Pontiac G6 — It's hot and going fast

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

It was an historic, but sad day when the driver handed us the keys to a 2009 Pontiac G6.

Although the G6 sedan outfitted with a 4-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic is a solid mid-sized car there’s nothing historic about it. It just happened to be the last new Pontiac we will ever test drive — unless the brand is reincarnated at some far-off date.

And we almost missed the opportunity.

It didn’t take General Motors too many weeks after the announcement that it was terminating the historic Pontiac brand to begin liquidating the press fleet. The new G6, just off the truck from Lake Orion, Mich., probably hit a few more auto writers before heading off somewhere as a program car to be sold at a steep discount.

The G6 is a mid-sized sedan we could live with outfitted with one of GM’s best-ever combinations, a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine making 164 horsepower mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s the same setup as found in the award-winning Chevrolet Malibu and it was our third turn behind the wheel with that combination.

Performance is adequate — actually every bit as good as the 4-cylinder versions of the Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima — and gas mileage is stellar, measured by the EPA at 33 mpg highway, 22 city.

The G6 exhibited good handling traits, had a comfortable ride, and pampered us with a quiet cabin. On top of that, exterior styling is rather fetching.

he problem for Pontiac in this case is that the six-speed shifter, which makes a world of difference — more than we would have imagined — is optional in a $1,245 sport package. The base model sedan comes with GM’s old four-speed transmission and, frankly, it isn’t the same car.

The four-speed makes the G6 feel like, well, like a rental car. You have probably driven one from Hertz or Enterprise. That setup is OK, but OK doesn’t get it anymore and so for that reason, and many others tied to build quality (in previous products) and cheap interior materials, Pontiac is exiting the automotive scene.

It’s a case of too few things done right too late.

Visit your Pontiac dealer and most of the new products on his lot are attractive with up-to-date safety and content, and we feel worth the money. But that has not always been the case in previous decades when General Motors put too little effort into building cars and too many resources in paying union workers for not working.
We regret the loss of Pontiac, not because of the storied name. The name has been tarnished over the decades by plastic-clad minivans, generic compact and mid-size cars that were no more than warmed-over versions of mediocre Chevrolet, Buick and Oldsmobile cars, and styling abominations such as the Aztek.

The glory days of the GTO and Firebird muscle cars and the big luxurious Bonneville of the late ’50s and early ’60s are long past.

But things were beginning to change at Pontiac and we will regret, as production winds down over the next year, the loss of such standout products as the new G8 sedan, the Solstice coupe and roadster — and even the G6 we tested. Other worthy produces that will expire include the compact Vibe hatchback and the Torrent crossover.

In fact, the G8 GXP arguably is one of the best full-sized sedans in the GM lineup. It might be one of the best full-sized sedans in the world. But there doesn’t seem to be a business plan for the G8, not even at Chevrolet.

But back to the G6; In addition to the four-cylinder engine, the G6 sedan can be purchased with a 3.5-liter V-6 making 219 horsepower and — on the top GXP trim level — a 3.6-liter V-6 generating 252 horsepower.

We recommend either the 4-cylinder with the six-speed transmission or the bigger V-6, which also comes with a six-speed. All other engine choices come with the dated four-speed.

Here’s where we think General Motors is still behind the curve using Pontiac as an example. Had the brand survived, we think the only way sales would have increased would have been to retire the four-speed automatic, upgrade the plastics in the interior and add such amenities as navigation (not available for 2009).

The GXP, which is satisfyingly quick with a 0-to-60 time of 6.2 seconds, comes with a load of standard equipment making options unnecessary. But it also carries a base price of $29,250 including destination charge and only average gas mileage ratings of 17 mpg city and 26 highway.

If a 30 grand sedan is not what you had in mind, let’s return to the 4- cylinder, 6-speed and take a closer look.

Our recommended G6 starts at $21,835. But to get it right, the six- speed option will add $1,245. For that money you will also get such worthwhile things as traction and stability control and classy 17-inch polished wheels. That will bring the bottom line to $23,080. You will have to add another $425 for cruise control, something we feel is a necessity. That will bring the total to $23,505.

Standard features include power windows and locks, air conditioning, 17-inch wheels, tilt and telescoping steering wheel and six-speaker satellite-adaptable radio with MP3 and CD players. Also standard is a 5-year /100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Standard safety includes four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, traction control and front side airbags and full-length side-curtain airbags. Important to families is Pontiac’s top five-star government crash-test rating for front and rear passengers in side-impact collisions.

The interior is attractive, but with too much hard plastic and too many small buttons. Gauges are easy to read and the switchgear is where you expect it to be and accessible.
We found the driver’s seat comfortable, and our rear-seat passengers had no complaints with the second row. They pointed out that legroom and head room was adequate.

Other options on our test car included remote vehicle start, steering wheel controls, six-way power driver’s seat, upgraded audio system, sunroof and leather-trimmed seats.
The bottom line was $26,600.

We think the G6, outfitted correctly, is an attractive package that will serve well for many years. Don’t worry about the warranty. Even without new Pontiacs on the lot, dealers carrying other GM products will service it.

Resale value could be the problem. But if you can cut a good deal and you are planning to keep your Pontiac for, say, five years then it shouldn’t be that big a concern.

If you still desire a Pontiac you best hurry, because like the proverbial pancakes, they are hot and going fast.

Base price: $21,835; as driven, $26,600
Engine: 2.3-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 164 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 156 foot-pounds @ 5,000 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Turning circle: 36 feet
Luggage capacity: 14 cubic feet
Wheelbase: 112.3 inches
Length: 189 inches
Curb weight: 3,305 pounds
Fuel capacity: 16.4 gallons (regular)
EPA mileage: 33 mpg highway, 22 city
0-60: 8 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion

The Good:
• Excellent fuel economy with six-speed automatic
• Five-star crash test ratings
• Great deals are available

The Bad:
• Configuring the car correctly requires options

The Ugly:
• Resale value will be in the tank