- Raucous 361 HP 6.0 Liter V8 for under $30K
- Rear-Wheel Drive
- Active fuel-management system
- No Navigation
- No manual tranny and no paddle shifters
- Oil and volt gauges out of a 1984 6000 STE
- No Navigation
Ruling: Chalk one up for the merits of Globalization.
The 2008 Pontiac G8 is a product of the ever-growing practice of Globalization. You know, the modern phenomenon which has given us fifteen dollar blue jeans and forty-nine dollar DVD players. The general practice works like this; pay someone overseas, usually somewhere in the far East, a pittance to build a frivilous product so we can have it shipped here to America, and consume it for an equally appalling pittance. Nevermind how long it lasts, because it’s so
cheap inexpensive, that when it falls apart we can just go buy another one. It’s a relatively novel and cost-effective creation of modern technology and manufacturing, but one which has fueled a hyper-consumer society. Of course this is the downside of Globalization. But what about the upside?
Not to be confused with the moniker of the eight most powerful countries worldwide, the G8 is the first Pontiac performance sedan in more than 20 years to derive it’s rubber-melting brawn from the rear wheels. In the late 1980′s, GM abandoned rear-wheel drive architecture in North America, but its Australian brand, Holden, didn’t let it go so easily. Viewing themselves as a performance sedan brand, Holden kept rear-wheel drive cars alive down under. And in 2004, when Pontiac felt they needed to have a rear-wheel drive super coupe, they turned to good ole Globalization and gave Holden a call. The result was the ill-fated GTO, a car which was a failure only in its branding. Had it been named anything but the lofty GTO, it probably would have survived and sold many more units. The Aussie version, the Monaro, was wildly successful before it landed on American shores.
This time around, with the introduction of the G8, Pontiac has gotten it 100 percent right. Well, maybe not 100 percent, but definitely within striking distance. What’s most right about the G8 are the essentials for a luxury sports sedan – a big, powerful V8, taught, sinewy suspension, perfectly centered weight distribution and of course, rear-wheel drive. But what’s even more intriguing about the G8 is something that no other V8 luxury sports sedan can currently claim – a sub $30,000 sticker price.
The Pontiac team gave us an afternoon in the new G8, scouting out a tight and windy cruise from Santa Monica, up the Coast Highway, through the mountains to Ojai and back. It was ample time to stretch the G8′s legs and see it’s mettle. We were provided with two different G8s – a base model with the capable 256 horse 3.6L V6, and the GT, with a musclebound L76 V8, which is 6 liters large and bench presses 361 horsepower. Since we didn’t get the opportunity to try the V6, and assuming most readers only want to get the straight poop on the V8, all references hereon out will be eight cylinder-oriented.
One of the first things we noticed upon entering the G8 was the lack of a manual transmission. Both the base and GT models are only equipped with automatics. The GT features a 6-speed auto with both manu-matic and sport modes. Although not having a manual isn’t a complete deal breaker for most buyers, not having paddle shifters in the G8 as a consolation very well could be. We were surprised to not see any paddles.
In sport mode, the tranny held gears for much longer than regular D, and would even blip the throttle on downshifts. Although Sport mode was adequate for winding through the Ventura County canyons, it wasn’t a mind reader, and you literally had to take your foot off the throttle to engage an upshift, or yell at it, or both, simultaneously. Don’t even bother with regular drive on the backroads, its shifts are as languid as a narcoleptic in the hundred meter dash.
The second most noticeable element emerged in the form of a subdued V8 exhaust note. It grumbled and growled and had snazzy-looking dual, quad-tipped exhaust, but we were expecting more in the audible department. In fact, we actually preferred the throaty exhaust note on the new Buick Lucerne Super more than the G8. Could it be that Pontiac is holding back the manual tranny and rip-snorting V8 for the upcoming GXP?
Although the G8′s voice is somewhat subdued, it’s power definitely isn’t. 0-60 sprints come in less than 5.5 seconds, brakestands and burnouts are conducted with ease, and the best part of the G8′s 6 liter powerplant is it’s active fuel management system. While cruising at highway speeds, the system shuts off four cylinders, enabling the G8 to achieve up to 24 mpg on the freeway. Of course, we didn’t observe anywhere close to these numbers, as we were too busy effortlessly slamming the juice pedal through the floorboard.
The G8 features a variable ratio rack and pinion steering system coupled with four-wheel independent suspension that’s fully tuned for backroads flogging. And those who opt for the V6, fear not; the sixer is equipped with the same suspension. With two passengers in the front, the G8 has perfect 50/50 weight distribution. And on the winding road, it really shows. For a 4,100 pound sedan, the G8 is composed and inspiring. It’s hard to unsettle, and believe me, I tried with earnest. I yanked and jerked it into one after another corner, much to the chagrin of my co-pilot, Dennis. Although Dennis was most disagreeable to my technique, the G8 wasn’t. Get a little loose, and traction control did it’s thing. Turn it off, and the pitched rear-end was still easy to manage. Impressed to say the least. With it’s four-linked, strutted rear end, the G8 could give a 5-series BMW a serious run.
