The Grand Prix is fun to drive in the twisties yet it's practical: You can stuff a nine-foot kayak into it and still close the trunk.
For 2007, detail improvements include a standard power driver seat and more standard features for the topline GXP model. Those features include leather/suede upholstery, heated front seats, and a front passenger seat that folds flat.
Pontiac Grand Prix ($21,745); GT ($24,665); GXP ($28,745)
Through the taillights and extended into the sheet metal are two horizontal bulges, like cladding segments escaped from the sides of a Grand Am. If this were a fashion story, we would say they were to add eye interest to the rear. And oddly, they do. Anyway, following a Grand Prix down the highway is a pleasant occupation. The rear is important in appearance and certainly distinguishable from its road mates.
Up front, the slightly sculptured hood flows into Pontiac's trademark twin kidney grille. It looks a bit like a tight smirk or knowing grin. The headlights are even more slanted and attenuated than on the previous Grand Prix.
The so-called Coke-bottle sides are marked by two parallel character lines through the two doors about a hand's span below the door handles. Gratefully, there's no cladding, side character lines can be off-putting. One reason the new Grand Prix looks best in black is because black hides these creases.
The aerodynamic door handles are easy enough to use, but can be hard to grab and hold onto when in a hurry.
Leather and satin nickel set the tone for the interior style, and materials pleasant to both the eye and fingertips continue the experience. All of the controls are well-marked and within arm's reach. The seats are supportive and comfortable. The leather-wrapped steering wheel fills the hand just right. The outside mirrors are remarkably large for a sedan. They offer excellent rearward vision yet add no noticeable wind noise.
Initially we thought headroom seemed a little tight, but the Grand Prix offers more headroom than a Honda Accord. One of our few disappointments is the glove box lid, which opens with the clatter of plastic. The coupelike body design can make headroom tight for rear seat riders. The rear seat bottoms are also flat and set low, making long-trip comfort an issue. It's much nicer to sit in the front than the back.
The instrument panel, pleasing in its three-dimensional, yet simple, layout, is readily visible through the smart three-spoke steering wheel. The large center speedometer stands out from and overlaps the tachometer (on the left) and the circle containing the fuel and temperature gauges (on the right). Backgrounded with a shadowy grid pattern, these watch-like dials yield their information with simple, uncluttered, handsome functionality.
Technology allows the speedometer to be rimmed with only one set of numbers to designate speed in both miles and kilometers per hour. How? Punch in your choice on the Driver Information Center (DIC) and the numbers change. Cross a border, make your selection and read Ks; punch again and it's miles. No cluttering inner-ring of numbers. How cool is that?
You'll find the optional head up display (HUD) almost subliminal in its presence. You can select the amount of information it gives and at night, to conserve your night vision and limit reflections, you can douse the instrument panel lights completely, fly in stealth mode, and still keep tabs on what's important.
The Driver Information Center with its four-line read-out is just to the right and above your fist in a console canted slightly toward you. Below an organized cluster of white icons on simple black buttons and dials keep the driver tuned in, warm or cool, etc. Pleasing to look at and nothing bewildering.
The cabin is comfortable and pleasant to look at, but what is really special is its functionality and flexibility. Not only do the back seats fold down in pairs or singly (with a 60/40 split) to effectively increase cargo capacity, the back of the front passenger seat folds forward on GXP (optional on base and GT), table flat.
All this flat and nearly flat space can be accessed through the trunk, which benefits from a particularly low lift-over height. Thus it's easy to fold the appropriate seats and load long objects into the vehicle: a roll of carpet or a ladder or skis or Italian market umbrellas. You can close the trunk door on anything up to nine feet long, like a rigged fly rod, for example. That trunk opening besides being lower is also about ten inches wider. Boxed bikes anyone?
With the rear seat up and five people on board, the trunk still holds 16 cubic feet of whatever those folks need to carry.
