The 2009.5 Pontiac G6 brings a fresh appearance some nice engineering upgrades to this sporty lineup of midsize sedans, coupes and convertibles.
A mid-year freshening gives these late-2009 models a sharper look up front, more like that of the top-level GXP. And the four-cylinder is now offered with an optional six-speed automatic transmission that delivers EPA-estimated fuel economy of 22 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway.
We've found these cars enjoyable to drive and quite pleasant. The G6 two-door coupe is sleek and sporty, the convertible features a dramatic folding hardtop, and the sedan is an attractive alternative to other midsize sedans. Most come with V6 engines, though the sedan is available with a four-cylinder engine.
For 2009, XM Satellite Radio is now standard on all models. And several new option packages, which according to Pontiac were inspired by consumer demand, make it easier to upgrade and personalize the G6. As before OnStar, side airbags and anti-lock brakes are standard equipment on all G6's.
We've found the G6 GT and GXP models to have good road manners, even when driven hard, thanks to their long wheelbase and European-designed architecture. This is based on test drives of the G6 GT sedan, GT Convertible, and GXP coupe.
The price point makes the Pontiac G6 a popular choice as a mid-size sedan and we've found it roomy and plush with excellent overall function. The coupe is comfortable and sporty. And for a real open-top experience, the convertible features one of the longest retractable hardtop roofs in production.
The G6 offers some interesting features. It 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. The G6 was designed to offer a strong value among midsize cars, and we think it's an alternative worth considering.
The Pontiac G6 models are attractive cars. They have the smooth styling of the latest-generation Pontiacs, sharing cues with the Solstice roadster and other models and sort of a Lexus/Toyota look from the rear. The G6 offers clean, uncluttered lines that are quite pleasing.
For 2009, base and GT models got new front fascias. The traditional Pontiac twin upper grille nostrils are now larger, with sharper corners. The broad lower grille with its narrow center divider is gone completely, replaced by a large trapezoidal opening in the center, flanked by a pair of oblong scoops that sweep up at their outboard edges. All three openings are defined by a box-section welt that rises from under the center opening and flows out over the side openings, suggesting the pointy end of a Texas longhorn (or the front bumper of a Tucker, if you remember back that far). In all, the look is sharper, more aggressive than before, and more like that of the high-performance GXP (which remains unchanged).
Additional new creases in the sedan's rear bumper provide more definition, while echoing the new look up front. The coupe and convertible remain unchanged at the rear.
Base and GT buyers can choose a clean-flanked look, or an optional ($100) body-color spear running the length of the doors. Deck-lid spoiler options range from none to a nicely integrated raised lip to the aptly named hammerhead, whose (theoretically functional) side pods resemble the face of its deep-sea namesake.
The restyled GT and unchanged GXP now look more alike than before, although the GXP retains its unique front fascia, with more vertical upper nostrils filled with a grille texture that resembles braided stainless steel. The three lower openings are similar in shape to those on the new base and GT, but without the steer-horn molding, and all three are smaller, leaving room for the more prominent upper grille and for separate round foglight nacelles at the sides. The center opening is black while the side openings share the braided-stainless theme.
The coupe and convertible inject more excitement into the styling. 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, the coupe and convertible feature narrow taillights and a sloping decklid.
The Pontiac G6 is built in Michigan, from parts and ideas used on the Saab 9-3, Opel Vectra, and Chevrolet Malibu.
The Pontiac G6 has a nice interior with attractive fabrics and comfortable bucket seats. At first, it has that tank-like Pontiac feeling of sitting down low in the cockpit, but that feeling goes away in time, and the G6 becomes a happy, comfortable companion. The cabin is altogether different from the old soft-plastic, fat-knob theme of older Pontiacs. It's much more modern, more European.
The sporty front bucket seats are made for body comfort and support in handling maneuvers. We found them very comfortable thanks to thick padding and sufficient bolsters.
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. The coupe's rear seating is a little tighter, and the convertible's tighter still, especially in the shoulder and hip room categories. The rear bucket seats in the G6 convertible are appropriate because three people don't fit well anyway.
The dash is done in four major sections including a stark, un-grained 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 (illuminated in red at night). Every single knob and escutcheon has a chrome ring around it; very tasteful, and nicely presented, with small, conservative graphics on the faces and labels.
