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Pontiac's Grand Am is one of GM's top-selling models, mostly because it combines racy styling and frisky engines with an affordable price. The current model was redesigned only a few years ago, so changes for 2001 are minimal.
Bold styling with aggressive ribbed body work is designed to draw attention to this sporty compact. Ribs are everywhere. They start at the front bumper, wrap around the front fenders, along the doors, down the rear fenders and around the rear bumper. The design is carried through the side mirrors and the optional rear spoiler. It all works together to give the Grand Am a sporty look. Body-colored door handles and side moldings support this theme. Add cats-eye headlamps, a twin port grille, round driving lamps, and that wide track stance and there's no question this is a Pontiac.
Small round cornering lamps positioned on the edges of the rear bumper are designed to complement the standard backup lights by directing light at 45-degree angles to the sides and rear of the vehicle. They should help illuminate obstructions and ditches when backing up at night.
Grand Am's bold exterior is carried through inside with a sporty retro-dash. Circular hoods shroud the instruments and ventilation ducts and remind us of sports cars past. It's an attractive look that adds to the sports appeal of the Grand Am. Warm, red light illuminates the instruments, which are large and easy to read. Audio and climate controls are angled toward the driver for easy access. Big round knobs adjust heating, ventilation and air conditioning. All 2001 Grand Ams receive upgraded Delco sound systems, including an eight-speaker Monsoon stereo that's standard on the GT and GT1 and optional on SE1 models.
Strapping on the new Grand Am reveals that the seating position is slightly higher than previous-generation models. Coupled with a lower cowl and thin A-pillars, that makes it easier to see out front. The Grand Am we drove was equipped with a four-way manually adjustable driver's seat, which we found to be comfortable during a stint around greater Miami. A six-way power driver's seat is standard on GT1 models.
Several features add convenience to the Grand Am. Automatic lighting control can be set to switch on the headlights at nightfall, then turn them off 20 seconds after the ignition is switched off, giving the driver some time to unlock a house or garage door. Battery rundown protection automatically turns off all accessory lights after 20 minutes in case they were left on by mistake.
A delayed locking feature can be programmed to automatically lock the doors within seven seconds of closing the last door. That eliminates the need for trusting passengers to lock their doors and permits quick retrieval of forgotten items. When the driver removes the key from the ignition, three chimes indicate the system is activated. It locks the car seven seconds after the last door is closed. If a door is opened before that time, the timer stops and starts over when the door is closed again. Exterior lights flash twice and the horn beeps to confirm the doors are locked. A related system automatically locks the doors when the shifter is moved out of the park position. Doors automatically unlock when the shifter is placed in park and the ignition is turned off.
Driving around South Florida revealed that the Grand Am offers a smooth and controlled ride quality. There's a noticeable absence of shimmy and shake and rattles over potholes. It's also quiet inside.
Miami's busy roads provide little opportunity to explore chassis dynamics, but the Grand Am felt taut, overall. Its sharp steering response makes the driver feel connected to the road.
We focused on a sedan equipped with the standard 2.4-liter engine and the SE1 trim package as that's what most people buy. With its relatively flat torque curve, this engine delivers plenty of power around town and offers good acceleration for tackling freeway on-ramps. The four-speed automatic offers smooth, positive shifts and seems a good match for the engine.
That wide-track Pontiac stance gives the car an athletic handling response. The wide front track ? the distance between the left and right tires ? and the stretched wheelbase adds to the Grand Am's aggressive, sporty appearance. It also increases stability at high speeds, in corners and in cross winds. Grand-Am's 107-inch wheelbase is longer than other compact cars.
Beneath the Grand Am's sporty appearance is a rigid unitbody structure. Pontiac says Grand Am's structure is more rigid than that of the Nissan Altima ? one of the Grand Am's chief competitors. That's good news for drivers and passengers because a stiffer unitbody allowed GM engineers to design a three-link rear suspension that offers more precise control of the wheels and better noise and vibration damping. That adds up to improved handling and ride quality, areas where previous-generation Grand Ams left something to be desired.
Big front brakes offer good braking distances. Aluminum brake calipers present lower unsprung weight, which improves handling in bumpy corners. All Grand Ams come standard with antilock brakes (ABS) and electronic traction control, both of which make the car easier to control in limited traction situations.
Pontiac's Grand Am offers bold styling and is loaded with convenient interior features.
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