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New Car/Review

1999 Pontiac Grand AM SE

by John Heilig


ENGINE:                  3.4-liter V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:       170 hp @ 4,800 rpm/195 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:            Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:            20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, 21.3 mpg test
WHEELBASE:               106.7 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 186.3 x 70.4 x 55.1 in.
WEIGHT:                  3,050 lbs.
FUEL TANK:               15.1 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:        14.6 cu. ft.
TIRES:                   P225/50R16
INSTRUMENTS:             Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                         water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:               Power door locks, dual air bags, ABS, 
                         air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with 
                         in-dash CD player, tilt steering wheel, 
                         cruise control power windows, power mirrors, 
                         sport interior.
STICKER:                 $19.510

One nice 1999 addition to Pontiac's Grand Am, which is Pontiac's best-selling vehicle, is General Motors' new 3.4-liter V-6 engine. The Grand Am has always been a solid car, with style and quality that has outlived its two platform-mates, the Buick Special and Oldsmobile Achieva.

But the new engine gives it the kind of power one would expect from the Grand Prix, the kind of power one would expect from a Pontiac. When I first punched the gas pedal I chirped the tires. The other car in the driveway that week was a Chevrolet Corvette. And while the Corvette has substantially good manners and far more performance than the Grand Am, I was still impressed with the Pontiac's performance. These are two different cars, yet they both offer performance in their own way.

The 3.4-liter V-6 is rated at 170 horsepower and it drives the front wheels through a four-speed automatic gearbox. This is a nice combination, and it makes the Grand Am one of Pontiac's performance cars. Pontiac has referred to itself as the Excitement division. This is a product that adds to the excitement.

Grand Am has been restyled for 1999 as well, besides the addition of a new engine. The front end has been freshened and the rear restyled. Headlights are integrated into the front fascia and the taillights into the rear fascia.

Among the styling changes is a wider track that give the Grand Am Pontiac's patented "wide track" look and feel. Handling is good and you feel the effect of a wider stance on the road.

Inside there are individual bucket seats for the front passengers and a bench for the rear. There is an excellent trunk behind the rear seats. Of course, the rear seat backs fold down to increase trunk capacity.

Instrumentation is a speedometer, tachometer, fuel and water gauges. I didn't like the instruments. or one, they are lighted in orange at night and I've never been one that feels this is a great color. Second, there are too many tick marks between the major dividers. For example, there are five little tick marks between each quarter full mark on the fuel gauge. There is a tick mark for every mile per hour and one for every 100 rpms on the tach. This is too much in my opinion. I like information as much as the next person, but there are limits.

This wouldn't be a Pontiac is it didn't have controls on the steering wheel. The Grand Am has sound system and cruise switches on the wheel hub. A nice thing is to have cruise control switches on the hub. Most GM vehicles have these controls on the turn signal stalk, and this is a nice variation. I laughed the first time I saw sound system controls on the wheel, but now I have become so accustomed to them that I miss them when they aren't there.

Our tester was a fully equipped SE, and as such we had power windows, door locks and mirrors, AM/FM stereo with an in-dash CD, and cloth seats.

Performance was interesting -- excellent. This is a car that can get up to speed and stay there for as long as you want with no worries about having something left in reserve. Fuel economy was decent. While you don't get the economy you'd expect from the standard 2.4-liter Quad Four engine, mileage is still very good. There is no argument from this corner against big engines in small car because bigger engines don't have to work that hard. Fuel economy is less than you'd get from a four, but it isn't working that hard.

For 1999, the Pontiac Grand Am is a solid vehicle. I've always liked the platform and haven't been that thrilled with some of the other vehicles that have come off it. But the Grand Am is a good car. It feels good, drives well, and it gives you a good time behind the wheel. I just wish they'd change the styling more.