Review: 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP

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

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.

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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.

It works.

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...

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Live photos copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.


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."

Engine performance
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.

High-performance suspension
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.

Exterior styling
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
• OnStar


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

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