SEE ALSO: Pontiac Buyer's Guide
Although other segments of the automotive marketplace such as sport-utilities and sports cars get more attention, midsized sedans are still the biggest sellers. But a perceived lack of glamour doesn't necessarily mean a lack of real excitement, particularly from Pontiac. Pontiac's Grand Prix midsized sedan - and coupe - are essentially all-new cars for 1997. "Wide Track" is back.
The Pontiac Grand Prix nameplate goes back to the early 1960s. Pontiacs of those days were low and wide. Their "Wide Track" stance gave birth to a successful advertising campaign at that time. "Wide Track" has returned for 1997. The wheels of the 1997 Grand Prix have been moved out toward the corners and edges of the car, giving increased interior room and better handling. The newest Grand Prix is pure Pontiac in style, and offered in three trim levels. The SE sedan has a 3.1-liter V6 and is aimed squarely at the family market. GT sedans and coupes are sportier and more upscale, with the 3800 Series II V6 and aggressive styling. Optional on both GT models is the GTP performance package, headlined by a 240-horsepower supercharged engine.
I sampled a GT sedan for a recent week, and had the opportunity to drive a GTP coupe and SE sedan at the national press introduction in Washington state last summer. Other than the slightly easier rear seat access of the sedan, there was little difference in style or interior space between the two varieties. The supercharged engine definitely has more power, but the normally-aspirated 3800 V6 isn't exactly lacking. Even the 3.1-liter engine of the SE gets the job done perfectly well for its intended market. Pontiac has done well, making a car that will appeal to a wide variety of people.
APPEARANCE: Pontiac has often gone overboard on aggressiveness, body cladding, and decals in styling. This is great for in-your-face cars like the Firebird, but may not result in something acceptable for the executive parking lot. The Grand Prix GT ought to fit into the executive lot without any problems. Although the body design is subdued by Pontiac standards, it's still sleek, sporty, and a real eye-catcher. Sedans and coupes share the "Sport Roof" roofline and most sheetmetal, with the only differences being the doors and rear passenger windows. This means coupe style with sedan practicality, a winning combination. Grand Prix GT models have front styling that combines the Pontiac twin-nostril grille with a low, wide "ground effects" lower intake for a prototype race-car look. Attention to aerodynamic detail results in a smooth, integrated shape with gentle fender flares and a highly-raked windshield. Only the optional decklid spoiler looks added-on.
COMFORT: The 1997 Grand Prix GT sedan combines coupe verve with sedan practicality inside as well as out. It's a driver's car, and a good environment for passengers as well. Thoughtful instrument panel design places important gauges and instruments front and center, with auxiliaries in a central panel angled toward the driver. Seats are comfortable and supportive. A multitude of options allow the car to be tailored to individual tastes and needs. My test car was fully-equipped, with perforated leather upholstery that was comfortable even in hot, humid weather. A power adjustable driver's seat made finding a good driving position easy. Useful front and rear storage areas add convenience. That most Pontiac of options, the aircraft-style "heads up" display of speed and other data reflected off the windshield, takes some getting used to but is actually quite useful. High-grade audio and sound systems ensure comfort. The rear seat has plenty of room for two people, and will hold a third when necessary. There is a ski-type passthrough to the sizeable trunk.
SAFETY: The 1997 Pontiac Grand Prix has standard safety equipment including 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction control, dual airbags, side-impact protection, and daytime running lights. The standard Driver Information Center display provides useful safety information, including a low tire pressure warning.
ROADABILITY: The 1997 Grand Prix GT has sports-sedan handling abilities to go with its high-performance style. New, fully-independent front and rear suspension systems give a firm but supple ride and very good handling response. Steering effort is just right. The Grand Prix GT is a comfortable car on the highway, and a very capable machine when the road gets interesting.
PERFORMANCE: The Grand Prix GT comes with the proven GM Powertrain 3800 Series II engine. With 195 horsepower and 230 lb-ft of torque, this well-aged pushrod powerplant is competitive with most similarly-sized modern overhead cam engines and has good fuel economy as a bonus. It's smooth, flexible, and has the kind of power that works in the real world. The 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission is the perfect match for the engine, and shifts quickly and quietly.
CONCLUSIONS: With the 1997 Grand Prix, Pontiac has something for every midsize need.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 19,809 Price As Tested $ 24,509 Engine Type V6, pushrod ohv, 12 valves Engine Size 3.8 liters / 231 cu. in. Horsepower 195 @ 5200 Torque (lb-ft) 230 @ 4000 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 110.5 in. / 196.5 in. Curb Weight 3414 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 17.5 Fuel Capacity 18 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular Tires P225/60 R16 Goodyear Eagle LS Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent tri-link Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 19/30/23 0 to 60 mph 7.5 sec ¼ mile (E.T.) 15.9 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.32 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Option Group 1SC: includes rear window defogger, steering wheel w/radio controls, 6-way power driver's seat, rear window antenna, remote keyless entry, trip computer, heads-up display, custom interior group, premium lighting package, and electrochromic rearview mirror $1,589 delete with 1SC: front overhead console -$80 rear window antenna -$40 power sunroof w/sunshade $646 remote CD changer $595 leather seats $475 4-way power lumbar support $100 heated driver' seat $50 polished aluminum alloy wheels $285 8-speaker premium sound system $125 theft deterrent system $60 destination charge $550