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The all-new 2006 Pontiac Torrent is the biggest of the compact SUVs. Based on a car chassis, the Torrent offers a nice ride and good power.
The available leather seats are nice, the premium stereo sounds good, and the low dash offers a good view of the road ahead. Convenience features include a sliding and reclining back seat that offers extended leg room or more cargo space according to your needs, and a clever tray in back for cargo versatility.
Torrent is Pontiac's first true sport utility vehicle. It's built on the platform of the Chevy Equinox. Unlike most Pontiacs, Torrent's styling is restrained, clean and pleasing.
The Pontiac Torrent gets good acceleration out of its 185-horsepower V6 engine. It uses an older, overhead-valve design, however, so it's not as smooth and quiet as, say, an overhead-cam engine from Toyota. EPA rates it 19/24 City/Highway miles per gallon. We averaged 18 mpg, but our test vehicle only had 579 miles on it when we began driving, and engines loosen up and get better mileage over time.
The five-speed automatic transmission may be the smoothest thing about the Torrent. The upshifts are nice and tight. There's good engine torque, with 210 pound-feet, and the transmission ratios and electronically variable shift points are well matched. We drive two steep hills every day in all kinds of vehicles, including those far more powerful than the Torrent; many other transmissions have to kick down, but the Torrent did not. It's also rated to tow 3500 pounds.
The Torrent offers good handling for the class without any sign of harshness to the ride. The longest wheelbase and widest track in the class surely add to this capability. The ride was good, including over some rough gravel roads, and. It's not hard to spin the front wheels when taking off quickly, and the front-drive Torrent comes standard with traction control to mitigate that. We haven't driven an all-wheel-drive version. Our experience with all-wheel-drive versions of the similar Saturn Vue are that the rear wheels are only driven when the fronts start to slip. This works okay for getting through snow, but doesn't significantly improve handling on wet roads.
We'd prefer the Torrent had disc brakes on all four wheels, but it comes with drum brakes in the rear, which are less costly. Four-wheel ABS is standard, but no Electronic Brake-force Distribution is available. We made one panic stop from 70 miles per hour, and were satisfied with the feel of the pedal and stopping distance.
The Pontiac Torrent is among the biggest of the compact SUVs. It's a competent vehicle with some nice convenience features, such as a sliding rear seat. In terms of refinement it's about average for the class.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from the Columbia River Gorge; Mitch McCullough contributed to this report from Los Angeles.