BORREGO SPRINGS, Calif. -- The tricky route to Borrego Springs, an oasis of green golf courses and tall palm trees dotting the vast brown wilderness of California's Anza Borrego Desert, comes out of Earthquake Valley on a straight shot before whipping over Yaqui Pass in the Valencito Mountains.
We select this roller-coaster road to sample the enthused spirit of a G8 GT, Pontiac's affordable new rear-wheel-drive (RWD) performance sedan.
Then we're flying down a steep slope on Yaqui Pass Road and pointing toward a blind decreasing-radius bend to the right.
At our swift clip, one wrong motion from hands on steering wheel or feet on stop-and-go pedals would propel several tons of Pontiac steel headlong off the course and into some hard-rock boulders.
On this particular run, though, one driver makes no mistakes -- but neither does the G8.
Rooted in a flat stance which hunkers in turns, the big sedan feels totally balanced, as if supported by a center-ship sky hook as it tiptoes through the apex of the dangerous curve, then plunges ahead on an exit line with no protest from 19-inch summer-tire rubber.
Through the bender our car maintains a stable position with minimal lateral roll, the result of a stiffly braced unibody structure with sophisticated independent suspension elements connected at every corner post.
And there's so much power lurking beneath the pedal.
The G8 GT packs a ripper V8 -- GM's 6.0-liter small-block V8 with AFM (active fuel management) technology to pare cylinders when boosted power is not needed.
It develops 361 hp at 5300 rpm with torque of 385 lb-ft at 4400 rpm.
That's enough muscle to muster zero-to-60 times of 5.3 seconds when tied to the smooth-to-shift Hydra-Matic 6L80E six-speed automatic transmission with a DSC (driver shift control) stick and standard LSD (limited-slip differential).
G8 trims as the V8-powered GT or a price-leader G8 equipped with a V6 engine.
The entry model uses a dual-cam 3.6-liter all-aluminum V6 featuring variable valve timing (VVT).
This plant produces 256 hp at 6300 rpm with the torque pushed to 248 lb-ft at 2100 rpm.
Standard transmission for the V6 is GM's Hydra-Matic 5L50E five-speed automatic with DSC.
G8 scores as the first North American application of GM's global RWD architecture, which comes together in Elizabeth, Australia, by Holden, the Down Under subsidiary of GM.
To compete in a global market, the overall length of the car has been limited to less than five meters, or precisely 196.1 inches.
It rides on a long and broad platform with the wheelbase stretching to 114.8 inches and wheels set wide with a 62.7-inch track in front and a 63.3-inch rear track.
Front suspension is multi-link, a MacPherson strut-type arrangement with direct-acting stabilizer bar.
The four-link independent rear suspension shows coil-over-shocks and a decoupled stabilizer bar.
Steering, firm and precise due to a rack and pinion arrangement with speed-sensing variable assistance, feels direct and balanced.
And the four-wheel disc brakes are big, befitting a powerful performance car, with 12.64-inch vented rotors up front and 12.76-inch vented rotors in the rear. The system uses twin-piston alloy calipers in front and single-piston alloy calipers in back.
The standard ABS (anti-lock brake system) is fully integrated with GM's high-tech StabiliTrak electronic stability control system.
G8 the V6 version rolls on 18-inch silver-painted aluminum wheels with P245/45R18 all-season tires.
G8 GT the V8 version gets 18-inch machine-faced aluminum wheels with summer performance tires or optional all-season tires.
But the GT also lists a Sports Package, which adds 19-inch machine-faced aluminum wheels with P245/40R19 summer performance tires, plus cockpit upgrades like a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel and sporty metallic pedals.
A TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) appears on every G8, with the tire pressure for each tire displayed digitally in a dashboard DIC (driver information center).
Both G8 and the GT stock a load of passive safety equipment, including frontal air bags and seat-mounted side air bags for riders on the first bucket seats and curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above side windows for first and second rows.
This car looks smooth but also strong for a taut body featuring brief overhangs and wheel flares on flanks with a wheel planted at every corner.
Pontiac's signature performance-style design cues are apparent, such as the twin-port grille in front, dual scoops on the hood, projector headlamps on front corners, vented fenders on the forward flanks, and chrome-tipped dual exhaust pipes in back.
The spacious cabin with four-door access contains bolstered bucket seats in front of a bench for three with lots of legroom.
G8 standard equipment ranges from air conditioning to cruse control, a tilting/telescoping steering wheel with controls for the audio system and DIC, a two-tier glove compartment and console storage bin, power for windows and door locks and exterior mirrors, a remote keyless entry device with remote starter, theft-deterrent alarm and a seven-speaker Blaupunkt AM/FM/CD radio with iPod/MP3 jack.
G8 GT adds a twin-zone electronic climate control system and 230-watt Blaupunkt AM/FM/6-disc CD changer with 11 speakers.
Leather upholstery is optional including a two-tone (black and red) treatment.
Both G8 models also show a power sunroof on the option sheet.
MSRP figures look good -- $27,595 for the G8 with a V6 and $29,995 for G8 GT with the V8.
Description: Flagship performance sedan
Model options: G8, G8 GT
Wheelbase: 114.8 inches
Overall length: 196.1 inches
Engine size: DOHC 3.6-L V6 CVVT, OHV 6.0-L V8 AFM
Transmissions/speeds: V6: Auto/5/DSC/5L40, V8: Auto/6/DSC/6L80
Rear/front drive: Rear
Steering: Power rack and pinion
Braking: Power 4-disc, ABS/StabiliTrak/TPMS
Air bags: 2 (front), 2 (side), 4 (side curtain)
EPA mileage est.: city/hwy. V6: 17/25 mpg, V8: 15/24 mpg
MSRP: G8: $ 27,595, GT: $ 29,995