For the first time in memory, the G8 is a Pontiac which sports an interior that doesn’t ignite memories of bygone cheeseball Pontiac interiors. No cheap, bulbous plastics, rubbery accouterments, over-stuffed and over-bolstered seats and the de-facto parts bin Delco stereo system. No, this Pontiac sedan is of a different strain. The G8 sports a sleek and sophisticated 230-watt, 12 speaker Blaupunkt stereo system, which surprisingly is not offered with Navigation – not necessarily a bad thing for those purists who prefer navigating the old-fashioned way. The leather seats are wide for the average plus-sized Americano, but tastefully bolstered with just the right amount of stuffing. GT models also have optional red leather inserts for those who fancy the two-tone throne. The center console features slickness in the form of a nearly invisible, integrated e-brake handle and all four window controls. The three-spoke steering wheel is comfortable, if not a little bit large for a sports sedan. The dash gauges are slick, especially how the speedometer flips between MPH and KM/H.
But the one glaringly obvious mistake Pontiac made with the interior are the oil pressure and voltage gauges at the top of the center stack. They’re essentially useless and remind me of my dad’s 1984 Pontiac 6000 STE – a car with so many goofball digital whiz-bang features it made KITT himself cringe with embarrassment. Seriously though, what’s the use of these things? The voltage gauge shows one bar for the entire range of 12, so you have no idea if your voltage is 12.0 or 12.9, and what’s more, 11.0 or 11.9 – often times the difference between starting and not starting. Rev the engine, and watch the oil pressure increase one solitary bar. It’s like looking at the original version of Pong. You can’t even turn them off. A waste of valuable dashboard real estate.
Interior space is copious, even for a 6’5″ person sitting in the back seat. Although the Dodge Charger is a longer vehicle overall, the G8 boasts more interior space than the Charger. At 17.5 cubic feet, the trunk also has a ton of room, and is “wise guy” approved, as it can fit a fully grown man laying in the fetal position; even with the battery being strapped in the back for better weight distribution.
Debadge the G8 and you’d hardly know its a Pontiac. GM is making huge strides not only with it’s interior quality and eye-pleasing design, but also externally as well. The only item on the exterior which could give away the G8 as a Pontiac is the classic, hexagonal plastic grille screens which have adorned Pontiacs since the birth of cheap plastics in the early 1980′s. But besides that giveaway, the G8 is not your typical Pontiac, especially when clad in black. It’s a stunning machine from every angle. Wide, sculpted wheelwells, tasteful fender strakes with integrated side marker lamps, hood vents reminiscent of of good old T/A Ram Air (although not functional for cooled air intake), and tasteful chrome trim accents around the door handles, grille and side windows.
From the outside, the GT and base models look very similar, but are easily differentiated by clear rear taillamps, chrome-lined door handles and dual, quad-tipped exhaust – all of which are only found on the V8 GT models. The only item of contention we had with the exterior was the huge gap which existed between the hood and grille. It was so large, in fact, that when we first noticed it, we though the hood was popped. Quite a large gap for a car which otherwise has very tight panels.
This is where the G8 really comes into its own. At a price point of just under $30,000 for a V8 equipped performance sedan, and $33,000 Comstock loaded, what possible direct competitors could it have? In a word, Charger. But it’s not really even serious competition because once the road goes twisted, the G8 embarrasses the Charger. The squared-off design of the Charger is also uniquely American, whereas the G8′s angular design has a more sophisticated European feel. So then what else can we compare it to? Well, it’s got power, performance and room of a 5-series BMW at the price of a base 3-series. Obviously it doesn’t have the keen, cunning handling prowess of a 5-series, but when you consider the G8 is almost $20,000 less expensive, you gotta ask yourself how much is keen and cunning prowess worth? If nothing else, the G8 will sell many units purely based on its incredibly reasonable sticker price.
Who Should Buy It?
Fear not, nervous new car buyer. After that horrible Grand Prix experience, we know you vowed never to buy another Pontiac again, but as the saying goes “A mind is like a parachute. It only works when it’s open”. The G8 is not the Pontiac you remember, and if you can get over the brand hurdle, you’ll really take a hankering to this car – especially when you do your first smoke storm, stoplight brakestand with your in-laws sitting comfortably, albeit nervously, in the back seat.
For a first attempt, Pontiac has done an incredible job with the G8. They’ve taken all the redeeming qualities of the ill-fated GTO, added two doors, given it smaller shoes to fill in the name department and designed it to appeal to buyers who would never in a millennium consider a Pontiac otherwise. Although we were disappointed in the lack of manual transmission, our hopes and expectations are high that the upcoming GXP will feature a six-speed manual. Although the GXP doesn’t really need a bigger engine, it will probably get one, which we won’t argue with. We just hope that it will have a bit more grumble and growl, and lose the chintsy oil and volt dash gauges. Globalization is not all bad.
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>> www.pontiac.com – the official website of GM/Pontiac division