The Pontiac G5 is a good-looking front-wheel-drive coupe that delivers satisfying straight-line performance and reasonable fuel economy.
The G5 comes in a standard version and as a sportier GT. The GT has a firmer suspension, 17-inch tires, and a 171-horsepower, 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine. The standard version comes with a 148-hp, 2.2 liter four-cylinder. Either way a five-speed manual transmission is standard, a four-speed automatic is optional.
We drove a Pontiac G5 GT automatic, and enjoyed its good acceleration and a pleasing lack of noise or vibration for a four-cylinder, even when pushed hard. The ride is a bit firm but not uncomfortable.
With any coupe, interior space and passenger capacity are compromised for sporty styling and that's the case here. Pontiac describes the G5 as a five-passenger car, but limited rear legroom makes carrying five adults a serious challenge. The back of the cabin is best used for parcels.
Underneath the G5 are the same mechanical underpinnings from the Chevrolet Cobalt coupe that was introduced in 2005. Essentially, the G5 is Pontiac's version of the Cobalt; except that Chevrolet offers a four-door sedan variant and Pontiac does not.
For 2008, the G5 is little changed, having just been introduced for 2007. Standard equipment has been upgraded: 2008 G5 models come with head-curtain airbags, a tire-pressure monitor, and XM Satellite Radio. OnStar and StabiliTrak are now standard on the GT.
With its twin grille nostrils separated by an arrowhead-like divider, there is no mistaking the G5 for anything but a Pontiac. Pontiac has steadily and consistently nurtured and developed this design theme since 1961, and now it is surely one of the most, if not the most, recognizable motif in the U.S. auto industry.
From the front, side or rear the G5 has a cleaner and smoother look than some Pontiacs of the recent past, which tended to be cluttered with stick-on body cladding. This may come as a surprise to some younger buyers, but not to anyone who recalls the ultra-clean-flanked Grand Prix and GTO's of the mid-1960s.
The strength of the G5's identity is really quite remarkable, given that only its grille, tail lights, and other minor details distinguish it (externally) from a Chevrolet Cobalt.
We found the cloth material on the seats quite handsome. There is plenty of legroom for two people up front. The driver's seat is adjustable for height. However, it seems to work better for raising short drivers than it does lowering down to add headroom for taller folks. The problem is that when the seat is lowered all the way to accommodate a tall driver, the seat cushion tilts a bit forward.
All the controls are easy to find and use but there is a shortage of storage bins and trays.
The back seat is barely suitable for a six-foot adult for a short trip across town. It is an excellent location, however, for parcels.
Like many coupes, which favor a low roof as they go for a streamlined look, the G5 has somewhat narrow windows. Some people like that because it makes them feel as secure as a turtle in a shell. Others find it is slightly confining. One problem is poor visibility over the driver's left shoulder. Big roof pillars and a small rear window combine to make it hard to see vehicles coming up to pass.
We applaud Pontiac's decision to make side air curtains standard. In a crash these cover the side windows, front and back, to provide head protection in a side-impact. Some studies have shown such head protection greatly increases the chance of survival and, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted side-impact crash tests on an older G5 without the air curtains, officials noted that serious head injuries for the driver would have been likely. When a second G5 with the air curtains was tested there was a big improvement, although the Pontiac still did not fare as well as a 2007 Honda Civic Coupe (which has air curtains as standard equipment).
OnStar is a nice security blanket. This option combines a global positioning system and a cellular telephone (far more powerful than a hand-held cell phone) to put the driver in contact with an OnStar center which is manned 24/7. The OnStar center can tell where the vehicle is located and can provide help, ranging from a calling a tow truck to providing directions when you are lost. In case of a crash severe enough to deploy the airbags the system will automatically call the center so help can be sent even if the occupants are incapacitated.
We liked the optional sunroof. On some cars the sunroof tends to scoop outside air and funnel it into the vehicle as if attempting to duplicate the tornado from The Wizard of Oz. That is not the case with the G5. There is so little turbulence it is possible to open the sunroof on a 20-degree day and enjoy the sunlight without freezing, with the heater turned up.
The trunk is rated at 13.9 cubic feet which is competitive in this segment. The rear seat can be folded down for carrying more cargo.
As with most sporty cars, the ride in the Pontiac G5 GT is somewhat firm, but encounters with potholes and tar strips do not result in any serious discomfort. The ride is comfortable enough for day-to-day commuting even in the Midwest where the roads are rough.
The steering is somewhat heavy and the effort increases during turns. The steering is tight, however. What that means is when the car is pointed straight you can turn the steering wheel a tiny bit and it doesn't feel disconnected. The car begins to respond. The G5 GT feels secure and fairly responsive on gentle or sweeping turns. However, when the turns are tighter and the speed increases the GT feels nose-heavy and not sporty.
The 171-hp four-cylinder worked quite well even when paired with the four-speed automatic. Major competitors, like the Civic, now come with five-speed automatics, and their extra gear means a better chance at providing good acceleration at all times and better fuel economy as well. Nevertheless, the G5's four-speed downshifted quickly, and when maximum acceleration was demanded it did not shift into a higher gear until just past 5000 revolutions per minute. That means it was striving to get the most out of the engine.
For maximum power Pontiac recommends premium fuel but says that no harm will be done if you substitute 87 octane regular. (This is common in these days of electronic engine controls, where the engine computer can dial the ignition timing ahead to wring the most power out of premium, or back to run safely on regular.)
Fuel economy for the G5 GT automatic is an EPA-rated 22/31 mpg City/Highway; with the manual it's 22/32 mpg. The best fuel economy comes from the base G5 with a manual, at 24/33 City/Highway mpg.
The brakes feel great. The pedal was firm, but it was easy to slow the G5 either a little or a lot. Also, the front of the G5 didn't dip too much under hard braking. That gives it a balanced, secure feel.
The summer performance tires available for the G5 GT offer good grip on dry pavement. We found them unsuitable for winter use, however. (Maybe that's why they're called summer tires.) In packed snow (5F to 20F), we found extremely poor grip and traction even on flat terrain with the summer tires.
The Pontiac G5 looks good. It has a handsome interior and a decent trunk. More standard equipment makes the 2008 models more attractive.
Christopher Jensen filed this report from Bethlehem, New Hampshire.
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