New Car/Review

1999 Pontiac Grand Am GT1 Sedan

by Carey Russ

The Grand Am is Pontiac's volume seller, accounting for forty percent of the company's sales. "High volume" all too often equates to "boring commuter car", offering practicality and economy over panache. Not here. The 1999 Grand Am has no lack of practical features that make it a useful all-around car, and goes a decent distance on a gallon of regular gasoline. But, it is a Pontiac. Even the basic 4- cylinder SE has bold Pontiac styling and a sportier-than-average suspension tuning for nimble, enjoyable handling. The new GT model, available in both sedan and coupe body styles, ups the ante with even bolder styling, sports suspension and 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, and "Ram Air" induction for extra power to its V6 engine. Yes, Ram Air induction, just like its bad-boy big brother, the Firebird WS6. The Grand Am may be a bread-and-butter car, but in GT trim it's jalapeno cornbread and chipotle butter, not mass-production air bread and margarine. WS3, anyone?

The 1999 Grand Am GT sedan in my driveway has all of the space, amenities, and comforts of a good compact commute module. Unlike such a bland vehicle, though, it has a very Pontiac personality and attitude thanks to its sport-tuned suspension and Ram Air engine. No boredom with this spirited puppy!

APPEARANCE: In any trim, the new Grand Am makes a statement. It is a car for people who want to be noticed, and they will be noticed. The GT is not radically different from the SE models in appearance. It has the same basic shape, a mixture of previous-generation Grand Am and current Grand Prix styling cues. As with the SE, a close look is needed to distinguish a Grand Am GT coupe from a sedan as they share the same roof line. The four shorter doors of the sedan bring the B-pillar forward and enlarge the rear side windows. Prominent "cat's- eye" headlights, a twin-port grille, and foglamps are the front styling cues, with the GT having a simpler lower bumper fascia and smaller, untrimmed grille ports - modified for the Ram Air system. Ribbed cladding protects the sides, with two ribs on the GT and three on the SE. At the rear, the GT has the same large taillights and rear cornering lamps as the SE, but adds a bolder "ground-effects" look to the lower fascia and twin dual exhausts. The rear wing, optional on SE models, is standard equipment on the GT. Small "V6 H. O." and "Grand Am GT" plaques on the sides are more noticeable than the styling changes.

COMFORT: The Grand Am GT shares basic interior design with the SE, with a ribbed motif echoing the outside cladding. All new Grand Am models are well-equipped; the GT has the air conditioning, power windows, mirrors, and doorlocks and other amenities of the uplevel SE2 model and adds sportier seats. The center console extension in the instrument panel is angled toward the driver for easier use of the climate control and audio systems. My test car had leather upholstery, but there's nothing wrong with the standard cloth. Scooped-out interior side panels on the doors (or rear side panels in the coupe) increase elbow room, and the rear seat is roomy enough for two people under five foot ten to ride in reasonable comfort.

SAFETY: Safety equipment on the 1999 Pontiac Grand Am GT includes safety cage chassis construction, 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, and "Next Generation" lower-powered air bags. The rear cornering lights are a great feature when backing at night as they illuminate the area to the side of the car for safer maneuvering.

ROADABILITY: All models of the current-generation Grand Am have sporty handling characteristics thanks to improved chassis rigidity and a fully-independent suspension design similar to that in the Grand Prix. The GT raises the bar, and benefits from revised shock, spring, and bushing rates, and larger anti-roll bars. "Plus-one" 16-inch wheels and low-profile Goodyear performance tires take advantage of the recalibrated suspension. The ride is firmer than that of an SE, but road noise and harshness are very effectively filtered out. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes ensure that the Grand Am GT stops as well as it goes.

PERFORMANCE: Although the 3.4-liter V6 used in the Grand Am GT is the same engine as that used in the SE models, less restrictive intake and exhaust systems and Ram Air induction give it a touch more power. The GT's 175 horsepower is five more than the SE's; its 205 lb. ft. of torque is an increase of  ten. Surprisingly, the modest power increase is quite noticeable, aided by a more performance-oriented axle ratio. The engine feels strong at all speeds, with excellent low-rpm and midrange torque. This "shifting optional" power ensures that the 4- speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission doesn't detract from the Grand Am GT's sporty character.

CONCLUSIONS: The 1999 Pontiac Grand Am GT brings Ram Air performance to the masses. Think of it as the WS6 Firebird's little brother.

SPECIFICATIONS

Base Price               $ 20,970
Price As Tested          $ 22,180
Engine Type              12-valve pushrod overhead valve V6
                         with Ram Air induction
Engine Size              3.4 liters / 207 cu. in.
Horsepower               175 @ 5200
Torque (lb-ft)           205 @ 4000
Transmission             4-speed electronically-controlled
                         automatic
Wheelbase / Length       107.0 in. / 186.3 in.
Curb Weight              3168 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    18.1
Fuel Capacity            15.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded regular, 87 octane
Tires                    P225/50 VR16 Goodyear Eagle RS-A
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      20 / 28 / 23
0 to 60 mph                             7.7 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                        15.9 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Front deluxe bucket seats with leather  seating surfaces    $ 475
AM/FM/cassette/CD 6-speaker  audio system
  with 7-band graphic equalizer                             $ 195
Lighter element & ashtray                                   $  15
Destination charge                                          $ 525

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