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With the new G6, Pontiac has put a stake in the ground, challenging the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Mazda 6 to beat it on sheer value. That was the central message at the recent introduction of the car that finally replaces, and becomes the sixth generation of, the Pontiac Grand Am, first introduced in 1974 as a much larger car, and evolving down to the all-new Generation 6, or G6. Initially, the Pontiac G6 is being launched as a sporty four-door sedan, available in SE and GT trim levels. Initially, all will be equipped with a 3.5-liter V6. By spring 2005, the G6 line will include sporty two-door coupes and convertibles, each with unique styling. Three engines will be available: a four-cylinder, a 3.5-liter V6, and a high-performance 3.9-liter V6, the latter in a new GTP model. All come standard with four-speed automatic transmissions, though a high-performance six-speed manual gearbox will be available for the GTP.
We found the G6 has good road manners even when driven hard, benefits of its long wheelbase and European-designed architecture. The sedan is roomy and plush with excellent overall function and its price point will make it popular choice as a mid-size sedan. The G6 offers some interesting features. The car can be started remotely by pressing a button on the key fob from the comfort of your home, a real luxury on bitter cold winter mornings or sweltering summer afternoons. A Panoramic roof is available with panels that slide rearward, creating a sunroof large enough for the back-seat riders to enjoy an open-air experience.
This car, according to Pontiac, is the living expression of what all future Pontiacs will look like and act like, a redefinition of Pontiac's longstanding "Excitement" theme. All of the previous earmarks of a Grand Am are gone, along with the name.
Gone are the massive side cladding panels and standoff rear spoiler associated with the Pontiac Grand Am. Instead, there is a single spear running down the sides of the G6 with a delicate integrated spoiler lip on the trailing edge of the decklid. That's on the GT models. The stripper version, the SE, has almost no decoration at all. It's a bit soulless in style when compared to the previous high-energy, hot-looking Grand Am, even out-dulling the Honda Accord.
The Pontiac designers were handed a much longer wheelbase, at 112.3 inches some five inches longer than the old Grand Am's, and they have made the most of it in terms of interior roominess. A 6-foot, 4-inch passenger can sit behind a 6-foot, 4-inch driver with plenty of room in models with no sunroof or the conventional sunroof. Those with tall friends or family may want to consider the new Panoramic sunroof is powered by a motor that takes up a big chunk of headroom at the trailing edge of the headliner.
The all-new 2005 Pontiac G6 is built in Michigan on GM's international Epsilon platform, from parts and ideas that used on the Saab 9-3, Opel Vectra, Chevrolet Malibu sedan and Malibu Maxx wagonette, all introduced over the past two years.
GM's Epsilon architecture is behind the long-wheelbase G6's ride and handling finesse, with a structural stiffness that helps the G6 achieve a 27.3 Hz bending frequency, a big number that ranks with most luxury cars. Pontiac says the car is designed with three major "torque rings" that add stiffness and strength without taking up too much space or adding weight. In addition to the torque rings, the G6 structure also uses high-strength steel for about 60 percent of underbody components and central tunnel. Rather than just a single layer of sheet steel, the tunnel has an extra piece of steel welded between it and the floor pan. The stiff body uses fully isolated front and rear subframes to carry the heavy stuff, and the front one is hydroformed for strength and light weight.
The G6 interior is altogether new and different from the somewhat excitable, frenetic soft-plastic, fat-knob theme of past Grand Ams. It is much darker, more modern, more European, done in four major sections including a stark, ungrained plastic center stack that holds two vents, the sound system, heater controls, and a 12-volt power outlet. Instruments and controls are presented in white on black (red at night). Every single knob and escutcheon has a chrome ring around it. Very tasty, and nicely presented, with small, conservative graphics on the faces and labels.
The center stack has a red-LED readout and control panel that allows every owner to use the sound system's features, and to customize the locking, lighting, and other functions, with a trip computer and driver information system that's easy, intuitive, and fun to use. The new sporty front bucket seats are made for body comfort and body retention in high-speed maneuvers, and they are very comfortable and thickly padded.
This G6 is a now a grown-up. New optional features available on the G6 that were never available on the Grand Am include a neat remote starting system for those cold winter mornings, power adjustable pedals, OnStar, XM Satellite Radio, and the newest item on the shelf, a Panoramic roof.
Developed by GM and Webasto, this top comes open in four stacking segments, front to rear, and has about twice as much open area as the conventional sunroof, which is still offered. It's remarkable how easily it works, and keeps conversation possible even at very high road speeds.
We found the G6 reasonably quiet. A few powertrain and road noises slipped in here and there, and there was some wind noise from the sharp-cornered mirror bodies. The ride is comfortable and smooth and the car tracks well. The electric power steering is nicely weighted in terms effort at the steering wheel rim, but a little vague in fast transitions.
The engine in our test car was the standard 3.5-liter V6. It's quiet and smooth, with a 0-60 mph time that's just enough to keep you out of trouble, but not enough to make your heart beat faster. The transmission worked flawlessly. It features a neat, simple manual-control mechanism built into the shifter and a gear indicator LED straight ahead in the instrument panel so you don't forget, important because this manual mode will not automatically upshift for you at redline. It goes right up against the rev limiter. Ratios were well matched to the engine's power and torque bands. Some torque steer was evident on full-throttle starts and low-speed kickdowns, which shouldn't be there on a modern platform like Epsilon.
The 3.5-liter V6 produces 200 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque. The 3.9-liter HO engine that comes in the GTP is rated at 240 horsepower, 245 pound-feet of torque. The new and improved 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is rated 175 horsepower, 170 pound-feet of torque. The GM EcoTec 2.4-liter is a double overhead-cam engine used in the Saab 9-3, Opel Vectra, and Chevrolet Malibu. The four-cylinder engine will be restricted to the base SE, and the big HO V6 will only come on the GTP.
The G6 has been updated with improved engines, the 3.5 and 3.9-liter, respectively, but they are still old engines. They are larger, updated versions of the 60-degree 2.8-liter V6 engine that was optional on the X-cars in 1980, 25 years ago. They are overhead-valve engines, low-tech to be sure, but they're relatively smooth and quiet and they get decent fuel economy, with an EPA City/Highway rating of 21/29 miles per gallon.
We did a number of 90-0 mph ABS panic stops with the car on a deserted country road, and it stopped straight and true every time with no fade. The brakes have a nice, progressive power application through the pedal.
The all-new Pontiac G6 is much roomier than the previous Grand Am. It offers good road manners and excellent overall function, especially at these initial prices. It does its job well and should be a big seller for Pontiac in the years to come, especially when the line expands to coupes, convertibles and high-performance versions.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Jim McCraw reports from Norvell, Michigan.
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