We found the Torrent delivers quick acceleration and its styling is restrained, clean and pleasing. Inside, the available leather seats are nice, the premium stereo sounds good, and the low dash offers a good view of the road ahead. The back seat slides and reclines according to your needs for extended leg room or more cargo space.
Options include a clever cargo storage system with handy bins in the floor and wheel wells, plus a lightweight polycarbonate shelf that can be placed in various positions for differing needs; it has hooks for grocery bags and can be configured as a table for tailgate parties. Three 12-volt power outlets come standard. Additional features include four-wheel disc brakes and StabiliTrak electronic stability control, all of which come standard. Dual-stage front airbags for driver and passenger include GM's Passenger Sensing System; and the optional head-curtain side-impact air bags are wired to detect rollovers. A tire pressure monitor is standard. Torrent has earned a five-star (best) rating in federal frontal crash tests.
New for 2008 is a sporty GXP trim boasting a 264-horsepower V6, six-speed automatic transmission, along with sport-tuned steering and suspension components. In addition, changes for 2008 include suspension changes for mainstream Torrents, along with minor equipment changes.
The Torrent also features a remote starter, three new audio systems, one including navigation, as well as two different grades of chrome rims.
Pontiac Torrent FWD ($23,520); AWD ($25,145); Pontiac Torrent GXP FWD ($28,120); AWD ($29,745)
Torrent shares its shape with the Equinox, but a twin-nostril grille with arrowhead divider announces it's a Pontiac, and gives Torrent some distinction, though it still looks similar to most other compact SUVs.
Overall, the Torrent has a pleasing, subtle design, with clean lines and a forward wedge shape to its sides. The trapezoidal twin-beam headlamps look strong, reminiscent of a Saab, and so does the pseudo skid-plate that wraps up onto the front fascia, coming from under the car. The B-pillar is flat black, so it's barely visible between the tinted glass of the front and rear doors. This accentuates the thick, body-color C-pillar, and the pleasantly tall, arcing shape of the rear side window.
Thick aluminum roof rails are suggestive of those on the Nissan Xterra and help give this car-based SUV a more rugged appearance. The outside door handles are of the big grab variety, making it easy to open the doors and climb in without breaking fingernails.
A wide range of dealer-installed accessories, including tubular step assists and an interior trim kit, allow customers to personalize their Torrent to more closely fit their lifestyle and taste.
The cabin looks nice, though the materials vary in quality. The standard cloth upholstery on the seats and door trim is attractive. One of our test vehicles came in light-colored cloth and with a matching roof liner this gave the cabin an airy feeling. The available leather seats are also nice. The plastic used for the dash and other trim is at best average for the class, however.
The steering wheel is leather-wrapped with stylish but bulky stitching that felt rough to our hands. We found the instruments uncluttered and easy to read. The Pontiac-trademark red lighting doesn't improve legibility but might help with night vision. The dashboard is low, affording good forward visibility. Big side mirrors improve rearward visibility. The inside door handles are easy to operate. The switchgear works well, with one exception: The power window buttons are awkwardly located on the center console, not on the driver's door, so you'll have to look down to find them; and lowering the window at toll booths demands a shift of hands on the steering wheel, to toss coins or take a ticket.
The center console flips up and out of the way, making space between the front seats for a tote bag or purse that would otherwise flop around in the passenger's footwell. On the floor is a single cupholder that works well for cans and water bottles; just aft of this on the floor are slots for CDs angled forward for easy access. Flipping the center console back into place provides an armrest and a small amount of storage, though the storage cubby is located far enough rearward as to be awkward to access. A pair of cupholders can be popped out of the end of the console, but they're flimsy and obstruct the floor-mounted handbrake lever; we avoided using them, preferring the floor-mounted cupholder. Your passenger will just have to hold his or her drink. The door pockets are narrow, though there are map pockets on the sides of the center tunnel. There's room for a cell phone on each side of the gear lever, which is surrounded by a grippy rubber pad.
