New Car/Review

The Pontiac Grand Prix GTP, Still Beautiful

by Larry Weitzman

pontiac

It has been a year since I last visited with The Grand Prix GTP. This is Pontiac's midsize entry import fighter. It comes with a supercharged engine V-6 engine and Pontiac's widetrack chassis architecture.

It is a lot different from the first Grand Prix introduced in 1962. That premier model was a huge two door hardtop (overall length was 212 inches on a 120 inch wheelbase) powered by a 389 cubic inch V-8 (6.4L). It's original design was gorgeous and a classic collectable today.

But times have changed, as cars need to be more efficient and the Pontiac Grand Prix is better in every way than the original. The new Grand Prix is better looking, faster, better riding, better handling, safer, better braking, tighter and more than twice as economical. The best news is it doesn't cost anymore in current dollars, maybe even a little less.

In the looks department, Pontiac left a stone cold winner alone. This is the third model year for this body and Pontiac hasn't changed a thing other than the new torque star alloy wheels and a couple of new great colors. This body design garners more looks than Brad Pitt on a magazine cover.

The soft rounded shape is sleek and functional. The front end has the twin nostrils trademark with some sharp headlamp assemblies with integrated powerful fog lights molded into the lower bumper facia. The body has no edges or creases but the slightly coke bottle shape is interrupted by the aggressively flared wheel wells. The rear is large, with a nice hip. The large taillights finish off the tail with large oval dual exhausts that are manufactured from heavy machined aluminum. Very nice.

The engine is only 60% of the original size, but it still packs a knockout wallop that the original can only dream of. With 3.8L of supercharged V-6 power, it puts out 240 hp at 5,200 rpm and 280 lb ft of torque at only 3,200 rpm. Even though the 1962 model was rated at 300 plus hp, it was based on the gross rating system. That means by today's net standards, it was probably less horsepower than the 1999 Grand Prix GTP, and probably not much more than the normally aspirated engine of 200 hp.

That translates into incredible performance. Even with meaty 225/60 series performance tires and traction control, nailing the throttle hard will produce more tire smoke than a two alarm fire. Without the traction control on, the Grand Prix literally becomes a smoke generator. Even with a front biased weight distribution of 65/35, the weight transfer to the rear caused by the application of so much power, significantly lightens the front end drive wheels.

I was still able to blast from 0-60 in an average of 7.08 seconds with my best run being 6.77 seconds backed up by a 6.82. Turning the tires into liquid rubber will actually add a half a second to these times. Passing performance was equally as quick, with 50-70 coming up in 4.8 seconds and a 6-7% incline slowing that time to 5.8 seconds. These times were from a test car that had 7000 very hard miles prior to my test.

In normal driving, however, the traction control on gravel and secondary roads worked as advertised and allowed this powerhouse to go just about anywhere the ground clearance will permit. In the winter, slippery conditions would be a piece of cake with the front drive and traction control engaged.

In comparison, I did some performance tests on the same car without the supercharger. For 1999, the normally aspirated 3800 V-6 produces 200 hp and has an improved power curve. It too produces gobs of torque just off idle as burying the go pedal from a dead stop will smoke the tires, though not of the two alarm variety of the supercharged motor. This "normal" motor will blast the Grand Prix from 0-60 mph is 8 seconds flat. I had two runs in the 7.9's.

Passing times were also quick. I averaged 5.3 seconds of elapsed time in accelerating from 50-70 on the highway with an incline slowing that time to 6.6 seconds. That's about a half a second slower than the supercharged motor, but more importantly, some pretty impressive times on their own.

Fuel consumption during my test period was better than predicted by the EPA. I averaged 20 mpg which included 80% in El Dorado County and with a lot of time in the boost. I would estimate 21-23 in more normal driving. Highway mileage should approach 30 mpg. The EPA rates the Grand Prix at 18/28 city/ highway (that's up 1 mpg in the highway rating from last year).

