Excitement returns to Pontiac with 2008 G8 GT

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Here’s some good news for Chevrolet Camaro fans.

The all-new Camaro, expected to start reaching showrooms this fall as a 2009 model is based on General Motors’ global Zeta platform. It will have the same underpinnings as found in the all-new Australian-based Holden division produced Pontiac G8 sedan that entered the market this spring as a 2008 model.

If you want to get a feel for the highly anticipated Camaro, head to a Pontiac showroom and drive the Australian-built G8. But don’t be surprised if you come away from your test drive the proud owner of a new Pontiac.

Yes, this new Pontiac is that good.

We’ve been pleasantly surprised about a new General Motors vehicle every few months for the past couple of years and the Pontiac is another example. Add it to the growing list of GM vehicles that are as good as anything in their segments including the Cadillac CTS, Chevrolet Malibu, Saturn Astra and Buick Enclave.

General Motors is restoring its storied reputation one car at a time - Hummer headaches aside.

The G8 slots into a very narrow segment of rear-wheel drive large sports sedans populated now by the Dodge Charger, its Chrysler 300 sibling and, to stretch the point, perhaps the Nissan Maxima, which is a front-driver.

If you think the Charger R/T with a Hemi under hood is exciting, wait to you get a dose of the new G8 powered by a 6.0-liter 361-horsepower V-8.

Pontiac has struggled with only limited success over the past few years to put excitement back into the “excitement division” of General Motors. But we can say without stretching the point, excitement has finally returned – unfortunately at what seems a bad time.

We don’t want to sell the short-lived GTO coupe short. It was pretty darn exciting with a 400-horsepower V-8. It was also an Australian-derived product, but it just didn’t catch on and was terminated after the 2006 model year.

This time, Pontiac has hit pay dirt. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow has been found. But except for the true muscle car enthusiast we would guess the line to buy is short for the V-8 version.

The newest Pontiac has a muscular yet conservative stance. The lines are clean, totally devoid of the tacky body cladding and other add-ons that have adorned recent Pontiac products. And there’s no boy-racer wing attached to the trunk lid.

An aggressive front air dam with foglights and twin hood scoops enhance the go-fast look. Two dual exhaust pipes speak louder than a wing.

While the new Pontiac V-8 is being initially marketed to the go-fast crowd, the sedan has two personalities.

Personality number one comes courtesy of GM’s 3.6-liter V-6 engine that generates 256 horsepower and yields 17 miles per gallon city and 25 on the highway with regular gas.

And then there’s the fast and furious personality of the GT courtesy of the V-8.

It hands the driver not only the straight-line performance of a pricey European sports sedan, but the handling and cornering prowess as well, and for a fraction of the price.

The GT has been clocked from 0 to 60 in exhilarating 5.3 seconds and through the quarter mile 13.8 seconds at 103 miles per hour.

Factor in the base price of the GT — $29,995 including destination charge — with its sports sedan demeanor and you have outstanding bang for the buck.

You also have a well-built family car with quality materials and luxury-car fit and finish.

On the down side the GT calls for premium fuel and the EPA estimates are a frightful 15 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. For an enthusiast driver it means all too many $100 fill ups and we would guess even lower miles per gallon than the government estimates which shortens the time between stops at the pump.

On the plus side Pontiac officials say the G8 GT is “the most powerful sedan available for less than $30,000.” And unlike many European and Japanese cars, that price will purchase a complete package, no options are necessary to have a desirably equipped sedan.

For instance, our test sedan came with just one option, the premium package which included leather seats, power heated front seats and leather-wrapped shifter for $1,250 bringing the test car’s bottom line to $31,245. There are only three other options including a power sunroof and 19-inch aluminum wheels.

There’s one glaring omission here — no navigation option. That may be a deal breaker for some people, but we would gladly plug up our portable Garmin or TomTom GPS device rather than lose the G8 over this omission.

Standard equipment on the GT is generous and includes 18-inch alloy wheels with summer-performance tires (yes you are going to need a second set of tires for some parts of the country), antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, traction control, full-length side-curtain airbags, dual-zone climate control, full power accessories, and an 11-speaker Blaupunkt sound system with six-disc CD/MP3 changer.

If you find the V-6 edition more sensible and more in line with your driving needs, it begins at $27,595. You will have to pay extra for dual-zone climate control and the upgraded sound system.

We found the gauge package simple, not as ostentatious as in some previous Pontiac products and the switchgear fairly intuitive. The center stack is well done with climate control knobs and buttons easy to use. The stereo system is also relatively easy to operate if you remember that the volume knob just mutes the sound, but doesn’t cut the audio system off. That duty falls to a button in the top right corner.

We don’t mind the window and power mirror controls in the center console just behind the gear shifter and ahead of the cupholders. The danger here is spilling a sugary Pepsi into the switches.

We particularly like the readout between the tachometer and the speedometer which dispenses information and can be set as a digital speedometer with a large readout.

The driver’s seat is large enough for a big body and very comfortable. After sitting behind the wheel for two hours straight, we felt as though we had just climbed into the car.

Two of our usual passengers declared the rear seats extremely comfortable, saying they enjoyed the bucket seat affect. Both commented not only on the seat comfort but the stretch-out room even with the front seats pushed back at least half way on the tracks. We don’t think many people ride three across in the back of a sedan, but if that’s the
case you might find the G8 not as friendly for a center passenger as front-driven cars because of the wide center tunnel needed for the transmission and driveshaft.

Trunk space is also large measured at more than 17 cubic feet.

The G8 is the best Pontiac in years, offering solid and economical V-6 performance or tire-smoking V-8 thrills, both for a bargain price, and all with a very commodious and quiet passenger compartment.

If you are in the market for a full-sized sedan it is worthwhile to take a spin in the newest Pontiac.


Base price, $27,595; as driven, $31,245
Engine: 6.0-liter V-8
Horsepower: 361 @ 5,300 rpm
Torque: 385 foot-pounds @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: rear wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 114.8 inches
Length: 196.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,994 pounds
Turning circle: 37.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 17.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 19 gallons (premium)
EPA mileage: 24 highway, 15 city
0-60: 5.3 seconds (Motor Trend)
Also consider: Dodge Charger R/T, Nissan Maxima

The Good
• Muscle-car performance with GT model
• Well-executed interior
• Everything you need for under 30 grand

The Bad
• No navigation system available

The Ugly
• As gas prices move toward $4 a gallon fuel economy may be an issue