The Pontiac Torrent emphasizes a smooth ride and interior versatility. The Torrent is a crossover SUV, meaning it's built more like a car than a truck. The Torrent shares its basic structure with the Chevy Equinox.
Torrent is built on a front-wheel-drive platform, but all-wheel drive is available for winter weather. The standard engine is a 185-horsepower V6, mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.
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. For 2009, XM Satellite Radio is now standard, and Bluetooth phone connectivity optional, adding to Torrent's appeal.
The sporty Torrent GXP boasts a 264-horsepower V6 and six-speed automatic transmission, along with sport-tuned steering and suspension components, and a unique look inside and out.
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 now-standard head-curtain side-impact air bags are wired to detect rollovers. A tire pressure monitor is standard, too. Torrent has earned a five-star (best) rating in federal frontal crash tests. Also available are a remote starter, three different audio systems (one including navigation) and two different grades of chrome rims.
The Pontiac Torrent is relatively large for the class, with a wheelbase that's 9.4 inches longer than that of the Ford Escape. The Torrent is based on a car platform, and shares its basic structure with the Chevy Equinox.
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 the previous-generation Saab 9-3), and so do the silver-colored pseudo-skid plates that wrap up onto the front and rear fascias, 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.
You'll need a sharp eye to distinguish the GXP from the standard Torrent, but the front hood, grille, and front and rear fascias are all different. Most noticeable is the absence of the base model's ersatz skid plates; instead, the rear bumper is clean, and up front the GXP wraps a protruding lip of body-color plastic around its lower air intake, vaguely suggesting an oil cooler on a race car. Above that, the GXP's grille nostrils are deeper and lined with more brightwork. To achieve that effect, the fascia around them has to stand out a bit more, which requires a slight exaggeration of the central bulge in the engine hood for it all to flow together.
From the side, you might notice that even though both models roll on five-spoke alloy wheels, the spokes on the GXP's wheels taper outward instead of inward, for a more pleasing effect. The GXP hunkers one inch closer to the road, and buyers can leave off the roof rails to further emphasize the look of sport over utility.
Getting in the Pontiac Torrent is easy. The door openings are wide, and you need neither climb up nor stoop down to get in the seats. Simply slide in. The seats are comfortable, though we'd prefer more side bolstering in the base model.
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 optional leather-wrapped steering wheel comes 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.
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. When ordered, Bluetooth capability is integrated with the standard OnStar system. This wireless technology enables hands-free phone calls for safer, more convenient connections.
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 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.
The Pontiac Torrent gets good acceleration out of its standard 185-hp V6 engine. In fact, it's not hard to spin the front wheels when taking off quickly, even though the front-drive Torrent comes with traction control to mitigate that. The engine uses an overhead-valve design, so it's not as efficient as a modern overhead-cam engine. Nor is it as smooth and quiet as the more sophisticated Toyota V6.
Fuel economy is an EPA-rated 17/24 mpg city/highway, with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. 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 standard 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.
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.
Torrent comes with StabiliTrak, which helps the driver 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.
OnStar services includes OnStar Vehicle Diagnostics and the General Motors Advanced Automatic Crash Notification system, which sends crash data to participating 911 centers, so they can dispatch the appropriate live-saving personnel and equipment quicker. OnStar Hands-Free Calling and Turn-by-Turn Navigation is an optional service that allows OnStar customers to talk to a live advisor, who in turn downloads complete step-by-step directions directly to your vehicle through the OnStar system. You can then follow the instructions while keeping hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
The 3.6-liter V6 motivating the GXP is a thoroughly modern, all-aluminum unit featuring dual overhead camshafts and variable valve timing, delivering 264 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque through a GM 6T70 six-speed automatic transmission. Pontiac claims the Torrent GXP can reach 60 mph from a standstill in less than 7 seconds, which is mighty fast for family transportation.
The GXP's front struts feature internal rebound springs to improve roll stiffness and steering sensitivity, while maintaining ride comfort. Higher spring rates; stiffer shock valving and suspension bushings; larger, solid stabilizer bars; and hydraulic power steering (in place of the base model's electronic servo) are all engineered to contribute to a more responsive and sporty driving experience; along with specific 235/50R18 all-season radial tires. Like the base model, the Torrent GXP is available with front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive; both are EPA rated at 16/24 mpg city/highway.
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, and John F. Katz contributed from south-central Pennsylvania.