The GT has a firmer suspension, 17-inch tires, and a 173-horsepower, 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine. The standard version comes with a 148-hp, 2.2 liter four-cylinder. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, a four-speed automatic is optional.
We drove a Pontiac G5 GT with an automatic and found the four-speed and 173-hp engine provided good acceleration and a pleasing lack of noise or vibration for a four-cylinder even when pushed hard. The ride is a bit firm but not uncomfortable. However, we found the handling of the GT mediocre.
Pontiac describes the G5 as a five-passenger coupe, but limited rear legroom make carrying five passengers a serious challenge. Like most coupes, the back of the cabin is best used for parcels.
Air curtains are optional and we recommend them. They provide life-saving head protection in a side-impact crash and federal crash tests show they are needed on the G5.
Underneath the new Pontiac body are the mechanical underpinnings used on the Chevrolet Cobalt coupe introduced in 2005. Essentially, the G5 is simply Pontiac's version of the Cobalt.
Pontiac G5 ($14,725); GT ($18,375)
To an increasing number of automakers, a family resemblance in design is a goal. They see it as part of establishing a marketing tool called a brand identity. You see the vehicle. You know what it is.
There is plenty of legroom for two people up front but the back seat is barely suitable for a six-foot adult for a short trip across town. It is an excellent location, however, for parcels.
All the controls are easy to find and use but there is a severe shortage of storage bins and trays.
The driver's seat is adjustable for height. However, it seems to work better for raising short drivers than lowering it for those who are tall. The problem is that when the seat is lowered all the way to accommodate a tall driver the seat cushion tilts a bit forward. It is as if there is a half-hearted effort to dislodge its occupant, which seems a bit rude.
Like many coupes, which favor a low roof as they go for a streamlined look, the G5 has somewhat narrow windows. Some people like that because it makes them feel as secure as a turtle in a shell. Others find it is slightly confining.
One problem is poor visibility over the driver's left shoulder. Big roof pillars and a small rear window combine to make it hard to see vehicles coming up to pass.
Air curtains are one option that should be purchased. These cost $395 and cover the side windows (front and back). The idea is to provide head protection in a side-impact crash. Some studies have shown such head protection greatly increases the chance of survival. When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did side-impact crash tests on the G5 without the air curtains safety officials noted that, had a human been in the driver's seat, serious head injuries would have been likely. When a second G5 with the air curtains was tested there was a big improvement, although the Pontiac still did not fare as well as a 2007 Honda Civic Coupe with air curtains as standard equipment.
OnStar is a nice security blanket. This option combines a global positioning system and a cellular telephone (far more powerful than a hand-held cell phone) to put the driver in contact with an OnStar center which is manned 24/7. The OnStar center can tell where the vehicle is located and can provide help, ranging from a tow truck to directions. In case of a crash severe enough to deploy the airbags the system will automatically call the center so help can be sent even if the occupants are incapacitated.
We liked the sunroof. On some cars they tend to scoop outside air and funnel it into the vehicle as if attempting to duplicate one of the opening storm scenes from The Wizard of Oz. That is not the case on the G5. There is so little turbulence it is possible to open the sunroof on a 20-degree day and enjoy the sunlight without freezing, with the heater turned up.
The trunk is rated at 13.9 cubic feet which is competitive in this segment. For carrying more cargo the rear seat can be folded down.
The steering is somewhat heavy and the effort increases during turns. This doesn't quite meet the standard of an upper-body workout but for some people it will come close. The steering is tight, however. What that means is when the car is pointed straight you can turn the steering wheel a tiny bit and it doesn't feel disconnected. The car begins to respond.
The G5 GT feels secure and fairly responsive on gentle or sweeping turns. However, when the turns are tighter and the speed increases the GT objects. Suddenly it feels nose-heavy, stubborn and not sporty. It is a disappointment for a car with performance pretensions.
The 173-hp four-cylinder worked quite well even when paired with the four-speed automatic. Major competitors, like the Civic, now come with five-speed automatics. The extra gear means a better chance at providing good acceleration at all times but better fuel economy. Nevertheless, the G5's four-speed downshifted quickly and when maximum acceleration was demanded it did not shift into a higher gear until just past 5000 revolutions per minute. That means it was striving to get the most out of the engine.
For maximum power Pontiac recommends premium fuel but says the GT will not be damaged if 87 octane is used. The GT gets an EPA-rated 24 mpg City/32 Highway.
Pontiac did a great job on the feel of the brakes. The pedal was firm but it was easy to slow either a little or a lot. Also, the front of the G5 didn't dip too much under hard braking. That gives it a balanced, secure feel.
The summer performance tires that come on the GT are unsuitable for winter use. They offer so little grip that they are likely to worry even those experienced in winter driving. In packed snow (5F to 20F), we found extremely poor traction even on flat terrain. With little grip, the GT has trouble turning and stopping. The enhanced traction control doesn't solve the problem. Halfway up one hill all it did was to cut the power as it tried to help the wheels regain traction, but the effect was that all the momentum was lost. If you hope to drive the GT in the snow you better budget for four snow tires. Putting snow tires only on the front would help with turning, but with far more slippery tires on the rear wheels the handling could be treacherous. It would be nice if Pontiac would give consumers interested in the GT the choice of the performance tires or regular, all-season radials.
The Pontiac G5 GT is okay, but unremarkable. The G5 GT competes with some wonderful and really sporty cars such as the Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Volkswagen Rabbit, and Ford Focus ZX3 that offer better handling.
Christopher Jensen filed this report from Bethlehem, New Hampshire.