The center stack has a red-LED readout and control panel that makes it easy to use the sound system's features, as well as to customize the locking, lighting, and other functions. The trip computer and driver information system are likewise intuitive and enjoyable to use.
The audio system works well and the knobs are sized well for operating while driving, a welcome relief from the tiny buttons and knobs on many systems. However, we miss the smart pre-set buttons used on previous GM vehicles that let the driver switch from favorite AM, FM, and XM stations simply by pressing the pre-set; the new setup works like most radios, requiring the driver first change the band before switching to the favored station.
The remote starting system allows the driver to start the car from the warmth of the house on cold winter mornings, a welcome feature when needed.
The convertible's top was engineered with Karmann and the big top opens and closes within 30 seconds, storing under the truck lid and a hard tonneau cover. We found it works exceptionally well, powering up or down quietly and quickly, with the press of a button. Hold the button down after it's done and the windows will power up or down appropriately.
The convertible's trunk is accessible when the top is down, but space is reduced from tiny (12.6 cubic feet) to grocery-bag sized (5.8 cubic feet). Obviously, that can limit your use of the convertible's top-down mode on long trips. The coupe offers 12 cubic feet of trunk space that's there all the time, while the sedan offers 14 cubic feet.
The trunk lid on the convertible was heavy and relatively hard to lift open.
The Pontiac G6 GT is fun to drive and quite pleasant for cruising around. We found the sedan, coupe and convertible models reasonably quiet, though a little noise from the powertrain and some road noise slipped in here and there, and there was some wind noise from the sharp-edged mirror bodies.
Handling is responsive and fun. The GT suspension strikes a good balance between handling and ride quality. The ride is comfortable and smooth and the car tracks well. The base model's electric power steering is nicely weighted in terms of effort at the steering wheel rim, but a little vague in fast transitions.
The EcoTec four-cylinder engine is from the same double overhead-cam engine family used in the Saab 9-3, Opel Vectra and Chevrolet Malibu. The 2.4-liter four is rated 164 horsepower, with 156 pound-feet of torque. With the standard four-speed automatic transmission, this combination is EPA-rated at 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway. But opt for Sport Package 1 with the six-speed automatic, and the highway rating jumps 10 percent, to 33 mpg, while the city rating remains the same. Mostly this is because the six-speed comes with a significantly taller final drive ratio (2.89:1, vs. 3.91 with the four-speed), which means the engine can loaf at lower rpm in high gear. By itself, the numerically lower final drive would compromise acceleration; but the two additional low gears in the six-speed box should compensate for the high gear at the top, resulting in no net loss of performance.
Both automatic transmissions work flawlessly. The four-speed automatic is matched well to the engine's power and torque bands. The six-speed works better. Most of the time, we simply put it in Drive and drove. However, the six-speed features a 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 but will go right up against the rev limiter, a strategy many enthusiasts prefer. An indicator light in the instrument panel helps remind you to shift.
The popular 3.5-liter V6 is quiet and smooth, producing 221 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. GM has refined this overhead-valve engine, and even updated it with continuously variable valve timing. It's relatively smooth and quiet, with decent fuel economy: 17/26 mpg city/highway in the G6 GT.
The more powerful 3.6-liter engine that comes in the GXP is a modern, all-aluminum dual overhead-cam unit with four valves per cylinder. It also features variable-valve timing, and is rated at 252 hp and 251 pound-feet of torque, with fuel economy identical to the less-powerful 3.5.
Optional for the GT convertible only is a 3.9-liter V6. Like the 3.5, this is an older-style two-valve-per-cylinder pushrod unit updated with variable valve timing. It's rated only 222 horsepower, for all practical purposes the same as the 3.5; but with about 8 percent more torque (238 pound feet) it should deliver somewhat snappier acceleration.
We did a number of 90-0 mph ABS panic stops in a G6 GT 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. With sedans, coupes, convertibles, high-performance models, and a low-price leader all available, buyers should be able to find a G6 that suits their lifestyle.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw reported on the sedan from Detroit, with Mitch McCullough reporting on the coupe and convertible from Los Angeles, and John F. Katz reporting on new engine/transmission combinations from South Central Pennsylvania.