Pontiac G6 GTP Coupe – a glimmer of fire as excitement grows

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Excitement has been the Pontiac calling card since engineer John De Lorean put a monster big-block V-8 in a nondescript Tempest in the mid 1960s and called it the GTO.

More excitement followed through the decades with tire-smoking GTOs, Firebirds and Trans-Ams. The Trans-Am was immortalized in the Burt Reynolds’ “Smoky and the Bandit” flicks. GTOs were immortalized on drag strips across the nation.

Unfortunately, Pontiac has gone through several years of yawners, where the closest thing to excitement was a rather horsepower-deprived-supercharged V-6 sedan. The demise of the Firebird in 2002 was the final blow. Excitement has pretty much died out as Pontiac took the form of minivans, sedans and crossovers.

Admittedly, it was exciting to drive the short-lived (slow-selling) Australian-derived GTO remake with its 400 horsepower V-8. But it too has passed on to that great auto bone yard with a scant tear being shed for the pseudo GTO.

Don’t despair. We have some good news for fans of Pontiac excitement.

It has returned in the form of the Solstice roadster, which gets turbocharged power in 2007, and the compact-sized G6 coupe and convertible. We’re not talking about Corvette-level excitement. We’re talking a more mild level of fervor, but at a more affordable price.

We got excited after spending a week each with the new retractable hardtop G6 and the 2007 G6 GTP coupe.

The GTP trim-level coupe was an entertaining car in 2006 — its first model year — with a 3.9-liter V-6 generating 240 horsepower mated to a four-speed automatic. Both long in the tooth. But a substantial upgrade has been made for 2007, and it puts the G6 smack-dab into real excitement territory.

Pontiac has replaced the 3.9-liter with an all-new 3.6-liter V-6 with variable valve timing generating 252 horsepower mated to a new six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability.

The G6 GTP gets the blood boiling with its bold design, 18-inch polished alloy wheels, good-looking and feeling sports seats and chrome-ringed instrumentation that offers style and functionality in equal measure.

Pontiac made a 180-degree styling turn from the over-clad, unsophisticated Grand Am to the head-turning G6 coupe. It has a low-slung wedge-shaped look with a steeply raked rear window, hiked-up rear end and a sloping hood set off by wrap-around bejeweled headlights and the traditional twin-kidney-shaped grille.

It’s so good looking we can forgive the bit of “form over function” that is a result of the design. The biggest misdeed is just passable headroom in front and limited headroom for rear passengers. And if you’re blessed with a long torso you better duck when climbing into the G6.

So you’ve got the look and now you need the performance to go with it.

Bingo. The new engine, transmission combination is a killer with blistering performance off the line and potency through the gears. After a few runs, measured by the seat-of-our-pants experience, we figure the new setup — which is pleasingly devoid of torque steer — can turn 0-to-60 runs in the low 6-second range. We also used as a comparison the magazine-measured time of 6.5 seconds for the 240-horsepower 3.9-liter found in the 2006 GTP.

This puts the GTP in the same performance territory as the V-6 Honda Accord coupe, and the Mitsubishi Eclipse V-6. It slams the Toyota Camry Solara’s 210-horsepower V-6 in a runaway. And the performance is accomplished with an EPA fuel rating of 20 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway.

With its stiff and competent Epsilon-based platform, the Pontiac holds up well against the aforementioned models in handling, ride and interior solitude. In fact, the G6 can be entertaining on the back-road twists and turns if you simply remember you’re not in the BMW 335i or the Infiniti G35.

One thing sets the Pontiac apart from the Honda, Toyota and Mitsubishi is pricing. The GTP starts at $24,850 including destination charge with a load of standard equipment. That’s also close to the starting point for the Eclipse and Solara — the Honda begins at a hefty 28 grand — but there are usually discounts available at the Pontiac store that aren’t attainable elsewhere.

In addition to the exceptional powertrain, standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, and a premium eight-speaker Monsoon sound system, fat leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, power driver’s seat and cruise control.

Standard safety features include four-wheel ABS with traction control, electronic stability control, head-curtain side airbags and a top five-star protection rating for both front and side-impact collisions from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Options are of course available and our test car came with the $1,250 premium package that includes the outstanding leather heated seats, remote vehicle start and the $1,100 sun and sound package that includes a power sunroof and upgraded stereo with 6-CD changer. A couple of other options brought the bottom line to $28,020.

If you want the great looks of the G6 — with slightly reduced performance — at a lower price check out the GT starting at $22,615. It comes with a 224-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6.

The GTP performance package can also be purchased on the four-door G6 starting at $25,115. And that should be of immense interest a young family who needs to strap in a car seat.

Just a few works about the G6 retractable hardtop: it’s the first such product to reach market under $30,000 — the Volkswagen Eos joins that elite club for 2007 — and has just one trim level with a starting price of $29,215 including destination charge.

That in itself is exciting because the open-air Pontiac is a well conceived and well-executed vehicle. The driving experience is rewarding, top up or top down. For 2007, it is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 generating 217 horsepower. For those desiring a little more grunt in their open-air cruising, the $1,490 sport package replaces the 3.5 with a 3.9-liter V-6 making 227 horsepower.

A couple other notes on the convertible — it has a spacious cabin where four adults can enjoy waving to their neighbors on a sunny afternoon, and with the top up it contains 12 cubic feet of cargo space. The top, by the way, retracts in just 30 seconds.

We must admit we are attracted to the new G6 styling and we are impressed with the performance of the new drivetrain. And that’s exciting.

Excitement, if still a bit tempered, has indeed turned up at Pontiac and the excitement brand at an affordable price is really exciting.


Base price: $24,850; as driven: $28,020
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6
Horsepower: 252 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque: 251 pound-feet @ 3,200 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: front-wheel
Seating: 2/2
Turning circle: 40.3 feet
Curb weight: 3,487 pounds
Wheelbase: 112.3 inches
Length: 189.1 inches
Fuel capacity: 16 gallons
EPA mileage: 28 mpg highway, 20 city
0-60: 6.3 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Honda Accord coupe, Toyota Camry Solaria, Ford Mustang V-6

The Good:
• New drivetrain gives coupe performance personality
• Modern and appealing styling

The Bad:
• Turning radius of a big pickup truck
• Headroom on the short side
• GM still cutting too many corners with cheap plastic pieces

The Ugly:
• Keep praying for a new Firebird Trans-AM