The Sporty SUV

2008, Pontiac, Torrent GXP

With all the rain falling in Northern California, the name Torrent seems appropriate. Why Pontiac affixed that badge to their version of the Canada-built Chevy Equinox SUV, though, is anyone's guess.

SUVs continue to sell despite rising fuel prices and threats of global warming. They have become a bit smaller and lighter, although with its long 112.5-inch wheelbase and 3,800-pound mass, the Torrent is bigger than most of its competitors.

The Torrent features rear seats that recline and slide, so folks back there can really spread out. Sliding the rear seat all the way forward gives you five more cubic feet of haulin' capacity. Fold the rear seat flat for apartment-clearing ability.

The GXP model, new for 2008, is aimed at the performance-oriented driver. The real appeal to this new version is its Japanese 3.6-liter V6. The standard Torrent makes do with GM's old 185-horsepower 3.4-liter V6 with a cast iron block, overhead valves and two valves per cylinder. The GXP's power plant offers an aluminum block, dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, and a boost to 264 horsepower. Torque zooms from 210 to 250 lb.-ft. as well. Despite this significant increase in potency, official EPA fuel economy numbers drop only slightly, from 17 City, 24 Highway for the 3.4 liter to 16/24 for the 3.6 liter. My real-world average mileage was 16.1 mpg for the week.

The EPA's Green Vehicle Guide awards this car a mid-pack 6 out of 10 for Air Pollution and 5 out of 10 for Greenhouse Gases. You can push the Air Pollution score up to a 7 by choosing the 3.4-liter engine.

The Torrent is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Pontiac engineers tightened up the chassis and suspension, surely to separate them from their Chevy brethren. Both models enjoy this setup, but the GXP rides on 18-inch alloys with lower profile tires; the base car gets standard 16-inchers.

The GXP model's power rack-and-pinion steering is hydraulic rather than electronic, for a more direct feel. All Torrents get four-wheel disc brakes with antilock, and the fronts are vented.

GM's StabiliTrak is standard. It uses a battery of sensors to keep the Torrent moving in your intended direction. The car's computer can apply the brakes or reduce engine torque to straighten out the car in case you lose traction or experience problems when towing a trailer. If you still manage to hit something, the standard OnStar system evaluates the accident and sends the right kind of help.

So, from the division that marketed the universally maligned Aztek, how does the Torrent look? Very attractive, thank you. The Chevy Equinox is one of GM's new generation of good looking vehicles, and Pontiac has added their split grille and trim variations to it. The GXP, as part of a growing stable of "tweaked" GTP Pontiacs (Solstice, Grand Prix, and G6), also gets a unique hood, lower front and rear fascias, and is lowered an inch.

Inside, the GXP boasts a leather wheel and a specific instrument design with a 140-mph speedometer. It's unlikely that most owners will ever use the second half of that gauge, but it looks impressive up there on the instrument panel.

My tester, in Sonoma Red Metallic, felt strong and competent on the road. GM's seats are becoming more supportive as the years go by, although the rear ones in this car were hard as a park bench. The interior stylists colored the pillars, dash, floor, and door tops in a charcoal hue that contrasted boldly with the "Sand" color of the rest of the interior. The overall feel is clean and active, with just a hint of aggressiveness. The Torrent is carlike around town and cruises happily on the interstate.

Pontiac is happy to help you customize your Torrent. My tester had the "Sun & Sound Package." Just the name conjures up images of happy trips to the beach on a summer afternoon, welcome during a January weeklong rainstorm. The package contains a power sunroof and an upgraded sound system with seven speakers, six-disc CD changer, and a subwoofer. For $200 I got XM Satellite Radio. And even though the Torrent has plenty of standard airbags, this car featured optional "head curtain" side airbags ($395).

The grand total, with delivery, came to $30,070--hardly chump change. You can grab a plain Torrent starting at $23,835. Even the base car contains power locks with remote keyless entry, power windows, air conditioning, and other worthwhile features.

If you don't need an SUV, the Torrent is not for you, but if you are shopping small to middle-sized models, you can get practicality and fun with this one.

By Steve Schaefer

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Images of the 2008, Pontiac Torrent GXP

2008 Pontiac Torrent GXP front view
2008 Pontiac Torrent GXP front view
2008 Pontiac Torrent GXP interior
2008 Pontiac Torrent GXP interior
2008 Pontiac Torrent GXP gauge display
2008 Pontiac Torrent GXP gauge display
2008 Pontiac Torrent GXP rear view
2008 Pontiac Torrent GXP rear view