Pontiac Torrent GXP provides some new excitement

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Pontiac is struggling. Total sales in 2006 fell to just over 400,000 dropping from 444,000 in 2005. The free-fall continued in 2007 with 12-month sales struggling to hit 350,000.

So the big question — is Pontiac on the chopping block at General Motors and will another historic nameplate follow Oldsmobile into the dustbin of automotive history? GM officials have been heard to say lately that Pontiac will survive and soon will start getting desperately needed new sheetmetal. But even before this promised in-fusion of new stuff led by the full-sized G8 sedan, there are already a few golden delicious apples ready for the picking at your favorite Pontiac store.

One of those is the 2008 mid-sized crossover Torrent GXP. Torrent is basically the twin of the Chevrolet Equinox and was added to the lineup in 2006 to give Pontiac customers an SUV. And like the Equinox, the Torrent has well-proportioned and sporty styling, something that had been lacking in many of General Motors’ projects over the last decade. In fact, we consider this SUV one of the most handsome on the market. 

The only real styling differences between the Torrent and the Chevrolet are the grille and taillight treatments. The Torrent has the traditional Pontiac grille and more traditional taillights than the Equinox. Wheels pushed out to the corners give the Torrent a more aggressive look and add crucial inches to the wheelbase creating more room inside than in the typical compact or mid-sized sport utility. And the longer wheelbase also makes for a pleasant ride.

Note that we are reviewing the Torrent GXP, not the base Torrent. The base vehicle is a nice offering, but the GXP, new for ’08, elevates the stylish crossover into the “shopping list” category. The reason is the addition of a 3.6-liter V-6 generating a healthy 264 horsepower.

The 3.6 is a big step up from the up-to-now stand-alone 3.4-liter V-6 that makes do with 185 horsepower. The 3.4-liter Torrent doesn’t lend much excitement to the so-called excitement division of General Motors and perhaps that’s one reason the Torrent has for two years been selling in rather unexciting numbers.

But slam the 3.6-liter under the hood mated to a six-speed automatic and the Torrent becomes, well, can we say, torrential?

Perhaps not. But it’s no slouch in the mid-sized SUV ranks with 0-to-60 time of 6.9 seconds as measured by Pontiac. It feels like 6.9 seconds, too. And that trumps a whole lot of compact and mid-sized SUVs currently in showrooms. It’s interesting how the bigger engine has transformed the good-looking crossover into a rather sporting, fun-to-drive family machine.

Before we get too carried away praising the GXP engine, we found it a bit noisy, especially under moderate-to-hard acceleration, but not overly annoying. And we did experience a bit of annoying gear hunting on a hilly stretch of interstate roadway. Surprising, considering the six-speed transmission.

The Torrent GXP has a decent tow rating of 3,500 pounds, which, by the way, is the same as the smaller engine, according to Pontiac. We’re not sure why the tow rating has remained the same, but common sense tells us that towing a boat with 264 horsepower and 250 foot-pounds of torque should be an easier operation than towing it with 185 horsepower and 210 foot-pounds.

We have liked the Torrent and its Equinox sibling because they are right-sized despite a turning radius of an 18-wheeler at nearly 42 feet. While parking may be a bit of an annoyance, the Pontiac has a small, nimble feel on the road.

For instance, at 112.5 inches the Torrent wheelbase is nine inches longer than the Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe and Honda CR-V and eight inches longer than the Jeep Liberty and the Toyota RAV4. The Equinox wheelbase, in fact, is only an inch shorter than the bigger mid-sized Chevy TrailBlazer. And it’s spacious inside as well.

This size virtually blows the competition away in rear-seat legroom, or perhaps it can best be described as rear-seat stretch-out room. The Torrent boosts class-leading rear-seat comfort. The seats slide fore and aft up to eight inches with 60-40 folding seatbacks that also recline a few inches for long-haul comfort.

And rear seat occupants sit up higher than the front. This theater-like seating may be especially appealing to youngsters who will feel less claustrophobic. And for those folks blessed — or cursed — with a large number of very young kids, the second row will accommodate three child-safety seats abreast.

Second-row comfort comes in part because, unlike much of the competition, the Torrent does not have a third-row seat option to eat up space. There’s more than 35 cubic feet of storage behind the seats.

The interior has some interesting features that make traveling life easier including an adjustable rear parcel shelf that can carry groceries or a flat of flowers, a center armrest/storage bin that can be flipped up out of the way to create a large area between the seats to accommodate large purses or a laptop computer, and fabric storage pockets on both sides of the center console good for storing magazines, maps or other large items.

The dashboard area is neatly designed offering a contemporary look that retains a user-friendly nature. Silver metallic trim pieces surround the instrument gauges and the metallic look, popular in many vehicles these days, is featured in the center stack. 
The shifter is in easy reach in the center console.

A couple of minor nitpicks — the window switches are located on the center stack and are hard to use, especially when hurtling down the road, and although there is a storage area under the dash to the left of the steering wheel, it’s the only cubby to be found up front with the exception of a small, shallow area in front of the shifter.

The GXP trim level will cost you about $4,500 more than the base model, listing for $27,995 in two-wheel drive and $29,595 in all-wheel drive compared to $23,470 and $25,070 for the standard trim Torrent.

In addition to the engine and six-speed transmission — the base makes do with a five-speed automatic — the GXP adds new front bucket seats, a sport-tuned suspension and 18-inch wheels.

You won’t lose much economy moving up to the 3.6-liter engine, which is rated at 16 mpg city and 24 highway compared to 17/24 with the 3.4-liter. Both run on regular fuel.

Our Torrent GXP AWD test car came with a $595 leather package, $395 head-curtain airbags and $200 XM radio bringing the bottom line to $30,785.

With more than a dozen alternatives in the ever-expanding compact and mid-sized crossover ranks, we can understand overlooking Pontiac. But the GPX version is worth keeping it in mind. 


Base price, $23,470; as driven, $30,785

Engine: 3.6-liter V-6

Horsepower: 264 @ 6,500 rpm

Torque: 250 foot-pounds @ 2,300 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Seating: 2/3

Wheelbase: 112.5 inches

Length: 188.8 inches

Curb weight: 4,060 pounds

Turning circle: 41.8 feet

Luggage capacity: 35.2 cubic feet

Cargo capacity: 68.6 cubic feet

Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds

Fuel capacity: 17 gallons (regular)

0-60: 6.9 seconds (Pontiac)

Also consider: Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Edge, Toyota RAV4, Jeep Liberty

The Good

• Powerful and rewarding V-6 in GXP trim
• Spacious interior

• Stylish crossover lines

The Bad

• Side-curtain airbags optional on 29 grand vehicle

The Ugly

• Give us an acre and we'll turn this thing around with 42-foot turning circle