This GTO is an Americanized version of the Monaro, a model that General Motors' Holden subsidiary sells in Australia. In his quest for "gotta-have" products, GM's product czar, Bob Lutz, traveled Down Under and said just that: We gotta have that in the United States. Pontiac played with the styling a tad, slapped on the GTO name and there you have it. If it makes you feel better, think of the car, which is assembled in Australia, as the Pontiac Aussie. I took to calling it the Pontiac 'Roo.
Like its namesake marsupial (work with me here), the 'Roo puts its considerable power to the ground through muscular hindquarters. Rear-axle hop is negligible thanks to an independent rear suspension, but rough pavement causes the car to bound down the street on its firm suspension. Get heavy on the accelerator, and the 'Roo will wag its tail. (OK, that's enough of that.)
A 55/45 weight distribution, front/rear, gives the car an understeer tendency, which is definitely a safer condition than the alternative. The engine's outrageous 400 horsepower and 400 pounds-feet of torque allow you to bring the rear end around rather predictably and safely in a turn, though a little too much throttle will put you sideways. My car had the optional six-speed-manual transmission, which lists for $695. An extra charge for a manual? Not really. Its superior fuel economy (17/25 mpg in city/highway driving) eliminates the $1,300 gas-guzzler tax levied against the standard four-speed automatic (16/21 mpg), so you pay $605 less.
Aside from pinning you in your seat and rocketing the GTO to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds, the engine and its low-rev torque make gear choices academic. Want to power out of that turn in 2nd? Great. 3rd? Sure. 4th? That'll work, too. Unfortunately, the shifter is meatier than a ham hock and about as precise. I didn't drive the automatic, but I suspect the fact that it has only four gears won't matter much with this engine.
I took a spin around Road America's 4-mile racetrack in the GTO (with the traction control disabled) and was a bit disappointed by how it handled a long sweeper turn: Where the car can power out of a corner with decent balance, the front weight bias is a bit too much to overcome with the throttle in a sustained curve at a sustained speed. I believe I scrubbed a good deal of rubber off the front tires.
My car had the standard all-season rubber, rated P245/45ZR17 (tire codes). Though impressive for all-season models, the BFGoodrich g-Force T/A tires tend to sing when pushed to their limits, and they can't compete with the optional 18-inch, 40-series summer tires.
From the tires to the interior, what surprised me in this type of performance car was its daily usability particularly its backseat. The two-position backseat is more than a mere pouch for the little 'roos. At 6 feet tall, I had a little headroom to spare, and my knees weren't raised very high and just barely touched the front backrest, set to my driving position.
It's a drag to climb back there, though. The GTO is a big two-door, which makes for large doors a problem in tight parking spaces. A lack of grab handles doesn't help matters, but I'm able to forgive all these things because the front seats are designed to maximize backseat ingress without strain: Once you raise a lever and tilt the backrest forward, a button right below the lever moves the power seat forward. The same button motors the seat backward once the backrest is returned upright. Some coupes don't even provide this feature manual or powered on one seat, let alone both.
Backseat passengers get head restraints that raise high enough, and prominent side bolsters for when Dad decides to go fishtailing. What they don't get are cupholders or windows that open.
The GTO's overall interior quality is fair. I was satisfied with the sport bucket seats and the ergonomics, save for the radio, which is clearly designed for a car with right-hand drive; its most important controls are on the right-hand side. The red-faced gauges are a nice touch, and I always appreciate a configurable LCD low on the instrument panel that can be set to display a digital speedometer. I don't prefer digits, but I tend to set the steering wheel low where it blocks the speedometer dial.
For a car of this size, the trunk is very small at 7 cubic feet. Wondering what was eating up the space between the backseat and the trunk and precluding the inclusion of a folding backseat, I removed a cover and found the fuel tank.
The GTO doesn't fit into any defined class. One could argue that the Nissan 350Z is a competitor. In V-8 performance, the car isn't as precise or refined as a Chevy Corvette, but it's not nearly as raw as a Dodge Viper. Its price is fair, but a Ford Mustang GT will give you nearly the quickness, many thrills and better styling for thousands less. It's hard to imagine a race between a mustang and a kangaroo. It all depends on where you place your money.
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