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New Car/Review


by Tom Hagin


SEE ALSO: Pontiac Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 19,875 Price As Tested $ 21,168 Engine Type 3.8 Liter V6 w/SPFI* Engine Size 231 cid/3800 cc Horsepower 195 @ 5200 RPM Torque (lb-ft) 220 @ 4000 RPM Wheelbase/Width/Length 110.5"/72.7"/196.5" Transmission Four-speed automatic Curb Weight 3410 Pounds Fuel Capacity 18 gallons Tires (F/R) P225/60R16 Brakes (F/R) Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS) Drive Train Front-engine/front-wheel-drive Vehicle Type Five-passenger/two-door Domestic Content 95 percent Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) N/A

PERFORMANCE EPA Economy, miles per gallon city/highway/average 19/30/27 0-60 MPH 8.3 seconds 1/4 Mile (E.T.) 16.9 seconds @ 90.5 mph Top-speed 120 mph * Sequential-port fuel injection

When we first the '97 Pontiac Grand Prix "Wide Track" television campaign, we thought of '70s-era Grand Prixs that were seemingly as wide as a house. But after researching further, we found that the Wide Track campaign began in '59, and focused on style rather than handling.

These days, however, Grand Prix buyers can ride the highway in leisurely style with the SE version, or hit the drag strip with a supercharged version. This week we test a mid-line GT coupe.

OUTSIDE - Pontiac has reshaped Grand Prix from the ground up. Its trademark "twin port" grille remains intact, but the car barely resembles the model it replaces. The new style borrows from its sibling, the Grand Am, although the steeply raked windshield suggests a Firebird theme. The wheelbase has been stretched by three inches, and the front track has been widened by two inches. While the new car's svelte styling is causing the most excitement among buyers, Grand Prix now features added safety strength as well. Reinforced side-impact door beams, along with higher-strength steel in its B-pillars and energy- absorbing foam in the rear quarter panels help the car meet 1997 federal requirements. Our GT test model wore five-spoke alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, and 16-inch tires.

INSIDE - Grand Prix's front bucket seats are highly contoured and comfortable. Pontiac has widened and lengthened the front seat tracks to allow more room for adjustment, and to give rear seat passengers more toe space. Standard interior equipment on all models includes air conditioning, power windows, door locks and outside mirrors, along with tilt steering, intermittent wipers, and tinted glass. Our test car was fitted with a Custom Trim Group, which added a leather-wrapped steering wheel, overhead console, rear seat pass-through and a trunk-mounted cargo net. As part of a regional "value priced" package, our test car also came with cruise control, an AM/FM/CD stereo, remote keyless entry and trunk lid release, and a rear window defogger.

ON THE ROAD - Powering our test Grand Prix GT is GM's venerable 3.8 liter V6 engine, producing 195 horsepower and 220 lb-ft of torque. Its basic design is old, but fitted with the latest in computerized engine management controls and electronic fuel injection, it is more than up to the task of moving the 3400-pound vehicle. The standard transmission is an electronically-controlled four-speed automatic. More power is optionally available by choosing Grand Prix's supercharged engine. By installing this type of forced-induction system, Pontiac ups the output of the same engine to 240 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, which transforms the car into a street rocket. To handle the extra power, a stronger four-speed automatic transmission is necessary, which features "Normal" and "Performance" shift modes, where the engine management computer signals the transmission to shift at different rpms, according to how hard the accelerator is pressed.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - In an effort to reduce unwanted sounds and vibrations inside Grand Prix, Pontiac engineers have increased its torsional (twisting) stiffness by 40 percent, and the bending rigidity by 15 percent. And by making the car stiffer internally, the company was able to add improved crush resistance, and the resulting thinner roof pillars enhance visibility and allow easier entry. A series of five cross-car beams are integrated into the design of the chassis, further enhancing stiffness. Suspension components are fully independent, with a strut-type setup front and rear, and improved geometry for better handling and shock absorption. Optional on our test car was GM's MagnaSteer power steering system, which uses electromagnetism to adjust steering effort to match driving conditions. Standard braking comes from four-wheel disc brakes with an anti-lock braking system (ABS).

SAFETY - Dual airbags and ABS are standard, of course, but so is traction control, side-impact beams, daytime running headlamps and a tire pressure monitoring system.

OPTIONS - Six-way power driver's seat is $270 while the MagnaSteer power steering is $93. The custom interior group adds another $210.