The optional Pioneer sound system is deep and rich, something we discovered while listening to XM Satellite Radio's Cinemagic station, which features movie soundtracks.
The rear seat slides forward or back eight inches, a nice feature. Sliding it forward adds five cubic feet of cargo space. Sliding it back offers rear passengers more legroom. The rear seat is split 60/40 for cargo versatility, and the seatbacks recline, so passengers back there can really lie back.
The front passenger seat folds flat, turning it into a tray or work space or for allowing the loading of long items, like a surfboard, to stretch from the tailgate to dashboard. It's a nice setup, but you have to get out of the car and walk around to flip the front-passenger seat back into position because the release lever is only on the right side; it'd be much more convenient if a redundant lever was on the left side so the driver could reach it. If you really need cargo space, the passenger and/or rear seats can be deleted for commercial and fleet applications.
We found the cargo bay quite generous and it easily handled a big box we put back there. A clever polycarbonate tray is available that pulls out of the floor and can be slotted into one of three height levels, so it can be used for different things, including concealment. It allows two levels of grocery boxes or bags, for example. It's an interesting feature, though we've wondered how many people use shelving systems on other vehicles. The tailgate lifts high enough that all but the tallest owners can stand fully upright beneath it.
Torrent's fuel economy rating has improved for 2008 to an EPA City/Highway rating of 19/26 miles per gallon. That's up from its '07 rating of 19/24 mpg, which is impressive, given that most vehicles are getting lower fuel economy ratings for 2008 due to new EPA test procedures. We averaged only 18 mpg in our front-drive test vehicle, but it had logged fewer than 600 miles on the odometer when we got it, and engines often loosen up and deliver better mileage as they are more completely broken in. The Torrent AWD models are rated at 18/25 mpg.
The five-speed automatic transmission may be the smoothest thing about the Torrent. The upshifts are nice and tight. There's good engine torque, peaking at 210 pound-feet, and the gear ratios and electronically variable shift points are well matched. We found the Torrent didn't have to downshift on a hill where transmissions in many other vehicles downshifted, including those far more powerful than the Torrent.
The Torrent is rated to tow up to 3500 pounds.
The Torrent offers good handling for the class without any sign of harshness to the ride. The longest wheelbase and widest track in the class surely add to this capability. The ride was good, even over some rough gravel roads.
StabiliTrak, now standard on all Torrents, helps drivers maintain control during sudden maneuvers or in low-traction conditions by using a comprehensive series of sensors to measure acceleration, deceleration, steering angle and yaw rate. A computer monitors these inputs and automatically reduces engine power and/or selectively brakes one or more wheels to help maintain the course that the driver intended.
Four-wheel disc brakes and ABS come standard. Electronic Brake-force Distribution is not available, however, even though it can be especially helpful in just this kind of vehicle, that is, one that might well carry varying loads.
Torrents feature dual-mode (analog-digital) equipment. Using the GPS satellite network and wireless technology, OnStar offers core safety services plus Hands-Free Calling, now with more intuitive continuous digit dialing and improved voice-recognition accuracy. An externally mounted antenna improves reception. OnStar's optional Directions & Connections Plan with Turn-by-Turn Navigation is available on the Torrent. This service allows OnStar customers to talk to a live advisor, who in turn sends step-by-step directions that are automatically played through the vehicle's stereo. The directions play as they are needed, triggered by OnStar's GPS capability. This will allow drivers to be led to their destination while keeping their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road. OnStar is an excellent safety feature because its operators will direct help to your vehicle should your airbag deploy and you fail to respond to their calls.
The Pontiac Torrent is among the biggest of the compact SUVs. It's a competent vehicle with some nice convenience features, such as a sliding rear seat. In terms of refinement it's about average for the class. A five-star crash rating and competitive safety features 'add to its appeal.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from the Columbia River Gorge; Mitch McCullough contributed to this report from Los Angeles.