The Grand Prix is fun to drive in the twisties, yet it's practical. You can stuff a nine-foot kayak inside and still close the trunk, thanks to an optional front passenger seat that folds flat for long loads.
Since its debut in 1962, the Pontiac Grand Prix has been a family-size car with custom-car styling and a performance-car attitude. The first two generations of Grand Prix were big cars, even by 1960s standards. For 1969, the Grand Prix shrank to mid-size, but its theme of dramatic style continues today.
The Grand Prix is a five-passenger, four-door, front-wheel-drive sedan. The current-generation Grand Prix was launched as a 2004 model, and we think it's the best Grand Prix yet. Pontiac added more performance to the lineup with the addition of V8 power for 2006, and detail improvements followed for 2007.
The Grand Prix is powered by a 3.8-liter V6 and comes with a four-speed automatic transmission. The V6 develops 200 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 230 pound-feet of torque at 4000. The V6 gets an EPA-rated City/Highway 18/28 mpg, while meeting SULEV (Super Low Emissions Vehicle) standards in California and the Northeast.
The Grand Prix GXP boasts a 5.3-liter V8 that makes 303 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 323 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. The V8 has GM's Active Fuel Management that deactivates four cylinders under light loads to improve fuel economy. The V8 gets an EPA-rated 16/25 mpg. The four-speed automatic transmission comes with a pair of steering-wheel-mounted paddles for manual shift capability. GXP models also get bigger brakes and an antiskid system.
Pontiac Grand Prix ($22,210); GXP ($29,325)
Pushing through the taillights and extended into the sheet metal are two horizontal bulges, like cladding segments escaped from the sides of an old Grand Am. The rear is important in appearance and certainly distinguishable from its road mates. Following a Grand Prix down the highway is a pleasant occupation.
Up front, the slightly sculptured hood flows into Pontiac's trademark twin nostril grille. The overall effect looks a bit like a tight smirk or knowing grin, enhanced by the Grand Prix?s slanted and attenuated headlights.
The Coke-bottle sides are marked by two parallel strakes that slash through the doors about a hand's span below the door handles. Gratefully, there's no cladding, but those deep cut lines can be off-putting. One reason the Grand Prix looks best in black is because black hides these creases.
The aerodynamic door handles can be hard to grab and hold onto when in a hurry
The seats are supportive and comfortable. Front-seat headroom is not as good as in some of the other mid-size sedans, however. 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. All of the controls are well-marked and within arm's reach. The glove box lid opens with the clatter of plastic.
Rear-seat headroom is a bit tight, the downside to the coupe-like body design, and the rear seat-bottoms are flat and set low, making long-trip comfort an issue. It's much nicer to sit in the front than in the back.
The instrument panel is pleasing in its three-dimensional, yet simple, layout, and is readily visible through the smart three-spoke steering wheel. The large center speedometer stands out from and overlaps the tachometer to the left and the circle containing the fuel and temperature gauges to the right. With a background in 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: Punch in your choice on the Driver Information Center and the numbers change. Cross a border, make your selection and read kilometers; punch again and it's miles. No cluttering inner-ring of numbers.
The head-up display in the GXP is 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, table-flat on GXP (optional on base). With all those seats folded, there?s 57 cubic feet of cargo space, comparable to some small wagons.
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 lid on anything up to nine feet long, like a rigged fly rod, for example. The trunk opening itself is low and wide.
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 fold-flat passenger seat as a veritable desk at the elbow with indentations to keep coins at hand and a webbed elastic pouch to keep such things as mail ready for the slot from finding the floor at the first stop light.
OnStar is standard on all Grand Prix models. It provides core safety services and OnStar Personal Calling that allows drivers to make and receive hands-free, voice-activated phone calls using a powerful 3-watt digital/analog system and external antenna for greater reception.
The ideal touring car makes itself transparent to the driver. The driving experience is the focus, 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.
The Grand Prix 3.8-liter V6 delivers 200 horsepower and 230 pounds-feet of torque. These are modest numbers by today?s somewhat inflated standards, but should be more than adequate against the base car?s also modest (by today?s standards) 3477-pound curb weight. EPA-estimated fuel economy with the base engine is 18/28 mpg city/highway.
The V8-powered GXP delivers 303 horsepower and 323 pound-feet of stump-pulling torque. The V8 cuts the 0-60 mph time to 5.6 seconds, which is darn quick, especially for a front-drive sedan. Of course gas mileage suffers significantly, with EPA numbers of 16/25 mpg city/highway
There's little torque steer in the Grand Prix, even when putting 323 pound-feet of torque to the pavement, which is very impressive for a front-drive car. 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-wheel-drive car. The GXP is fun even though we think V8s are best balanced with rear-wheel drive. We think the V6 is 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 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. While the Grand Prix is equipped with a four-speed automatic, 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. 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. We usually just put it in Drive and let the automatic make all the shifting decisions.
In terms of ride quality, the Grand Prix offers the most traditional ride, while the GXP is tighter for secure cornering, yet retains enough compliance to provide a relatively soft ride. So the GXP is not harsh.
The GXP is a blast through long, sweeping corners, but a little big and cumbersome for tight switchbacks. (For the record, it?s 235 pounds lighter than the 1962 model.) The GXP suspension system makes it capable of 0.82g of lateral acceleration force, good for a front-wheel-drive sedan, but not comparable to a Corvette. Considering the amount of power put through the front wheels and the size of the car, the GXP handles well. It doesn't have the poise of the better European sedans through turns, though the same can be said about the Acura TL, not to mention those European sedans are a lot more expensive.
As for braking, the GXP?s four-wheel vented disc brakes pull it to a stop from 60 mph in 120 feet. That is commendable and satisfying. The GXP offers more powerful braking than the standard Grand Prix.
The Pontiac Grand Prix is fun to drive yet a utilitarian transporter of people and things. The GXP is the hot rod with driving enjoyment and character. The standard model with the V6 is well worth consideration as an enjoyable sports sedan and more sensible in its overall balance.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell contributed to this report, with editor Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles.