2008 Grand Prix New Car Test Drive
The Grand Prix is an attractive car. A commitment to style separates the Grand Prix from other mid-size transportation appliances. A coupe-like tautness characterizes the exterior design of this four-door sedan, thanks to the undulating wedge of its lower body, topped by a long, tapering roof line. The rear end is as muscular as a speed skater's. Pronounced, enlarged taillights are mounted at the corners. A discreet spoiler finishes the deck lid.
Pushing through the taillights and extended into the sheet metal are two horizontal bulges, like cladding segments escaped from the sides of an old Grand Am. The rear is important in appearance and certainly distinguishable from its road mates. Following a Grand Prix down the highway is a pleasant occupation.
Up front, the slightly sculptured hood flows into Pontiac's trademark twin nostril grille. The overall effect looks a bit like a tight smirk or knowing grin, enhanced by the Grand Prix’s slanted and attenuated headlights.
The Coke-bottle sides are marked by two parallel strakes that slash through the doors about a hand's span below the door handles. Gratefully, there's no cladding, but those deep cut lines can be off-putting. One reason the Grand Prix looks best in black is because black hides these creases.
The aerodynamic door handles can be hard to grab and hold onto when in a hurry.
The Grand Prix interior is has been upgraded since its introduction and it's a pleasant environment that is appropriate for the price. Materials pleasant to both the eye and fingertips enhance the experience, especially in the GXP, where the steering wheel and shifter are leather-wrapped.
The seats are supportive and comfortable. Front-seat headroom is not as good as in some of the other mid-size sedans, however. The leather-wrapped steering wheel fills the hand just right. The outside mirrors are remarkably large for a sedan. They offer excellent rearward vision yet add no noticeable wind noise. All of the controls are well-marked and within arm's reach. The glove box lid opens with the clatter of plastic.
Rear-seat headroom is a bit tight, the downside to the coupe-like body design, and the rear seat-bottoms are flat and set low, making long-trip comfort an issue. It's much nicer to sit in the front than in the back.
The instrument panel is pleasing in its three-dimensional, yet simple, layout, and is readily visible through the smart three-spoke steering wheel. The large center speedometer stands out from and overlaps the tachometer to the left and the circle containing the fuel and temperature gauges to the right. With a background in a shadowy grid pattern, these watch-like dials yield their information with simple, uncluttered, handsome functionality. Technology allows the speedometer to be rimmed with only one set of numbers to designate speed in both miles and kilometers per hour: Punch in your choice on the Driver Information Center and the numbers change. Cross a border, make your selection and read kilometers; punch again and it's miles. No cluttering inner-ring of numbers.
The head-up display in the GXP is almost subliminal in its presence. You can select the amount of information it gives and at night. To conserve your night vision and limit reflections, you can douse the instrument panel lights completely, fly in stealth mode, and still keep tabs on what's important.
The Driver Information Center with its four-line read-out is just to the right and above your fist in a console canted slightly toward you. Below an organized cluster of white icons on simple black buttons and dials keep the driver tuned in, warm or cool, etc. Pleasing to look at and nothing bewildering.
The cabin is comfortable and pleasant to look at, but what is really special is its functionality and flexibility. Not only do the back seats fold down in pairs or singly (with a 60/40 split) to effectively increase cargo capacity, the back of the front passenger seat folds forward, table-flat on GXP (optional on base). With all those seats folded, there’s 57 cubic feet of cargo space, comparable to some small wagons.
All this flat and nearly flat space can be accessed through the trunk, which benefits from a particularly low lift-over height. Thus it's easy to fold the appropriate seats and load long objects into the vehicle: a roll of carpet or a ladder or skis or Italian market umbrellas. You can close the trunk lid on anything up to nine feet long, like a rigged fly rod, for example. The trunk opening itself is low and wide.
With the rear seat up and five people on board, the trunk still holds 16 cubic feet of whatever those folks need to carry.
Lots of interior toting room is worthless if you can't get the objects you are toting through the holes in the vehicle. In shopping mall parking lots anywhere in the country you'll find cartons that once held TVs, microwave ovens, computer components and barbecues. The products had to be stripped of their packing to manipulate them through car doors. Cognizant of that problem, Grand Prix engineers redesigned the doors to swing out 82 degrees, improving ingress and egress for people and stuff.
When driving alone, the driver can use the fold-flat passenger seat as a veritable desk at the elbow with indentations to keep coins at hand and a webbed elastic pouch to keep such things as mail ready for the slot from finding the floor at the first stop light.
OnStar is standard on all Grand Prix models. It provides core safety services and OnStar Personal Calling that allows drivers to make and receive hands-free, voice-activated phone calls using a powerful 3-watt digital/analog system and external antenna for greater reception.