Almost is not enough

2005, Pontiac, Grand Prix

Ask anyone within earshot, and you'll understand why singing is not my bag. But in the shower, I'm a Caruso. And it's this tendency toward what I call "differential self-evaluation" that brings me to the subject of General Motors.

It doesn't take a dedicated aficionado to notice that GM is on the ropes. Its 110,000-person workforce is facing a 25-percent slashing. Kirk "Casino King" Kerkorian is tendering a takeover bid. Pension liabilities are looming so large as eventually to block out the sun.

So, what does General Motors do? It sings in the shower. It sings a lot better than I do, I have to admit; but there seems to be a distinct lack of acknowledgment an almost militant denial that cars and trucks are purchased for what they can do on real roads in the real world at real gas prices. Notfor how they sound in the shower stall.

In and of themselves, two new models the Pontiac Grand Prix GXP and the Saab 9-2X Linear are very nice, very competent, very enjoyable cars. The problem is that consumers don't judge cars in and of themselves. They judge them inand amongst the competition, and in the mid-size sedan and compact sport wagon categories, respectively, Pontiac's and Saab's new contenders arebehind the curve. Out of the shower, in other words, their curb-appeal is a little wet.

"There is life in the old boy yet," is how I interpret this particular "freshening" of the Grand Prix. Although long since divested of its rear-drive muscle-car reputation from the '60s and '70s, the present era's front-wheel-drive Grand Prix remains a Pontiac main stay particularly so now that Bonneville has expired.

Grand Prix dukes it out with rival mid-size sedans for much of the corporate-and-rental car fleet business. Until the arrival of a GXP variant for 2005, Pontiac has depended on a 200-horsepower V6 base motor and the same engine supercharged up to 260-hp. GXP introduces honest-to-goodness V8 power, producing 303 hp and 323 ft.-lbs. of torque. The results are a great exhaust note, a heady rush of acceleration and performance-oriented braking and suspension tweaks.

And then...that's about it. Same sales rep interior. Same neutral exterior styling (happily, though, minus yesteryear's plastic cladding). Same hard-to-reverse rear sightlines. For an as-tested price of $32,600, it's going to take a lot more than a snorting bull of a motor to make this Pontiac relevant amongst hip Dodge Chargers, sleek Acura TLs, sporty Nissan Maximas.

This is no write-off of the Pontiac Grand Prix, however. There are fine strengths with this car that just happen to be hidden under a bushel. The GXP, for example, is a masterful long-distance tourer, with ample V8 power for effortless cruising. Optional XM Satellite radio provides the seamless soundtrack for long-distance travel, and refinements like Magnasteer II and Stabilitrak enhance road feel and handling confidence.

Fuel economy of 18 mpg/city, 27 mpg/highway is a victory for an honest-to-goodness 5.3-liter V8. And a well kept secret is the 16 cubic-foot trunk that expands to 57 cubic feet of cargo space when the 60/40-split rear seat is flattened. These are the kind of numbers and versatility one expects from a five-passenger SUV that couldn't possibly be any more powerful or fun to drive.

You'd think this would be something to sing about for audiences beyond aging retro-boomers nursing muscle-car nostalgia. But I don't hear the music yet.

4-door, 5-pass.; 5.3-liter OHV V8; FWD, 4-sp. auto w/ manaul-shift; 303 hp/323 ft.-lbs.; 18 mpg/city, 27 mpg/hwy w/ regular; cargo, 16-57 cu. ft.; std. equipment: 4-wheel ind. suspension & ABS disc brakes, HVAC, AM/FM/CD/XM-ready audio, OnStar, 18-in. wheels, 60/40 split-fold rear seat; base price: $29,335; as-tested: $32,600

By Marc Stengel
2005-08-03

More Pontiac car reviews?

Images of the 2005, Pontiac Grand Prix

2005 Pontiac Grand Prix
2005 Pontiac Grand Prix
The front grille
The front grille
2005 Saab 9-2X Linear
2005 Saab 9-2X Linear
Inside the 9-2X
Inside the 9-2X