SEE ALSO: Pontiac Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS MODEL: Pontiac Grand Am SE1 Coupe ENGINE: 2.4-liter DOHC L4 HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 150 hp @ 5600 rpm/155 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm TRANSMISSION: Five-speed manual WHEELBASE: 107.0 in. LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 186.3 x 70.4 x 55.1 in. STICKER PRICE: $19,300
Pontiac's Grand Am has been a grand old soldier for the Pontiac brand for many years. It has gone from being a fairly large car to being a solid compact to lower mid-size coupe and sedan. Officially classified as a compact car by the EPA, it really falls into the lower mid-size classification, if there was one.
Our tester was powered by the double overhead cam 2.4-liter inline four that pumps out a healthy 150 horsepower. This has been a good engine for GM ever since it was first developed for the Pontiac Grand Am/Olds Achieva/Buick Skylark family of cars in the early 1990s. Note that only one of those model names is still in existence. While I would normally opt for a V6 engine, this little engine has enough power to put it in the V6 classification. And for a four, it wasn't as noisy as some of the imports of similar size. The engine is also rated at 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway, and there are few sixes that can achieve those numbers.
The engine powered the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox that was comfortable to use. We drove the Grand Am over some residual snow from a pre-Christmas snowfall, and it was good to have the stick shift to gain maximum flexibility from the engine. We also had ABS on the brakes. This was a nice feature, as a couple of times we discovered we were trying to stop on ice when we didn't realize it was there. Sometimes it's frustrating to drive a car that's smarter than I am, but in cases like this I'm always happy.
Our tester was the SE1 coupe, which is a step up from the base SE model. The SE comes standard with the five-speed gearbox, air conditioning, 15-inch wheels and tires and an AM/FM sound system with a cassette player. The SE1 adds cruise control (with steering wheel-mounted switches), power windows, power mirrors, a power height adjustment for the driver's seat, a split-folding rear seat and five-spoke cast aluminum wheels. Move up to the GT version and you get 16-inch wheels and tires, four-wheel disc brakes, an upgraded suspension system and leather seating surfaces.
With a base price of $17,870 and a sticker price of $19,300, the SE1 was fine, thank you. Among the options in the additional $1,480 were 16-inch wheels and tires, a glass sunroof (a real bonus in the winter) and a Monsoon stereo sound system with an in-dash CD player.
Drive the Grand Am and you know you're in a Pontiac. GM's "sporty" nameplate has done an excellent job of retaining its identity across its entire line of cars. In styling, all the cars have the same "twin kidney" grille that has been a Pontiac hallmark for many years. Inside, you are bathed in orange lights at night from the instrument panel. The only problem with the orange lighting was that the blue high beam indicator and the green turn signal indicators seemed out of place.
Since this was the SE1, it didn't have the upgraded suspension system, but I thought handling was excellent. The Grand Am cornered well and flat, with minimal lean. In fact, with the five speed lying comfortable under my right hand, there was the temptation to get a little more aggressive going into some of the corners than I normally might have. And with the small four-cylinder engine under the hood, some serious shifting was usually required.
There's one stretch of road I take in my daily commute that has some great curves (I also spend a lot of time on urban streets that require some standard right-angle turns, too). While speed is reduced in this area because of the narrowness of the road and blind corners, it's a good place to enjoy what the car can do without taking major chances with my life or anyone else's. The Grand Am was a pleasure in this part of the commute, as I could keep well to the right if anyone else decided to come the other way, and still have maximum control.
Pontiac has been GM's "sporty car" brand since the days of John DeLorean and the GTO and associated models. While the Grand Am SE1 isn't necessarily in the GTO class, it was a fun car to drive with good handling and a nice engine/transmission package. I think I'll re-order the car when the roads are more friendly and stretch its legs more than I could with all the ice and snow.