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New Car/Review

1997 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP Coupe

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Pontiac Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:            3.8-liter supercharged V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 240hp @5200 rpm/280lb-ft @3200 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:      18 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, 20.8 mpg test
WHEELBASE:         110.5 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    196.5 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    54.7 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     72.7 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       3396 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:     18.0 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  16.0 cu. ft.
TIRES:             225/60R16
INSTRUMENTS:       Speedometer, heads-up display for speedometer,
                   turn signals and radio station, tachometer,
                   fuel level, water temperature, supercharger 
                   boost gauge, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:         Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors,
                   power driver's seat, trip computer, cruise 
                   control, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio 
                   with cassette and remote CD changer, 
                   anti-lock braking, dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:     $23,549

My wife and I were in a shopping center, doing some post-holiday returning/shopping. It seemed as if everyone else in the area had decided to do the same thing, because the lot was full. I rounded a corner of one aisle and saw someone pulling out about 100 yards away. In order to get that space I floored the accelerator and left two 10-foot long strips of rubber on the pavement. I'd like to add that the road was dry, the sun was shining and there was no ice nearby.

The car we were driving was the new Pontiac Grand Prix GTP, with a supercharged 3.8-liter V-6 engine that delivers 240 horsepower. I was flabbergasted. I've driven high-performance cars before, but few that delivered the punch as quickly as the Grand Prix did. And this was with an automatic transmission.

The new "wide track" Grand Prix doesn't look a lot different from Grand Prix cars of the past. It retains the twin grille, which makes it look as if it's imitating a BMW. But Pontiac has used the split grille for a long time. It appears to be slightly wider and, according to brand managers from other GM lines, the Grand Prix may be slightly wider than other cars sharing the same platform.

Handling and stability are very good. On all roads the ride was firm, but not choppy. The Grand Prix was a fun car for my "Exit Ramp Speedways," which are 200-yard long tests of handling. With its firmness, you get almost instant confidence that the car can handle any road the engineers are willing to put under it.

The GTP is a step up from the average Grand Prix. Besides the supercharged engine, there is a rear decklid spoiler, 16-inch performance tires, a remote compact disc changer, theft deterrent system and aluminum crosslace wheels.

Instrumentation was a speedometer, tachometer, fuel and water gauges, with a fuel management computer and heads-up display. The heads-up display is one of Pontiac's big advantages. It projects the speed onto the windshield, just below your line of sight. You don't have to take your eyes off the road to see how fast you're going, or to see that you've left the turn signal on for the last 10 miles. It even tells you what station your listening to for a few seconds. And with the supercharged engine, you don't want to take your eyes from the road for even a second.

You also want to keep close tabs on your speed, because that engine can also get you into the nether regions of the 115-mph speedometer quickly.

On the steering wheel were lighted sound system controls so you could see them at night. I felt that these controls were too close to the wheel, and I found myself changing the settings accidentally whenever my hand brushed across them.

A nice touch was a soft plastic piece under the ignition slot that kept extra keys from jangling against the steering column.

The seats were comfortable. Up front we had individual buckets that offered good support. This was a coupe, so in the back was a bench that was wide enough for three passengers with a flat floor. There was a pass-through from the trunk, so you could carry skis or other long objects, as long as there wasn't a middle passenger in the rear. On the passenger side was an assist handle to aid in entry. Both sun visors had lighted vanity mirrors and those little straps that are so convenient for holding turnpike tickets.

The new Grand Prix is a nice package for Pontiac. The older car did well, but the new model is lower and more aerodynamic. It has already won one NASCAR race and has attracted the Joe Gibbs team for 1997. On the highway, the Grand Prix does its job well and looks good doing it.