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New Car Review: 2005 Pontiac GTO

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MODEL: Pontiac GTO
ENGINE: 5.7-liter V8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 350 hp @ 5,200 rpm/365 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
WHEELBASE: 109.8 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 189.8 x 72.5 x 54.9 in.
TIRES: P2345/45ZR17

Pontiac stopped building the original John DeLorean-inspired GTO "goat" in 1974. It may honestly be called the car that started the muscle car era - cars with normal coupe bodies that had huge V8 engines stuffed under the hood to create enormous amounts of power and straight-line acceleration.

Unfortunately, many of these muscle cars didn't function that well when the road turned, and a lot of them couldn't stop as well as they could go. So the genre died - for a while.

Today, we have a whole new generation of true muscle cars, as well as mini muscle cars that make a lot of noise and have tricked-out bodies and exhaust systems to make them at least sound and look as if they're going fast.

GM looked at the new era of muscle cars, looked through its worldwide stable of cars, and found a match that would work as the new GTO. The new GTO started life as a GM Holden Monaro in Australia. Then they stuffed an LS1 small-block "Corvette" V8 engine under the hood. This all-aluminum V8 is rated at 350 horsepower and 365 lb.-ft. of torque. The Monaro also has a version of the LS1, but it's of lower tune.

The V8 engine is hooked to a neat 6-speed manual gearbox for power, and as an answer to the mini hot rods around the country, has a tuned exhaust that extracts all the power and performance sound from the engine.

While the GTO looks fairly normal, it certainly doesn't sound that way, nor does it perform that way. GM quotes 0-60 mph times of 5.3 seconds with the manual, 5.4 with the 4-speed automatic, and 13.8 seconds for the quarter-mile.

Unlike its predecessors, though, the new GTO knows what to do when there's a bend in the road. You can go into a corner at a high rate of speed and never have to life off the accelerator or hit the brakes in panic. The GTO corners with the best of them, and you don't have to pay the penalty of a harsh ride. The front suspension is by MacPherson struts, progressive-rate springs and a 1.1-inch direct-acting stabilizer bar. The rear suspension of the rear-drive car is comprised of a semi-trailing arm with control link, gas-pressurized dampers and a .63-inch direct-acting stabilizer bar.

Power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes with ABS make sure the new Goat stops.

What I liked most about the GTO, after the performance aspect, was the styling. I have felt that Pontiac styling over the past few years has been too busy. The sides have add-on fluting, the interiors are rife with so many buttons and switches that it's hard to remember which are for the audio system and which are for the windows. The GTO is smooth-sides, has a gorgeous clean design, and has an interior that isn't fussy. It's direct and to the point.

The GTO is for four passengers, who all sit in comfortable bucket seats. The car competes with the BMW 330Ci coupe and Infiniti Sport Coupe, among others.

The only option on our tester was a 6-speed manual gearbox, which added $695 to the base price of $31,795. Throw in $700 destination charges and you arrive at the bottom line of $33,190.

The first time the GTO sat in my driveway was the day the Chevrolet SSR truck was delivered. The GTO was there to take the driver back to his office. It so happened that it was delivered just as school was letting out at the local high school, and four teenagers in two cars screeched to a halt in front of my house. I thought they were interested in the in-you-face SSR, but they were more interested in the more subtle GTO. They knew all about the car, all about the engine, and more of the specifications that I'd ever know.

I believe that proved the car's emerging interest among young men, as one thing. For another, it shows how knowledgeable kids are today about what's out there and about what they might be interested in driving some day.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate