Pontiac G6 makes a good first impression

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Sometimes a car just feels right, even after just a mile or two behind the wheel. It may not be the best car in its segment, but it strikes a certain fancy. It provides a feeling of well-being.

Then, sometimes after the first short test drive, a car doesn’t quite measure up to preconceived notions. Never mind that it’s a seemingly good car from all angles.
It’s simply a matter of individual likes and dislikes. It’s perhaps how a lot of cars are sold. It’s hard to make a second ‘first’ impression.

The all-new Pontiac G6, replacement for the forgettable Grand Am, is a giant leap forward for the brand. It looks sporty; it drives reasonably well, offers an unmistakably solid structure, provides excellent legroom and appears nifty from behind the wheel. It makes a good first impression.

If this is the direction General Motors is headed with its new regiment of sedans, than the future bodes well for the world’s largest automaker. It felt right to us. Not perfect, certainly. But we had an enjoyable Sunday morning driving through city streets and then at increased speeds through the outlying twists and turns.

We could live with this new guy and be happy.

The problem for Pontiac is that the competition is so darn good. For instance, the G6’s 3.5-liter V-6 engine is not as refined as say the 6-cylinder engines found in the competition, like those offered by Camry, Accord and Altima.

The G6 has a raspy voice, especially under hard acceleration. Interior materials, although much improved over the Grand Am, are still not quite up to more exacting Japanese standards. And technology still lags in some areas.

For example, the G6 must make do with an old 4-speed automatic transmission while the aforementioned competition comes outfitted with 5-speed shifters.

If this sounds like a put-down of the G6, it is not. Taken as an entire package, the Pontiac acquits itself quite well.

And the G6 has a few tricks up its sleeve that the top sellers don’t offer. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

Since the G6 comes with only one powertrain and in only two trim levels, base and GT (a convertible is in the works). For now all models come with a 3.5-liter pushrod V-6 generating 200 horsepower and 220 pound feet of torque.

While the G6 engine does a respectable job of hustling the sedan from 0 to 60 in around 8 seconds with smooth shifts, the competition has bigger engines that provide slightly faster times.

That being said, we were pleased with the performance and the good low-end grunt. Nothing we did on Sunday morning from fast starts to passing a slow-moving pickup on a tight two-lane, gave us concern.

Our GT tester handled the curves in decent fashion without a lot of drama, although we never pushed too hard.

The bottom line here is that the G6 does not fall into the sports sedan category, but it is entertaining enough for most. The hard-core enthusiasts should stay away, and in reality they would probably not shop G6 anyway.

Compared to the base model, the GT adds 17-inch alloy wheels (the base is outfitted with 16-inchers), bigger front brake rotors and a sport-tuned suspension. Whether that makes much difference in the driving dynamics, we can’t say, but probably not.
If the G6 is what you want, but you wished it had more power, just wait a bit. Coming later this year as a 2006 model will be a GTP version with a 3.9-liter V-6 pumping out 240 horsepower. It’s much more competitive but equally more expensive.

And if you are more into economy and saving some bucks up front, a 170-horsepower 4-cylinder will also be added during the next model year.

But mileage is really not a factor with the current engine, which will achieve 21 miles to the gallon in city driving and 29 on the highway according to government statistics. That’s better than most of the competition.
The G6 is built on GM’s relatively new and well-done Epsilon platform, which also carries the Saab 9-3 and the Chevrolet Malibu and the Malibu Maxx.

The Pontiac is based on the stretched Malibu Maxx version giving it a 112-inch wheelbase. This affords the G6 a racier, wheels-pushed-to-the-corners look and increased rear-seat legroom. The longer wheelbase also helps in delivering a smooth ride.

By the way, the G6 is almost identical in size to the best-selling Toyota Camry.
The new exterior styling gives the G6 the look of speed with a rakish, wedge shape and a steeply sloping hood. The new sleek Pontiac design with its rounded-off rear door opening does force rear-seat occupants to duck their heads getting in and out.
The traditional Pontiac grille protrudes toward the front in an aerodynamic stance. The package pulls together nicely.
The styling theme carries over inside with round gauge enclosures encircled in bright chrome work, a handsome and easy-to-use center stack that includes stereo and climate controls, well-placed cupholders and neatly designed doors.

We found the leather seats in our GT test car to be very comfortable and pleasing to the feel.

One control not well placed is the heated seat switch, which is out of sight on the front corner of the seat. The dash lights up in the traditional Pontiac red, something we like, but some people may not.

Trunk space is fairly good at 14 cubic feet. But in our GT the rear seatback did not fold down so there was no pass-through to the trunk.
There are several things that make the G6 stand out from the competition: A four-panel panoramic sunroof opens up a large section of roof. The front panel pops up to act as a wind deflector. It’s a neat idea and easy to use. But is it worth the $1,500 option price? Yes, but only if you have $1,500 to spare. And note, with the sunroof, some rear-seat headroom is eliminated; Power-adjustable brake and accelerator pedals are a very useful feature, especially for short people. This feature is found in many Ford products, but has been lacking in some of the more popular competition – so we’re glad to see GM making them available in the G6; The G6 like numerous other GM products this year features remote start. That means the car can be started and heated in the winter or cooled in the summer from the house, and the doors stay locked eliminating the chance of theft.

The G6 starts at $21,300 in base mode and comes with such standard equipment as air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and locks, a 60-40 split folding rear seat, stereo with CD player and tilt/telescoping steering wheel.
Move up to the GT with a starting price of $23,925 and other standard features include four-wheel antilock brakes with traction control, power-adjustable pedals, an eight-speaker Monsoon sound system, alloy wheels and sport suspension.

Options abound. Most noteworthy for the safety conscious are front side-impact airbags with side-curtain airbags for both the front and back seat occupants at $690.
Our test car came with $5,350 in options including the giant sunroof and leather interior bringing the bottom line to $28,275. That included a $1,000 Pontiac package savings.

As noted the G6 is a big leap forward for Pontiac and General Motors seems headed in the right direction. But much work still needs to be done to catch the sales leaders.
In the meantime, we could live with this new Pontiac. It has a very attractive personality.