With an 18 gallon fuel tank, that's over a 500 mile highway range, Placerville to L.A. non stop with plenty of reserve to turnaround and escape from L.A.

The 200 hp normally aspirated Grand Prix is EPA rated at 19/30 mpg city/highway. I would expect fuel economy in El Dorado County to average 22-24 mpg and an easy 30-32 on the highway at legal speeds. That's downright frugal for a midsize car that's one cubic foot from being a full size car (by EPA standards) and that can "super scoot" from 0-60 in 8 seconds.

But in spite of the trashing of my supercharged test vehicle, the Grand Prix felt as tight and sharp as the brand new one I sampled a year ago. The bullet proof 4T65E electronically controlled automatic transmission was smooth shifting with imperceptible transitions during part throttle use and responsive, crisp reactions when more is asked of it.

Ponderosa Road's washboard surface was quelled by the supple, well controlled fully independent suspension. There are MacPherson struts up front with a tri-link coil over strut in the rear with antiroll bars at each end. There were no squeaks or rattles. Tight would be an understatement.

In the twisties, the widetrack GTP holds its line like the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland. It goes exactly where your point it. The variable assist magna power steering is just a little too easy for my liking, but it is accurate, transitions well and has no center dead spot. Green Valley, South Shingle and Latrobe Road were just a snack for this Grand Prix. The turning circle is less than 37 feet with only 2.26 turns lock-to-lock in the steering wheel. By comparison, the non supercharged GT model I sampled did feel only sightly softer in the corners, but no less able or sharp. Both sport the same wide track chassis architecture with slightly different spring rates and shock valving.

The highway ride was smooth with no irregularities allowed in the cabin. With the engine turning only 2050 rpm at 70 mph, the cabin was very quiet as well, with little wind or tire noise. The standard sound system with CD made clean, clear beautiful music.

In the stopping department, standard 4 wheel discs with ABS makes short work of decelerating. The pedal feel was positive, linear and confident.

On the inside, GTP will reward its driver and passenger with deeply contoured, tan leather bucket seats that are at first on firm side, but after 15 minutes become very comfortable and do a great job of holding you in place during spirited driving which is why Pontiac builds excitement. The driver's seat was six way power with lumbar. They certainly look great. The GT model I drove had the same soft leather buckets. The thick leather steering wheel has controls for the radio.

The dash is all business. In the pod in front of the driver are a large tach and speedo left flanked by gas and temperature gauges. At night they are bathed in a warm orange/red light. To the right is a mini trip computer and switches for the traction control. My vehicle had the heads up display which projects the speed of the car and other information including radio stations and other operations. It comes with option package 1SC, but the good news is that it can be switched off.

The vertical part of the center console holds the superb sounding stereo with CD and below is the dual zone very effective and easy to use AC system. There is also a switch to control the heated driver's seat.

The center console shifter also has a button on the side to program the super smooth 4T65E four speed automatic transmission for normal driving or more aggressive driving. Either way the shifts are smooth and seamless. The difference is the selection of shift point rpm's.

The rear is roomy for two and not bad for three. The seats are exceptionally well shaped and comfortable. There is a 14 inch truck pass through for long items like skis that won't fit in the humongous 16 cubic foot trunk.

Now for the good news. The supercharged Grand Prix lists for $23,910. My test vehicle had only two options. Package 1SC which includes leather, power driver's seat, moon roof, heads-up display, heated driver's seat and more listed for $1,650 and polished torque star wheels for $325. Painted torque star wheels are standard. The total with $560 destination was $26,445.

The standard Grand Prix without the supercharger, but with leather and most of the features of the GTP lists for $23,810. In reality, the supercharger and its extra 40 hp costs about $2,000. That is a bargain when you consider after market superchargers will generally cost significantly more money and don't come with a factory warranty.

But with or without the supercharger, this Pontiac performs as good as it looks. Thompson's Buick, Pontiac, GMC and Jeep has a super selection of these sporting sedans that will coddle you on the interstate for inspection and testing. Bring your driving gloves.

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