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2008 Pontiac G8 GT Review

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2008 Pontiac G8 GT

Pontiac G8 Helping Build Brand Wide Excitement Again

By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

It’s been a while since I’ve had a car that garnered this much attention. Perhaps it’s the flashy “Liquid Red” exterior color. Or, perhaps it’s the bold and dramatic European shape. In any case I’ve gotten lots of thumbs-up gestures and enthusiastic stares around town this week.

We saw the G8 first at the Chicago Auto Show in pre-production form in February of last year. This GT version was on prominent display in New York this spring along with some other performance Pontiacs. Essentially replacing the full-size Bonneville, this 5-passenger, rear-wheel drive, Australian-built, 4-door sedan has the charisma of Don Johnson – cool, classic and strong. This week it’s in my driveway and I’m thrilled with it.

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That lovely bright red reminds me of an old Volvo I had many years ago. I had it repainted using a Ferrari red. The G8 sports a chin spoiler, extended rockers and low rear fascia with quad polished exhaust outlets making for a look of speed and sport even standing still. The distinctive Pontiac split-grill, wide stance, 18-inch polished aluminum wheels, brashly flared wheel arches, functional hood vents and extra-short front and rear overhangs make this a mighty good lookin’ machine, in my admittedly subjective view.

Our GT test car shows a base price of $29,310 and comes with V8 engine, six-speed automatic transmission and everything you need for a modern, spirited driving experience. The V6-powered G8 starts at $27,595. The only option listed on our tester is the Premium Package which includes heated leather seats with six-way power adjustments (four-way power is standard) and leather-wrapped shift lever, all for $1,250. A 2.92 ratio rear axle is listed as a no-extra-cost option and, with the $685 destination charge our bottom line is $31,245.

Now, you may recall my comment in last week’s review of the V8 powered Impala SS where I considered it a good car for the money – also about 31-grand. Well, let me now amend my comments to say without equivocation that this G8 is way more car for the money with wilder looks, more power, more luxury, better performance, finer materials and just overall, sexier.

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GM claims that the G8 GT is “the most powerful sedan available in the U.S. under $30,000. Now, I haven’t researched deeply enough to assess the voracity of this claim but I must admit to being impressed by the feel of this 6.0-liter V8 making a respectable 361 horsepower and an impressive 385 pound-feet of torque. EPA fuel economy estimates show 15-mpg in the city and 24 on the highway. This week we experienced 22.5-mpg in mixed conditions. And, as you might guess, I wasn’t holding back. Premium fuel is recommended but not required. With a nice, large 19.2-gallon fuel tank we have an exceptional range. I like that.

Performance is amazing. Zero to 60-mph is achieved in just 5.3 seconds and, as importantly, 60-mph to zero happens in an impressive 109 feet. While we don’t have a slalom course to do a serious handling test we do have a few modest twisties nearby where I pushed confidently and hard without coming anywhere near it’s limits. The big Bridgestone Potenza all-weather 245/40 R19 tires hold well and are remarkably quiet. The suspension is the same in the V8 and V6 versions of the G8.

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Inside we find a thoroughly modern, comfortable and sporty environment. The firm leather seats are well-bolstered but not excessively so. The instrument panel and center stack are a bit busy and not entirely intuitive but nicely styled and designed, particularly compared to previous Pontiacs that tended to be a bit overdone. Pontiac’s old interior designs, to me, seemed a bit adolescent. Pontiac has now transcended that image and seems to be aimed at a more universal, and perhaps international, appeal.

The G8 looks spatially efficient from the outside and it certainly is. Front and rear seat passengers will find plenty of room, and check out that cavernous truck with a generous 17.5 cubic-feet of space.

I found a couple of minor quirks inside, perhaps owing to its Australian heritage. The cruise controls are a bit unfamiliar and, I think, less easily operated than much of the competition. I had to search a bit for the ambient temperature indicator. And, the car’s driver information system was unclear on some functions. For example, in order to reset some of the indictors the system instructs us to “enter” but there is no “enter” function to be found. Above the center stack is an LED panel with oil pressure and battery gauge that looks a bit incongruous to me. These are all minor quirks that an owner would figure out in short order and live with comfortably, I’m sure.

Safety features are about what we would expect. Six air bags, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, stability control, traction control, tire pressure monitoring, and OnStar service for the first year.

Of course, this isn’t the first Australian Pontiac, as many of you know. Pontiac’s attempt at resurrecting the fabled GTO a few years ago was based on this Holden, rear-wheel drive platform that GM calls Zeta. But the GTO failed to catch on partly because of some quality issues and styling that most enthusiasts found to be too conservative. I don’t think this one will come in for criticism on either of those fronts.

The G8 GT comes with the standard GM warranty, including the 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain coverage.

Pontiac still wants to be GM’s division of automotive excitement, and this G8 GT fits right into that philosophy, particularly if it is true that we’ll soon have a 400-horsepower version with six-speed manual transmission. Can’t wait to test that one.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved