Pontiac’s 2005 GTO gets new muscle and more fans

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman


The trick is to forget the GTO emblems on the side of the car. Forget the name for a minute. Erase from your mind any link to the Pontiacs of yore, cars that were instrumental in ushering in the muscle car era.

Now that you have cleared your mind, you can better appreciate the 2005 Pontiac GTO.

The new GTO, introduced last year as a 2004 model, is a sleek coupe, not ostentatious like its predecessors, and perhaps a little understated.

It doesn’t proclaim its badness with a big wing, oversized scoops and massive wheels. Only the rumble from the twin chrome-tipped pipes announces to the uninitiated that this may not be your ordinary four-seat coupe.

The new Pontiac was tagged the GTO to win over customers with nostalgia. It might have garnered better reviews with a different name, but then it would not have drawn the initial interest that was elicited last year with the affectionate “Goat” tag.

The new GTO, a restyled Holden Monaro CV8 from General Motors’ Holden division in Australia, is the type of coupe for people who want ultimate performance without ultimate bravado.

The new GTO lives up to its name in one very important aspect — it is blazing fast, obscenely fast.

In its first year, Pontiac endowed the GTO with a 350-horsepower V-8 with 5.5-second 0-60-performance. Fast, but apparently not fast enough.
The GTO for 2005 comes with the Corvette LS2 6.0-liter V-8 pumping out 400 horsepower and generating 400 pound-feet of torque.

Now we’re talking modern muscle car. The newest edition of the GTO, mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, is capable of going from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds and polishing off a quarter mile in 13.3 seconds at 107 miles per hour.

The steering feel is good and the new GTO will proceed as directed. Charge into an interstate on ramp and with a turn of the wheel you can feel the rear end slide out slightly in a nice bit of oversteer. That small piece of exhilaration won’t be found in a front-drive car.

The GTO grips the road on the sweeps offering a nice balance of performance and handling.

The Pontiac’s main competitor this year is the all-new Mustang GT. Granted, the GT is a head turner while the Pontiac won’t induce a second look. The Ford is endowed with excellent power from a 300-horsepower V-8, and sells for a few grand less. And the pony car is leaving showrooms by the hundreds of thousands while the GTO will be doing well to break into five figures this year.

But the muscle-bound GTO is a more sophisticated car loaded with standard equipment for the discerning driver who wants or needs to be different while maintaining performance superiority.

Yes, you will pay between 33 and 35 grand, as much as $10,000 more than the Mustang, but you get the big rumbling engine, independent suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels, limited rear slip differential, antilock brakes, big and supportive leather-clad seats with eight-way power, air conditioning, cruise control and a 200-watt audio system with 10-speakers and six-disc changer.

Navigation cannot be purchased, a factory-installed satellite radio is not offered and a sunroof is not available.

But the fun factor makes the GTO worth the $32,995 base price of admission for the 6-speed model. The 6-speed is a $695 option, but the standard 4-speed automatic comes with a $1,300 gas guzzler tax making the manual shift version the less expensive — and more entertaining — choice.

The GTO sets itself apart from the Mustang and other coupes in the price range with rich-looking materials in an interior highlighted by some of the best chairs in the industry. Not only are they comfortable for long trips — we racked up more than 600 miles without a hint of fatigue — they are clad with acres of leather with “GTO” stitching on the seatbacks.

The seams all fit perfectly in our test car and the entire layout was pleasing to the eye.
We found the backlit red-faced gauges surprisingly easy to read whether in bright sunlight or under a moonless sky. A driver information center was equally easy on our old eyes and dispensed a variety of information.

A large digital readout, in addition to the standard analog speedometer, is a nice bonus.
Getting in and climbing out of the back seat is a chore through a rather small opening. But once settled in, the rear seats are comfortable. You will have to negotiate leg room with the front-seat passenger.

Trunk space is limited, but we can vouch that two golf bags and a couple of other small pieces of luggage will fit even though it doesn’t seem possible on paper where capacity is listed at just seven cubic feet.

Gas mileage, being one of the chief water cooler discussion topics these days, needs to be addressed. But a muscle car, much like a big sport utility, is purchased for a reason and that reason is not economy.

Even so, the LS2 engine, when mated to the manual transmission, is relatively frugal. It is rated at 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 25 on the highway. But premium gas is required. The automatic is more expensive to operate, rated at 16 and 21.

The 25 is achievable, we discovered, while cruising the interstate at a constant speed. Shift into 6th gear at 60 and the tachometer is barely breaking 1,500 rpm. Up the speed to 80 and the GTO still tacks at just 2,000 rpm.

Pontiac’s original sales goal last year was 18,000 units. But only 8,308 GTOs were sold.

Things are looking better in 2005. Year to date thru June sales have totaled 6,907, an increase of 87.3-percent. All of this is perhaps because of the performance upgrades. So things are looking good so far and Pontiac is shooting for volume in excess of 13,000.

That’s a respectable number, but not too many to keep the new GTO club exclusive.

We think it would be a good club to join if you enjoy cutting-edge performance built into a well-made and attractive coupe.