Lots of interior toting room is worthless if you can't get the objects you are toting through the holes in the vehicle. In shopping mall parking lots anywhere in the country you'll find cartons that once held TVs, microwave ovens, computer components and barbecues. The products had to be stripped of their packing to manipulate them through car doors. Cognizant of that problem, Grand Prix engineers redesigned the doors to swing out 82 degrees, improving ingress and egress for people and stuff.
When driving alone, the driver can use
The ideal touring car makes itself transparent to the driver. The driving experience is noticeable, not the vehicle providing that experience. Anyone test-driving such a car has to consciously force their attention through to the vehicle instead of simply enjoying the ease of motion, the willingness of the engine, the responsiveness of the brakes. The driver has to look for those aspects of the car that its designers have worked to make seamless. We paid attention to those details and allowed ourselves to enjoy the experience.
To maintain peak performance athletes might clamp an oxygen mask to their face. That's what an engine is doing with a turbo or supercharger: forcing more oxygen inside. While a turbo comes into play after the engine is spooled up a bit, a supercharger is there from the get-go. The 3.8-liter V6 in the Grand Prix is normally aspirated in the base model but supercharged in the GT. The supercharger lowers gas mileage slightly, but adds 60 horsepower, boosting output to 260 hp. The additional thrust this provides reduces by some two seconds in the time it takes to reach 60 mph from a standstill. We're talking 0-60 in just 6.5 seconds, which is very quick indeed. The acceleration performance of the GT is comforting when merging or passing in tight situations on two-lane roads.
Yet gas mileage is still respectable: The base Grand Prix gets an EPA-estimated 20/30 mpg City/Highway, and the GT gets 19/28 mpg.
Another way to increase performance can be summed up in the old adage: there's no substitute for cubic inches. The GXP has 325 cubes, which brings horsepower to 303 and torque to a stump-pulling 323 pound-feet. The V8 cuts the 0-60 mph time to 5.6 seconds, which is darn quick, especially for a front-drive sedan. Gas mileage suffers only slightly, with EPA numbers of 18 mpg city and 27 highway.
Usually when even 200 horsepower is put through the front wheels of a front-wheel-drive car a phenomenon known as torque steer ensues. Torque steer is felt as a disconcerting tug at the steering wheel under rapid acceleration. It's like the front wheels are in a race with each other. So it's impressive that there's so little torque steer in the Grand Prix, even when putting 303 ponies to the pavement. Pull away smoothly with the right foot down hard and the Grand Prix is as stable as an Acura. Keep your foot to the floor, and the V8 keeps pulling. The front-wheel drive makes you feel like you're being pulled instead of propelled forward like you would in a rear-drive car. It's fun but we think V8s are best balanced with rear-wheel drive. The V6s are better balanced to the front-drive layout of the Grand Prix.
The four-speed automatic transmission shifts in smooth increments, but downshifts can deliver a notable kick when stomping the throttle in the GXP. An electronic traction control system (ETC) has a speed-based response mechanism meaning that the car is tractable around town without goosey overreaction, but answers the call for power instantly at highway speeds. It should be noted, however, that the Grand Prix is equipped with a four-speed automatic while the latest designs use six-speed automatics.
The GXP has steering-wheel-mounted buttons to give the driver the option of semi-manual shifting, called TAPshift (Touch Activated Power). Press down on the button to select a lower gear, up on for a higher gear; a button is on each side of the steering wheel. Quick to respond, TAPshift offers more control over shifting for driving entertainment or to reduce shifting in hilly terrain. TAPshift is also programmed to hold gears longer than other such systems, improving the GXP's responsiveness when driving hard.
In terms of ride quality, the base Grand Prix model offers the most traditional ride, the GT and GXP are tighter for secure cornering yet retain enoug
The Pontiac Grand Prix is fun to drive yet a utilitarian transporter of people and things. The GXP is hot rod that offers driving enjoyment and character. The Pontiac Grand Prix is well worth consideration as an enjoyable sports sedan. It is hot to drive and cool to live with.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell contributed to this report.