1990 Pontiac Grand Prix
Dealer inventories are shrinking a notch. Sales are growing a smidge. Profits aren't skidding quite so wildly--and implacable pens of the motoring media are again writing conciliatory things about domestic cars. The 1990 Lincoln Town Car: "A vehicle that's more efficient and quite pleasant to drive . . . a cleaner, more contemporary shape," noted Automobile magazine. The 1990 Cadillac Allante and Eldorado Touring Coupe: "Good cars . . . not great cars, but good enough so that either must be considered seriously," said AutoWeek. And now comes the Pontiac Grand Prix Turbo coupe, America's newest muscle car. It clearly was not built to challenge the big performers and expensive lookers from Europe and Asia. But it certainly proves that when it comes to cars capable of kicking domestic derrieres, there's more in American showrooms than the Dodge Daytona Shelby, Ford's Taurus SHO and the supercharged Thunderbird SC. And with the Turbo coupe comes the message that although American-built cars remain far from the world's best at any level, Detroit does seem to be trying. The Big Three apparently have realized that the fit and finish of a domestic luxury car should at least equal that of a mid-size Japanese product. Manufacturers are listening to our pleas for multivalve engines, anti-lock brakes and suspension technology that goes beyond the vertical travel of wagon springs. The Turbo coupe, the two-door flagship of Pontiac's 1990 Grand Prix fleet, is one of General Motors' aggravating "limited production" models; i.e., with production limited to actual orders for the car, not some rigid, predetermined, mold-smashing total for all time. The 1990 production run for the Grand Prix Turbo coupe, as an example, is 4,000 vehicles--unless35,000 people decide they want the car, in which case production will be unlimited until demand is satisfied. The intent of the vehicle, said a Pontiac spokesman, "is to be an image car, a halo for a Grand Prix line that has been around since 1960." There is no question, he added, that Pontiac was after "the whole package, of striking looks and high performance to challenge domestic cars like the Taurus SHO." Quick comparisons: At its base of $25,560, the Turbo coupe is several thousand dollars more expensive than the Taurus and its stable mate Super Coupe, which list for about $20,000 apiece. Acceleration times, however, are comparable. Top speeds are not, with Pontiac claiming 128 m.p.h. for its coupe, while Ford's Super Coupe and the SHO are capable of haring along in excess of 140 m.p.h. All run off V-6s. The Thunderbird is rear-drive while the Turbo Coupe and SH0 are front-wheel drive. The SHO has a multivalve engine, the Thunderbird is supercharged and the Pontiac coupe is turbocharged. The Pontiac comes with anti-lock brakes but no air bag. You pay your money, you take your choice. . . . If ther e is any clear edge, it is with the visuals. An SHO looks very much like a Taurus, and a Super Coupe looks awfully like a Thunderbird. But the Pontiac Grand Prix Turbo coupe--well, it looks more European than just anything coming out of Bavaria these days. Thanks to a conversion by ASC Inc., of Kansas City, the car's body panels and wheel arches have been lowered to give just a hint of slink to the whole. Being a two-door certainly adds to the advertisement of compactness and punch. Then there are the car's gorgeous gold-lace Alcoa wheels; broad-mouthed, stainless steel exhaust pipes that growl, and a pair of long, louvered air scoops adding a definite sneer to the hood. Underneath that hood lurks 205 horsepower, compared to only 140 for less gussied Grand Prix in the line. So when the sign says one car per lane per green, you'll be hauling into freeway traffic before Bill Cooper can say: "Car 98, out." The mid-range acceleration is just ase ficient and the rate doesn't start to flatten out until well into the 80s. Steering is firm--although its castering action might be a little too pushy for the weak of wrist. Thanks to big Goodyear Eagle Gatorback tires on 16-inch wheels, the car has tons of grab--although the suspension isn't quite tight enough to soak up all the body rolls on squirrelly back roads. Turbo lag--a low-end power discrepancy while the turbocharger is winding up--is at a minimum with the car. Torque steer--something to be anticipated whenever you plant 200 horsepower atop front wheels that are expected to steer at the same time--is not noticeable when accelerating the car hard in a straight line. But to get deeply into the power from rest and while turning is to feel the front wheels transcribing a pretzel. A good car. But as the magazine said, not a great car. Today--and certainly in Pontiac's Turbo coupe--American car production seems to be short one essential worker: an engineer who supervises the entire car from pencil sketch to first production model. Harry Hardnose should be a nit-picking, dissatisfied, unyielding cynic who pounds on tables when accountants and stylists look at a low bid or a quick fix and say: "That's good enough." Good enough no longer is. The bucket seats on the Turbo coupe certainly are good enough--but even when using every permutation on a console panel loaded with position and support controls, seating remains marginally backbreaking. Incredibly, anyone over 6-foot-2 will have headroom problems in this car. The parking brake is a foot pedal that must be pumped (and to the sound of a clattering ratchet) to engage. Said a Turbo coupe passenger: "What year are we in?" Adding a compass (when heading north up the Hollywood Freeway, our needle always pointed south) and a "heads up" display projecting a digital readout of the car's speed on the windshield must be dismissed as expensive gimmickry--especially on a $25,000 car priced beyond its competition. If there is to be a key-chain remote control for unlocking doors and trunk, it should work beyond a range of six inches. And let's hear a kloink when the latches disengage. Radio controls mounted in the steering column are safe, convenient and admirable innovation--but also take up room that in this era of legislated passive restraints, should be reserved for an air bag. Talking of restraints. The mounting of the three-pointseat belt in the Turbo coupe has been changed from center post to the door itself. That places the harness forward. So when a front seat is slid fully back, the lap strap goes from left to right across mid-thigh leaving the upper body with greater freedom to move from A-thru-Windshield. In short, all the pieces needed to create a really great car are between the wheels and beneath the hood of the Pontiac Turbo coupe. But conjunction isn't there. It all sounds rather like a report card cliche: "Has ability. But needs to apply itself." 1990 Pontiac Grand Prix Turbo Coupe The Good Exceptional European looks. Smooth, quick acceleration to race track speeds. Wheels and exhaust pipes of performance extrovert. The Bad BMW pricing. Short on headroom. Stiff, lumpy seating. The Ugly No need for a dash compass. If you have kids, they'll eventually buy you one. Cost Base $25,560. As tested $26,760 (Options included power sun roof and leather-trimmed seats). Engine Turbocharged V-6, 3.1 liters developing 205 horsepower. Type Two-door, four-seat, front-wheel-drive coupe. Performance 0-60, manufacturer's estimate, 7 seconds. Top speed, manufacturer's estimate, 128 m.p.h. Fuel economy, EPA city-highway, 17-25 m.p.g. Curb Weight 3,500 pounds.
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