New car reviews

2009 Pontiac G8

Nostalgic High Performer

Steve Schaefer, Sun, 8 Feb 2009 08:00:00 PDT

It takes years to develop a new model. How can a manufacturer know what the future holds when they are looking from so far away? The G8 is a powerful, even amazing car from GM, but in today's world, it may be a little late for the party.

To give the G8 its due, it's fun to drive, that's true. A generously proportioned midsized sedan, it is agile, despite weighing nearly two tons, thanks to its fully independent performance tuned suspension. You can feel a lively vibration through the steering wheel that reminded me of a BMW's , surely Pontiac's leaders would not dispute that comparison. The steering itself is direct and tight, with a variable rack-and-pinion mechanism.

The real big story, though, is that this is GM's first use of its new rear-wheel-drive platform in the U.S. Like the Holden model that it's based on, the G8 is built in Elizabeth, Australia. The engine in my car was sourced from Mexico, and there is 13 percent U.S. and Canadian content. GM is reaching across its worldwide network to configure cars for each region and this seemed like a good fit for them at the time.

Although you might not notice it, the perfect symmetry of the interior, with the window controls in the center console rather than the doors, is a tip-off. Australians drive on the left so their dashboards feature a steering wheel on the right, and this layout allows minimal changes to move it over for us.

The standard G8 is probably quite lively with its 3.6-liter V6 that puts out 256 horsepower through a five-speed automatic, but I can only guess that. I tested the GT model, with a 6.0-liter V8, which, with 361 willing horses under the hood and six-speed automatic, gives the GT superior potency. Actually, it is the most powerful sedan available in this country with a base price (just) under $30,000.

Theoretically, someone could cross shop this car with something much more expensive, like a 5 Series BMW or other upscale sedan. For power, and even driving amusement, it might even beat the German. However, the quality of the materials and assembly is only OK, not stellar. I noticed uneven panel gaps in the cockpit, and the surfaces felt cheap to me. The glovebox seemed flimsy. But of course, after two days of blasting around town and down the interstate I no longer saw that.

The interior on my Sport Red Metallic test car was black on black, with silvery plastic accents. An Oakland Raiders fan would feel right at home. Only the Pontiac logo on the steering wheel and a ring at the base of the transmission lever gleamed in chrome. The steering wheel felt a little offset to the left to me, and I was amused by the parking brake lever that was integrated into the center console with a dummy version on the passenger side.

The EPA gives the G8 GT fuel economy ratings of 15 City, 24 Highway. My mixed driving for a week produced 15 mpg, so I think the EPA's test took place on a day with a good tailwind. At this writing in mid October 2008, gas prices have dropped down to about $3.50 a gallon for regular, but still, 15 mpg is pretty unsatisfactory. The EPA Green Vehicle Guide numbers are 6 for Air Pollution and only 4 for Greenhouse Gas. This car would likely never make it onto a Sierra Club member's list.

Even the base car gets a good setup of safety, performance and comfort, from six airbags to four-wheel disc brakes with ABS to free XM Satellite Radio and OnStar. My GT model tester included an 11-speaker Blaupunkt audio system at no additional charge, 18-inch aluminum wheels and nice little dual exhausts with stainless steel tips.

It also featured an optional Premium Package, which for $1,250, added leather seats (heated, with six-way power) and a leather shift knob. In all, my tester, with destination charges, came to $32,760. Base price for the V6-powered base model is $27,595 plus a $685 destination charge.

Big news for later this model year is the even more potent GXP, with a 6.2-liter V8 that conjures up more than 400 horsepower. This is definitely for the enthusiast, preferably one who also owns an oil well.

So, why buy a potent, but gas-guzzling car like this today? Well, because it's fun to drive, and despite conservative styling, in red it looks pretty impressive. The price undercuts about everyone in the powerful sedan category, it's like a Corvette for five. It's also a bit nostalgic, looking back at an earlier day of cheap gas and guilt-free motoring.



2009 Pontiac G8

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