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Pontiac's Grand Am is a major sales success. Although compact in size, it looks big and important; at a quick glance it could be easily mistaken for its bigger brother, the Pontiac Grand Prix. Inside, Grand Am's elaborate cockpit could make any Walter Mitty feel like an airline pilot.
That impression wouldn't evaporate the first time Wally opens the throttle because Grand Am backs up its racy looks with frisky performance and sport-coupe handling.
For 2002, Grand Am features a new base engine designed for smoother operation, better fuel economy and lower maintenance costs, with no significant loss in performance.
The Pontiac Grand Am offers a smooth and controlled ride. There's a noticeable absence of shimmy, shake or rattle over potholes. It's also quiet inside. Sharp steering response connects the driver to the road.
We haven't tried a Grand Am with the new EcoTec engine, but last year's four-banger delivered plenty of power around town, and offered good acceleration for tackling freeway on-ramps. We don't expect the new engine to perform much differently. What really counts is torque, and here the EcoTec only falls short by 5 pound-feet (150 vs. 155). That the new engine reaches its torque peak 400 rpm sooner, at 4000 rather than 4400 rpm, might more than compensate for the shortfall.
The four-speed automatic shifts smoothly and positively.
That wide-track Pontiac stance gives the Grand Am an athletic handling response. A wide front track (the distance between the left and right front tires) and a stretched-out, 107-inch wheelbase adds to the Grand Am's aggressive, sporty appearance. It also increases stability at high speeds, in corners and in cross winds.
Beneath the Grand Am's sporty appearance is a rigid unit-body structure. That stiffer unit-body 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 the previous-generation Grand Am left something to be desired.
Big front disc brakes stop the Grand Am in a reasonable distance. Aluminum brake calipers result in lower unsprung weight, which improves handling in bumpy corners. All Grand Ams come with antilock brakes (ABS) and electronic traction control, both of which make the car easier to control in slippery situations.
Pontiac's Grand Am offers bold styling and is loaded with convenient interior features.