The Pontiac Grand Am's flashy styling is toned down for 2003. Pontiac calls the Grand Am sports car excitement with room for everyday life. It is practical, particularly in sedan form. Obviously, this combination appeals to a lot of people because the Grand Am is one of the 10 best-selling vehicles in the U.S.
The Grand Am has long relied on overstated styling to make a strong first impression. It shouts Pontiac excitement with its road-hugging lines and extroverted styling cues. There's no confusing this car with other compact cars and, at a quick glance, it could be mistaken for the bigger Pontiac Grand Prix.
For 2003, however, Pontiac has stripped the aggressive body cladding from the sides of the Grand Am along with the ribbed bumpers. The new look is lighter, cleaner, and more appealing in our view. We still wouldn't call the Grand Am understated.
Also, Pontiac this year is focusing more on the four-door Grand Am sedan, less on the two-door coupe. A loaded SE2 sedan has been added this year that should appeal to buyers who want a little more luxury in their lives. All Grand Am coupes this year are GT models (SE coupes are history).
Hot rodders should not despair, however, as GT models come with aggressive body cladding, a ribbed bumper with large intakes and integrated fog lamps. More important, the GT models come with a cold-air induction setup (more horsepower) and a sports suspension. An optional composite ram-air hood and spoiler ($1100) indicate the GT's intent in no uncertain terms.
SE ($17,030); SE1 ($18,470); SE2 ($20.790); GT ($21,030), GT1 ($22,325)
2003 Pontiac Grand Am SE sedans look slimmer and more refined than before. We found the previous design heavy on the ribs. Stripping off the heavy body cladding showcases the Grand Am SE's sensuously curved sheet metal.
The Grand Am's wide track and long wheelbase add to its aggressive appearance. (The track is the distance between the left and right wheels; the wheelbase is the distance between the front and rear wheels.) A high hip line and arching roof contribute to the coupe-like appearance of the sedan. Body-colored door handles and side moldings support the sporty theme. The twin-port grille, cat's-eye headlamps with round driving lamps, and that wide-track stance makes it clear this is a Pontiac. Pontiac is arguably GM's most clearly focused brand.
GT models still wear their elaborate cladding, destined to attract attention everywhere they go. Pseudo-aerodynamic ribs are everywhere: starting at the front bumper, wrapping around the front fenders, sweeping back along the doors and rear fenders and finally around the rear bumper. The rib motif is echoed through the side mirrors and the optional rear spoilers. The air dam on GT models scrapes on abrupt driveway transitions.
Small round reverse lamps positioned on the edges of the rear bumper complement the standard backup lights, directing light at 45 degree angles from the side and rear of the vehicle. The extra lighting should help illuminate ditches and other obstructions when backing up at night. The lever-style door handles aren't the best, requiring you to flip your hand over to use them.
The Pontiac Grand Am offers an interior that's high on convenience and style. A relatively high seating position, coupled with a low cowl and thin A-pillars afford good forward visibility, something that Pontiacs aren't necessarily known for.
The four-way adjustable driver's seat on our SE1 was reasonably comfortable, but lacked lumbar support. Also, we would have preferred more side bolstering on the seat back to better hold us in place. We wonder how the cloth fabric will hold up over the long haul. A six-way power driver's seat is standard on GT1 models and leather trim is available.
Grand Am coupes are, of course, not as practical as the sedans. It's hard to get out of the back seat of the coupe. However, the spry will a find a surprising amount of legroom in the rear seat of the coupe, along with reasonably good headroom. Shoulder room and hip room are more limited.
Grand Am drivers benefit from features designed to make their lives a little less hectic. The ignition switch is conveniently located on the dash, making it easy to get going in a hurry. Automatic headlights can be set to switch on at nightfall. The headlights will automatically turn off 20 seconds after shutting off the ignition, giving the driver some time to unlock a house or garage door. Battery rundown protection automatically turns off all accessory lights after 20 minutes, in case they were left on by mistake.
A delayed locking feature can be programmed to automatically lock the doors within seven seconds of closing the last door. That eliminates the need for trusting passengers to lock their doors and permits quick retrieval of forgotten items. When the driver removes the key from the ignition, three chimes indicate the system is activated. It locks the car seven seconds after the last door is closed. If a door is opened before that time, the timer stops and starts over when the door is closed again. Exterior lights flash twice and the horn beeps to confirm that the doors are locked. A related system automatically locks the doors when the shifter is moved out of the park position. The doors automatically unlock when the shifter is placed in park and the ignition is turned off. If you don't like the way this works, the dealer should be able to reprogram it. In any case, the inside door handles are easy to grab.
The interior features a sporty retro dashboard and a cockpit designed around the driver. Circular hoods shroud the instruments, while ventilation ducts remind us of sports cars past. It's an attractive look that adds to the Grand Am's appeal. Instruments are large and easy to read and are warmly illuminated in red light. Audio and climate controls are angled toward the driver for easy access. Big round knobs adjust heating, ventilation and air conditioning. An eight-speaker Monsoon stereo is standard on GT models, optional on SE models.
The Pontiac Grand Am comes standard with a newly developed four-cylinder engine called the EcoTec, which delivers good acceleration around town and on freeway ramps. It is one of the most compact four-cylinder engines built in the world, and the lightest engine GM builds in its displacement class. All-aluminum construction contributes to its ultra-light weight of only 305 pounds, while twin balance shafts are designed to provide smoother operation. It still doesn't feel like the smoothest engine available, but it does offer lively performance, a benefit of dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder for good breathing.
The four-speed automatic transmission on our SE1 shifted smoothly and positively.
Drivers who want more exciting performance should opt for the V6, which delivers 170 horsepower at 4800 rpm, and 195 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm to SE models. The GT model's cold-air induction and less restrictive exhaust boost output even further, to 175 horsepower and 205 pound-feet, at the same engine speeds.
The Grand Am offers competent ride and handling. Like most compact cars, it lacks sophistication. The suspension does not filter bumps that well. This car takes a moment to settle after going over big bumps, it leans in corners, dives under hard braking, and squats under hard acceleration. Only enthusiasts are likely to notice this behavior, however. Most drivers will be fine with it.
The Grand Am handles reasonably well. When driven hard, it's a little slow to turn in to corners, perhaps due to a lack of grip in the front tires. It's stable once it takes a set in a corner. Its wide track and a relatively long (107-inch) wheelbase provide stability in corners, at high speeds, and in cross winds.
Big front disc brakes stop the Grand Am in a reasonable distance. Aluminum brake calipers reduce unsprung weight, which improves handling in bumpy corners. We recommend optional antilock brakes (ABS) and electronic traction control because they make this front-wheel-drive car easier to control in slippery situations.
The Pontiac Grand Am is slimmer and trimmer this year, something many of us would like to say. However, it's no wallflower, with bold styling that ensures you won't look Toyota bland everywhere you go. Grand Am GT coupes and sedans, meanwhile, flaunt their increased performance with ribbed body trim. Coupes and sedans are the same price. The two-door coupe is more stylish, while the four-door sedan is better for rear-seat passengers.
Regardless, the Grand Am is loaded with convenient interior features. It's easy to jump in and out of this car and getting it going requires a minimum of fuss. Once underway, it offers competent road manners. It isn't the most refined car in the class, but delivers style and value.