Automotive performance never goes out of fashion, but it does go
through cycles. For the 2008 model year, V8 power and rear-wheel-
drive are back in vogue at Pontiac after years in exile. For the
Gen-4 version of BMW's sizzling M3 coupe and sedan, it's not so
much the rear-drive, front-mounted V8 combination that raises
eyebrows but a stratospheric 8,400-rpm redline that tickles the funny-
Clearly, Pontiac is demanding to be taken seriously again by
delivering ripping performance and four-door, five-seater
practicality for under $30,000. BMW, on the other hand, has pulled
out all the stops by endowing its venerable pocket-rocket with a
supercar's sophistication and personality for a price. At a time
when neo-Puritanism seems to be shaming aficionados into angst-ridden
doldrums, Pontiac and BMW are standing tall and declaring for all to
hear: Let the good times roll!
Pontiac's new G8 sedan is like a breath of fresh air in a stuffy
room. Just one look, and what seem like 20 years of ever-deepening
anonymity and irrelevance simply fade away. The name G8 may not evoke
the kinds of emotions that Firebird and Tempest and Trans-Am once
did, but its back-to-basics powertrain pairing front engine and rear-
wheel drive certainly get the juices flowing.
There are two basic iterations of the new G8. The $27,000 base model
boasts a 3.6-liter V6 producing 256 horsepower, mated to a five-speed
automatic transmission. The GT version is the bigger news,
however. Its 6.0-liter pushrod V8 cranks out 361 hp through a six-
speed auto, yet it still manages to achieve 15 mpg/city and 24 mpg/
highway thanks to computerized cylinder de-activation. (The V6 model
is rated 17 mpg/city, 25 mpg/highway). Even with its hi-po V8, in
other words, the G8 GT is capable of 420 miles per tankful of fuel.
With a sticker price of $29,310, this G8 is arguably the under-
$30,000 performance champ in the contemporary auto marketplace.
Like the reborn (and laid-to-rest) GTO coupe that never quite
endeared itself to enthusiasts, the Pontiac G8 bears an Aussie
pedigree thanks to its sibling relationship with the Holden Commodore
from Adelaide. Styling, however, is Yankee Doodle Dandy, with the
snorkel scoops, wheel flares and subtle flip spoiler that hearken
back to Pontiac's muscle-car heyday. Ah, but there's an important
twist: This is a Pontiac that can handle as well as accelerate;
that's as reassuring under braking as it is flagrant doing burnouts.
Finally, All-American muscle meets four-wheel independent suspension
and front-to-rear disc brakes. If you toss it, the G8 can take it,
which isn't the fond memory many Boomers tend to harbor about their
Pontiacs of yore.
Inside, the G8 boasts one of the more refreshing design makeovers in
automotive annals. Seat comfort, particularly up front, is a paragon
of comfort; and a roomy rear bench generously accommodates three
adults. Moreover, an 18 cubic-foot trunk swallows ample luggage. Gone
are Pontiac's lumpy, pudgy control knobs that resembled nothing so
much as Fisher-Price playthings. The G8's instrumentation and
switchgear are all grown up, tasteful and easy to use and understand.
Deep red read-outs are still frustrating to us members of the color-
blind minority (but sometimes it's better not to know how fast
you're going when 361 hp are in charge).
What Pontiac has accomplished with the G8 bodes well for a General
Motors division that's fighting to stay viable. At last, here's a
practical, real-world and even affordable sedan with both the styling
and the chops to validate Pontiac's once-revered reputation as the
"GM performance brand."
It's no coincidence that the engineers assigned to Pontiac's new
G8 set out to benchmark their chassis design against BMW's
ride and handling capabilities. But it's one thing to aim for a BMW;
it's quite another to drive one, particularly when it's a no-
compromise thoroughbred like the new fourth-generation M3 performance
The stat-sheet alone is enough to drive gearheads to paroxysms of
frenzy: 414 hp from a 4.0-liter twin-cam V8 (up from 333 hp in the
Gen-3 model); a 3,700-pound curb weight that plays a significant role
in sprints from zero-to-60 in 4.7 seconds; a six-speed manual
transmission whose gutsy gearing is tailor-made for an 8,400-rpm
redline that many motorcycles might envy; cross-drilled floating-
rotor disc brakes that can haul the M3 to a complete stop from 60 mph
in just 105 feet.
The M3 is a driver's car, and its complement of driver-oriented
tools includes 11 different programmable modes for tailoring torque,
traction and suspension settings to driver preference and road
conditions. With no tongue in cheek whatsoever, one of BMW's
intended road conditions for the M3 is the racetrack, and at the
car's debut at Laguna Seca Raceway outside Monterey, Calif.,
journalist-piloted M3s were soaring, cornering and drifting like a
demented, parti-colored flock of seagulls.
The interior of the M3 coupe is a masterpiece of Bavarian comfort and
efficiency: taut leathers, crisp actions from well positioned
instruments, readable displays. Only BMW's iDrive telematics
controller continues to subject a driver to potential distractions
with its layers of screens and unorthodox readouts. Passenger comfort
is exceptional; seats are well-bolstered against centrifugal forces
to the sides, and rear buckets for two maximize both legroom and
And then, of course, there is the price of technology. The M3 Coupe
starts at $57,275, and a sedan version arriving later in the year is
slated for $54,757. (This assumes the dollar-euro exchange rate
doesn't deteriorate to even more perverse levels.) Then, to feed all
those fiery rpms, the M3 requires premium fuel which it nevertheless
manages to consume at a rate of 14 mpg/city, 20 mpg/highway.
Perfection, after all, is never cheap, and near-perfection's no
bargain either. But where BMW's new M3 is concerned, it's not
whether you can afford this car, it's whether you can live up to it.