upshift for you, in manual mode, unless you move the shift lever yourself. The G8 doesn't offer the steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters often used with transmissions of this type, but we didn't miss them. And for fully automatic shifting, the Sport mode is actually useful. Some aren't, because they just make the power delivery jerky. Cruise mode is true, too, for smooth cruising. You don't feel each downshift at every red light and stop sign. This transmission understands gliding, and that may be what we like best. For all its sporting characteristics and effectiveness when shifted manually, the G8 GT's transmission can be as smooth and comfortable as any luxury car's when the driver is just plodding along. The GT transmission is the same one used in GXP, and it's so effective that we might take it over the optional manual, even if we didn't drive in traffic.
The GT's suspension is firm enough, too, and its handling is tight, but the ride is never uncomfortable. This as much as anything distinguishes it from Pontiac's previous efforts to build a sports sedan, and it's a function of good development work. The steering rack is mounted forward of the front axle, which Pontiac engineers say improves response. The engine sits low and rearward in the chassis cradle, and little tricks like a rear-mounted battery helped balance the car to a 50:50 weight distribution front-rear. The G8's body is built with 80 percent high-strength steel, which allows the suspension to do its job well and helps control interior vibration.
We found the handling confident, precise and sharp. The electronic stability control is tuned like that on some of the best European sport sedans. During our hard drive to Borrego Springs, the stability control activated maybe three times, and at just at the right times, as when the rear wheels began bouncing slightly from the road surface. In that situation, some systems will cut the throttle so much the car falls on its nose and makes you curse. Not so with the G8 GT, which cuts the throttle just for a split second and then lets you continue to drive the car.
We found the ride quality of the GT excellent. Compared to the Mercedes C63 AMG, a $50,800 challenger to the BMW M3 we tested on Arizona back roads the day before we drove the Pontiac, the G8 GT's ride is more pleasing, lacking all harshness. Yet despite the general comfort we never hit a spot where the G8 GT felt in over its head, as in being too soft in a hard corner. And we tried to find that spot.
The GXP is the hottest model and can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds, says Pontiac, with a quarter-mile run of 13.0 seconds at 108 mph. That makes the GXP one of the quickest sedans in its price range. The GXP is powered by GM's LS3 V8, which also serves as the base engine in the Chevy Corvette. While the GT comes with a 6.0-liter engine, the GXP gets a 6.2-liter V8. The GXP is rated at 402 horsepower, 402 pound-feet of torque. The GXP also adds more performance goodies, including a standard limited-slip differential and 19-inch summer performance tires, and it's available with a six-speed manual transmission. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated City/Highway 13/20 mpg, landing the GXP a federal Gas Guzzler Tax of $1,700, which you'll need to add to the price.
We like manual transmissions and the Tremec six-speed manual in the GXP shifts nicely. We grew tired of it around town, however. The relatively heavy clutch pedal and strong engine torque conspired to produce a jerky ride around town; it demanded attention and skill to drive smoothly and we weren't always in the mood for this. For around town use, we'd prefer the automatic.
Pontiac developed the GXP suspension on Germany's famous Nurburgring open-road race course. It's firmer than the GT suspension but we didn't find it harsh around town.
We used the brakes on the GT good and hard, and never reached a point were they got hot enough to start losing stopping power. The vented rotors are big, and they meet the high performance standard set by the engine, transmission and suspension.
The GXP offers larger rotors still, with lightweight aluminum calipers provided by Brembo. The advantages here are resistance to fade after repeated hard usage and more powerful braking to take advantage of the upgraded tires.
The Pontiac G8 succeeds with rear-wheel-drive performance, style, four doors and plenty of room. If the style, space and comfort is all you seek, the base G8 is a good choice, gets better fuel economy and runs on Regular gas. Our preference was for the GT model. We enjoyed its powerful V8. It handles well yet offers good ride quality. The GXP is fun, but not ideal for commuters in metro areas, especially with the manual gearbox.
Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the G8 models in Southern California. J.P. Vettraino contributed from Detroit. Editor Mitch McCullough drove the GXP model in Los Angeles.
Pontiac G8 ($28,190); G8 GT ($31,555); G8 GXP ($37,610).
Options As Tested
Premium Package ($1250) includes leather upholstery and 6-way heated front seats; Sport Package ($600) includes metallic pedals and 19-inch aluminum wheels with 245/40-19 summer performance tires.
Pontiac G8 GT ($31,555).
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