The mission of the G6 is to beat the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Mazda6 on value, a proposition bolstered by GM's lower prices for 2006. While the G6 doesn't offer the refinement or attention to detail of its Japanese rivals, it's an alternative worth considering for shoppers in the mid-size car market. (The G6 replaces the Grand Am, which has been discontinued.)
The G6 sedan line has been expanded for 2006 as well, with multiple engine and trim levels available. Engine choices for 2006 include a 2.4-liter four cylinder for the base model, the 3.5-liter V6 that comes on the GT, and a 3.9-liter V6 with variable valve timing for the new GTP models. Transmission choices include four-speed automatics for all three engine choices and a six-speed manual for the high-performance 3.9-liter GTP.
We've driven a G6 GT sedan and a GTP Coupe. We found the G6 has good road manners even when driven hard, benefits of its long wheelbase and European-designed architecture. The sedan is roomy and plush with excellent overall function and its price point has made it a popular choice as a mid-size sedan. The coupe is comfortable and sporty.
The G6 offers some interesting features. The car can be started remotely from the comfort of your home by pressing a button on the key fob, a luxury on bitter cold winter mornings or sweltering summer afternoons. A Panoramic roof is available on sedans, with panels that slide rearward creating a sunroof large enough for the back seat riders to enjoy an open-air experience. For a real open-top experience, the new convertible features one of the longest retractable hardtop roofs in production.
Pontiac G6 sedan 4-cylinder ($17,865); base V6 ($19,065); GT V6 sedan ($21,365); coupe ($21,165); ($27,865); GTP V6 sedan ($23,065); coupe ($22,865); convertible ($29,365)
Gone are the massive side-cladding panels and standoff rear spoiler associated with Pontiac. Instead, there is a single spear running down the sides of the G6 with an optional delicately integrated spoiler lip on the trailing edge of the decklid. GTP models look similar to the GT, but with a standard spoiler chrome exhaust tips. The base version has almost no decoration at all, and is even a bit soulless in style when compared to the previous high-energy, hot-looking Grand Am, even duller than the Honda Accord.
The new 2006 coupe and convertible inject a little more excitement into the styling. The two share the same sleek profile, although the roof on the coupe looks much better integrated (for obvious reasons). The frameless windows are indexed, meaning that they automatically open 0.25 inch when the doors are opened, and close again when the door is closed for a tight seal. From the rear, both cars feature narrow taillights and a sloping decklid that looks similar to the Toyota Solara coupe and convertible. We think it's an improvement over the blander styling of the sedan.
The Pontiac G6 is built in Michigan on GM's international Epsilon platform, from parts and ideas used on the Saab 9-3, Opel Vectra, Chevrolet Malibu sedan and Malibu Maxx wagonette, all introduced over the past two years.
All G6 models use the long wheelbase version of the Epsilon platform (like the Malibu Maxx), which gives them ride and handling finesse, with a structural stiffness that helps the G6 achieve a 27.3 Hz bending frequency, a big number that ranks with most luxury cars. Pontiac says the car is designed with three major torque rings that add stiffness and strength without taking up too much space or adding weight. In addition to the torque rings, the G6 structure also uses high-strength steel for about 60 percent of underbody components and central tunnel. Rather than just a single layer of sheet steel, the tunnel has an extra piece of steel welded between it and the floor pan. The stiff body uses fully isolated front and rear subframes to carry the heavy stuff, and the front one is hydroformed for strength and light weight. These measures can be experienced in the smooth ride and sharp handling of the G6.
The sporty front bucket seats are made for body comfort and body retention in high-speed maneuvers, and they are very comfortable and thickly padded.
Rear-seat space benefits from the relatively long wheelbase of 112.3 inches. In the sedan, a 6-foot, 4-inch passenger can sit behind a 6-foot, 4-inch driver with plenty of room. Those with tall friends or family may want to remember that the Panoramic sunroof is powered by a motor that takes up a big chunk of headroom at the trailing edge of the sedan's headliner. The coupe's rear seating is a little tighter, and the convertible's tighter still, especially in shoulder and hip room.
The dash is done in four major sections including a stark, ungrained plastic center stack that holds two vents, the sound system, heater controls, and a 12-volt power outlet. Instruments and controls are presented in white on black (red at night). Every single knob and escutcheon has a chrome ring around it. Very tastful, and nicely presented, with small, conservative graphics on the faces and labels. The center stack has a red-LED readout and control panel that allows every owner to use the sound system's features, and to customize the locking, lighting, and other functions, with a trip computer and driver information system that's easy, intuitive, and fun to use.
This G6 offers a remote starting system for those cold winter mornings, power adjustable pedals, and OnStar and XM Satellite Radio, which use a single integrated antenna for 2006.
The Panoramic roof available for the four-door sedan comes open in four stacking segments, front to rear, and has about twice as much open area as the conventional sunroof, which is also offered. It's remarkable how easily it works, and keeps conversation possible even at very high road speeds. It's an interesting feature and we recommend it.
The two-door convertible's top was engineered with Karmann, which specializes in convertibles. The big top opens and closes within 30 seconds, storing under the truck lid and a hard tonneau cover when open.
The trunk is still accessible when the top is down, but space is reduced from a tiny 5.8 cubic feet to a grocery-bag sized 1.8 cubic feet. By comparison, the coupe offers 11 cubic feet of trunk space, while the sedan offers 14 cubic feet. Obviously, that can limit your use of the convertible's top-down mode on long trips.
The 3.5-liter V6 is quiet and smooth, with a 0-60 mph time that's just enough to keep you out of trouble, but not enough to make your heart beat faster. The more powerful GTP delivers more sprightly performance. The GM EcoTec 2.4-liter is from the same double overhead-cam engine family used in the Saab 9-3, Opel Vectra, and Chevrolet Malibu. The four-cylinder engine is restricted to the base model, and the big HO V6 is available only on the GTP models.
The 3.5-liter V6 produces 201 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. The 3.9-liter engine that comes in the GTP is rated at 240 horsepower, 240 pound-feet of torque (227 hp and 235 lb-ft in the convertible). The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is rated 167 horsepower, 162 pound-feet of torque.
While the G6's V6 engines are updated significantly, they are overhead-valve engines (GM calls them cam in block), low-tech to be sure, but GM has refined this design and they are relatively smooth and quiet and get decent fuel economy, with an EPA City/Highway rating of 21/29 miles per gallon for the 3.5-liter. The 3.9-liter features variable valve timing, which alters when the intake and exhaust valves open and close as the engine revs for more power and efficiency. Some torque steer was evident, a mild tug on the steering wheel on full-throttle starts and low-speed kickdowns.
The automatic transmission worked flawlessly. The four-speed automatic is matched well to the engine's power and torque bands, though it's one gear short of many of the G6's competitors, and performance and fuel economy are consequently affected. Most of the time, we simply put it in Drive and drove. However, it features a neat, simple manual-control mechanism that allows the driver to shift manually. When the manual mode is selected, it will not automatically upshift for you at redline, it goes right up against the rev limiter, a strategy that enthusiasts prefer. An indicator light in the instrument panel helps remind you to shift.
We did a number of 90-0 mph ABS panic stops with the car on a deserted country road, and it stopped straight and true every time with no fade. The brakes have a nice, progressive power application through the pedal.
The Pontiac G6 is a roomy car that offers good road manners and excellent overall function, especially at initial prices. It does its job well and sales numbers will surely increase now that the line has been fleshed out with coupes, convertibles, high-performance and a low-price leader.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed the report on the sedan from the Detroit area; with Mitch McCullough reporting on the coupe from Los Angeles.