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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Jim Mateja
May 12, 1996
For 1996, Pontiac offers a mea culpa, though most folks simply call it the Grand Am. Grand Am has been Pontiac's best-selling model, thanks to sporty looks and a respectable price tag. But Grand Am had some
warts--a seat-belt system attached to the door ratherthan the pillar that made it awkward and an air bag only in the driver's steering-wheel hub and none in the dash to serve the passenger. For 1996 the belts are anchored to the door pillar, not the
door; dual air bags and anti-lock brakes are standard; the optional 3.1-liter, 155-h.p., V-6 is spirited (and so you notice, the exhaust provides muffled rumble sound effects) yet able to nurse a gallon of fuel for 21 miles in the city, 29 mileson the
highway; the optional 4-speed automatic comes packaged with traction assist; the power steering system and choice of 16-inch radials allow for nimble maneuvering; the GT's ride-and-handling suspension holds you smoothly to the road; and the safety and
performance package is wrapped in sporty duds that set the car apart from your typical economy compact. Grand Am offers a comfortable and roomy cabin and ample cargo capacity in the trunk. But whoever designed that storage bin under the dash has a
weird sense of humor: there's room for coins or gum, but not your hand to get the coins or gum out. The GT coupe we tested starts at $15,499 and includes such items as air conditioning and programmable (lock in drive, unlock or stay locked in park)
power-door locks. Add $795 for 4-speed automatic with traction assist; $395 for the 3.1-liter, V-6; $405 for AM/FM stereo with cassette and compact-disc player; $125 for radio controls in the steering wheel; $645 for the sport interior package with
leather seats and sun-visor extensions; and $1,313 for the power goodies package--steering/windows/mirrors plus rear window defogger, split folding rear seats, remote keyless entry and cruise control. Even with $500 for freight, the total is less than
$20,000. And in conjunction with graduation season, Pontiac is offering $500 cash rebates on a purchase or up to a $1,500 incentive on a 36-month lease.First review: 10/8/95 Pontiac listened well to what the 2.2 million folks who bought a
Grand Amsince it appeared in 1985 had to say about improvements they want. For 1996 the Grand Am adds dual air bags, the most sought-after feature ina car that had been limited to a driver-side cushion. It also removed the seatbelt in the door
(because of owner complaints) and positioned it in the roofpillar. It dumped the 3-speed automatic in favor of a 4-speed, and the2.3-liter, 16-valve, Quad Four 4-cylinder has been replaced by a 2.4-liter,16-valve, twin cam 4-cylinder that develops the
same 150 h.p. but with farless noise than the Quad Four. But don't expect the 2.4 to whisper. The decibels still need to be muffleda bit. Our engine choice fo
r the Grand Am remains the 3.1-liter, 160-h.p., V-6 forthe best combination of off-the-line performance and quiet operation. On the negative side, Pontiac did a cosmetic touchup front, rear and sides.The grille still is split, but the honeycomb
insets have been replaced by aseries of horizontal bars. The honeycomb insets were very sporty, thehorizontal bars are very sedate. If folks wanted sedate, they'd opt for aBuick. For the first time, you can get traction assist when you order
the2.4-liter 4 or 3.1-liter V-6 with 4-speed automatic transmission. With dualair bags, four-wheel ABS and now traction assist, Pontiac's (and GM's)best-selling individual nameplate should attract even more buyers for 1996. Also, new darker seat
and carpet colors help hide interior dirt better thanthe lighter shades, such as beige, used in the past. And if you liked thelooks of the cross-laced wheels on the 1995 Grand Am GT, you'll be happy toknow you can get the same design on
he SE for 1996. They'd look better with ahoneycomb grille. Grand Am also features daytime running lamps (high beams at one-half normalintensity) that automatically switch to regular low-beam lamps if needed whileyou are driving. And we'd be
remiss not to mention that front-seat cupholders now haverecessed bottoms to better hold cans and rear-seat holders are available thathold cups, cans or juice boxes. Grand Am comes with 14-inch tires as standard. For improved ride andhandling, opt
for the 15-inch touring tires. For optimum ride and handling andmore sure-footedness in corners, get the 16-inch tires. Base price of the SE we tested is $13,499, which is the same for coupe orsedan.