Look out Woodward, a new dream cruiser has arrived: The 2008 Pontiac G8.
But this is not a car relegated to hitting the asphalt one week a year with a couple of guys sitting near it in beach chairs reminiscing about days gone by. This is a daily drive that can teach a young cruiser what muscle cars can do when superior handling is mated to a powerful V-8.
Brawny and downright mean-looking, the G8 offers rubber-burning fun whether sprinting from stop light to stop light in Woodward tradition or speeding through twisty country roads. Dollar for dollar, this is the best Pontiac on the road today.
Now, before every other person with venom in their veins for Detroit muscle sits down to type me a stern e-mail to tell me this car represents the past and has no place on the modern globe -- that may or may not be warming -- just stop. You are wrong.
The G8 is the best of Detroit, or at least Australia, where the G8 is built. General Motors Corp., using its new global rear-wheel drive platform that also will host the new Camaro, has bestowed its Outback subsidiary, Holden, as the rightful caretaker of rear-wheel fun.
The G8 is fast and fun and affordable. I would take this car every day of the week over any fuel-frugal tin can.
G8 offers two engine options
Look, I agree, every carmaker needs to make high mileage vehicles (Pontiac offers the 33 mpg G5), but the G8 wasn't created for consumers pinching pennies at the pump. It's for someone who wants to set 361 wild horses free. You couldn't drag me away.
There are two versions of the G8: First, the 3.6-liter V-6 G8, which is plenty quick. The base engine produces 256 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 248 pound-feet of torque at 2,100 rpm. With a starting price of $27,595, the base G8 is good. It also achieves 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.
But the Mad Max monster 6-liter eight-cylinder only costs $2,400 more -- and its highway mileage, thanks to the Active Fuel Management system that turns off four cylinders while cruising, nearly matches the six-cylinder engine. If you get the six, don't be surprised to have your spouse thunk you in the head and say, "You could have had the V-8."
The wham-bam launch comes with power, but the fun stays due to the fully-four wheel independent suspension. It keeps the G8's 18-inch tires glued to the road. (The optional sports package upgrades the tires on the GT model to 19-inchers.)
The handling is distinctively European -- a combination of clean, precise steering and a quiet ride -- but tap the gas and that throaty V-8 sings a beautiful baritone in your ear.
Pontiac provides three ways to shift through the five-speed (base model) or six-speed automatic (GT) transmission: Normal, sport or manual. The normal mode optimizes fuel economy, sport keeps the transmission in lower gears for longer, and the manual mode allows the driver to shift when he wants to. (Though Pontiac electronically protects both engines from revving over the red line.)
The variable ratio rack-and-pinion steering provided excellent return to center and felt well-weighted through the back roads near Brighton, a favorite spot to put a car through some paces. Even bolting out of Dexter, the G8's inside wheels hunkered down through every curve like a linebacker leading his shoulder into a quarterback. Power meets grace.
Interior matches performance
The G8 is not just the best performer for Pontiac, it also has the best interior out of the current crop of cars.
Technically a midsize sedan, it feels bigger inside. There's plenty of room for five adult passengers -- 42.2 inches of legroom in the front and an impressive 39.4 inches in the back.
The front has a sweeping dual-cockpit design -- the product of the Australians making both right- and left-hand drive vehicles. (In Sydney, they call the G8 the Commodore -- though the two vehicles only share about 80 percent of their parts.)
The G8 comes nicely loaded as well. My $31,000 GT test model included the optional black and red leather seats, the standard 230-watt Blaupunkt stereo with 14 speakers (optional on the V-6 model) and a host of other features.
Standard features on both models include remote keyless entry, remote start, tilting and telescoping steering wheel, an auxiliary jack to play a personal music device, antilock brakes, electronic stability control and more airbags than a congressional debate (front and thorax as well as side curtain for all passengers). My golf clubs fit nicely in the trunk and there's more than enough room for daily living or weekend getaways.
Options include a sunroof, dual climate controls and six-way power adjustable heated seats. GM also offers its turn-by-turn navigation system and Onstar, but doesn't provide a navigation map with the G8.
Now, one thing inside the G8 did bother me. The huge red display screen at the top of the center stack. Perhaps Australians are really concerned about their battery level when they head into the bush, but it just looks strange in America. If you can get used to that, the rest of the inside of the G8 is comfortable and the fully bolstered seats position you for some get up and go. Pontiac says the big red screen will disappear when the 2009 model arrives.
Price is real head turner
When driving around Detroit, the G8 got a lot of double takes. It has a certain subtle beauty to it.
At first glance, it could pass for a nice sedan. The gentle slope down the back, the absence of severe or sharp edges.
But then you start to look closer. The A-line draws the sporty wedge-like stance and the big tires fit snuggy in the wheel wells. The finely cut fenders, clean beltline and steep windshield sharpen the car's profile emphasizing precision over power.
The clear taillights and quad exhaust tips covered in chrome demonstrate the attention to detail. Under the microscope, the G8 looks even better.
The front end is raw and magnificent. Most people giving the G8 an appreciative stare quickly notice the twin scoops on the hood.
A few seconds later, they'll ask you about the engine. Then they'll walk to the front of the car and whistle as they see the big air intakes below the bumper. The fog lamps pushed to far edges make the car's 74.8-inches stance look even wider. The projector headlights push back into the vented fenders.
The next question is always, "How fast have you gotten it?"
Faster than I should have, I like to answer, which is also the truth.
And the last question is simple: "How much?"
My answer surprised everyone who asked. A completely loaded GT -- with every option -- hits $32,800. And that's where you start to realize that Pontiac has a hit on its hands.
The engine may provide the G8 with heart, the suspension may give it passion, but it's the price that makes this car a contender. Every consumer wants a bargain.
With a starting sticker under $30,000, the Pontiac G8 is just that and more.
2008 Pontiac G8
Type: Rear-wheel drive sedan.
Base: 3.6-liter V-6
GT: 6-liter, V-8
V-6: 256 hp; 248-lbs-ft
V-8: 361 hp, 385-lbs-ft
V-6: 5-sp automatic
GT: 6-sp automatic
V-6: 17 mpg / 25 mpg
GT: 15 mpg / 24 mpg
Dimensions (in.): 114.8 wheelbase: 196.1 length; 74.8 width; 57.5 height
Notes: The upgrades in the interior and powertrain make the GT a more attractive deal.
Source: Kelley Blue Book and manufacturer
Exterior: Excellent: Head turning sexy. Menacing front end with dual hood scoops and crisp lines.
Interior: Good: Cockpit construction creates a comfortable climate for a Friday night cruise or a long haul.
Performance: Excellent: Powerful V-8, well tuned suspension gives the G8 great road manners.
Safety: Excellent: Stability control, front and thorax airbags for front passengers, side curtain airbags for all passengers.
Pros: Affordable American muscle with European handling.
Cons: More car than you can or want to handle.
Scott Burgess is the auto critic for The Detroit News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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