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When Pontiac first revealed the Vibe, it did it with slam poets describing the vehicle's appeal. If you don't know what a slam poet is, you're probably not in the target market for the Vibe GT, although you still may be a customer for the entry-level model.
Innovative and interesting, the Vibe was built in response to research into what the youth market wants in a vehicle in the early years of the 21st Century. So this five-door hatchback has a roomy interior, a creative cargo-carrying system and even a standard 110-watt electrical outlet so occupants can plug in a laptop computer or video game unit. Speaking of those laptops, GM used the Internet to let potential customers name the Vibe's colors, which include Lava, Satellite and Envy.
For those who want a sport compact but don't want to do all the work themselves, Pontiac offers a Vibe GT model. There's also an all-wheel-drive version.
But regardless of the buyer's age or model chosen, the Vibe may offer the best of at least two automotive worlds: it was conceived by General Motors but is built with Toyota components and assembly standards. (Toyota did its own exterior styling for the Matrix, its version of the car for the North American market. However, for the Japanese market, Toyota simply sells right-hand-drive versions of the Pontiac-styled Vibe as the Toyota Voltz. See separate review of the Toyota Matrix at nctd.com.)
The basic Vibe is no pocket rocket, but it is built on the new Toyota Corolla chassis and should provide a good platform for those who want to give their hatchbacks the fast and furious aftermarket treatment.
The base 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine has Toyota's variable valve timing technology and produces 130 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 125 pound-feet of torque at 4200 rpm. By comparison, the Ford Focus five-door wagon has a 121-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder and the Mazda Protege5 a 130-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder.
The Vibe's five-speed manual lets the driver extract the full measure of its power. Making the task of manipulating the manual gearbox easier is the way the shifter is mounted in an extension of the dashboard instead of in a center console. Your right hand falls easily from the steering wheel directly onto the shift lever.
In addition to the base Vibe with a five-speed, we tried a Vibe AWD with an automatic transmission. Even though the engine produces slightly less horsepower (because of changes in exhaust routing around the AWD's independent rear suspension setup), the gearbox responded nicely when we needed it to kick down in passing situations or for pulling onto freeways. (The AWD with the automatic gets a smaller fuel tank, poorer fuel economy, and isn't as quick as the five-speed two-wheel drive.)
The Vibe's engine was a little noisy under acceleration, but the drivetrain quieted nicely at cruising speeds. With a solid chassis, engineers are able to do a good job at sound insulation and ride control. Engineers say one of their targets was to build a small car in which people could ride comfortably for several hours. We spent a full day in the Vibe and were always comfortable.
Enhancing the experience are easy to reach and use controls, with the audio system controls at the top of the center stack and with three big dials to control the heat-a/c-ventilation system.
The all-wheel-drive system uses lightweight, aluminum components and has a viscous coupling. It usually sends its torque to the front wheels, but can split it 50/50 front/rear when it detects wheel slippage. Pontiac expects 10 percent of Vibe buyers to opt for this model.
It also expects 13 percent of buyers to opt for the Vibe GT, a car that does qualify for pocket rocket status. Pontiac says the Vibe GT will rocket from a standing stop to 60 mph in less than 8.5 seconds (compared to around 9 or 10 seconds for the base car and 11.5 for the Vibe AWD).
The Vibe GT's engine also displaces 1.8 liters, but has been massaged by Yamaha, which shortened the stroke but bored out its cylinders and increased the compression ratio to 11.5:1 (compared to 10.0:1 for the version in the Vibe and Vibe AWD). The Vibe GT engine needs 92-octane fuel, but the payback is 180 horsepower at 7600 rpm. (Ford's much-heralded SVT Focus has only 170 horsepower.)
Coupled to the GT's engine is a six-speed manual gearbox. Although the Vibe GT rides on the same front MacPherson strut/rear twist-beam suspension as the base Vibe, the GT gets four-wheel disc brakes, standard ABS and has its 205/55 aspect tires mounted on 16-inch cast aluminum wheels.
Rev the Vibe GT's engine to 6000 rpm and a higher-lift, longer-duration cam lobe kicks in and it feels as if a turbocharger has activated, like afterburners have been ignited. We drove the car hard and fast on canyon roads west of Los Angeles and it was quick and stable and predictable, and the GT engine emits a nice exhaust note.
This 1.8-liter is the same engine that powers Toyota's Celica GTS, but in the Vibe GT the engine is in a package that has room for people and their stuff.
The Pontiac Vibe competes with the Ford Focus, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Volkswagen Golf, Mazda Protege5 and, of course, the Toyota Matrix, which doesn't offer as much standard equipment as Pontiac does.
The Vibe's strengths are its extensive list of standard equipment in all three of its versions, its innovative cargo system, its equally innovative standard electrical outlet and its Toyota build quality.
The Vibe AWD may have appeal in the snow belt. The Vibe GT deserves consideration as a pocket rocket for those who don't have deep pockets, but who want a rocket with big pockets for their friends and cargo.