The driveway and car resting on it had long disappeared under a blanket of snow as Ms. Nature turned her attention to the mailbox.
"Forget about getting to the store," the bottle blond advised after peeking out and seeing the little compact looking like a four-wheel snowman.
Just the words that force a husband to pull jacket, hat, gloves, boots and scarf out of the closet and hand them to the wife, wishing her well on the journey.
But, since her lawyer is on speed dial, we dressed in just a matter of minutes and, armed with shovel, broom and scraper, freed the car and motored to the store and back without a tow, push, pull or help of any kind.
And we weren't piloting an SUV, but rather the 2009 Pontiac Vibe, a compact four-door crossover (some call it a wagon) with all-wheel-drive for sure-footed travel-snow or no.
And even with AWD, Vibe gets very good mileage at 20 m.p.g. city and 26 m.p.g. highway.
Higher mileage is available if you opt for the 1.8-liter, 132-horsepower 4-cylinder that's standard on the base front-wheel-drive version. It's rated at 21/29. A livelier 2.4-liter, 158-h.p. 4 is standard on the AWD Vibe and sporty GT, a pair of models returning for 2009 after missing in action in 2007 and 2008.
Vibe is produced alongside the Toyota Corolla on which it's based in Fremont, Calif. (Its cousin, the Toyota Matrix, is built in Cambridge, Ontario.) Both sport new sheet metal for 2009. Still Vibe looks much like it has.
The return of AWD certainly is welcome in the Snow Belt. And though AWD usually means a car will hold better when the roads are dry, Vibe tends to settle back into economode in corners despite optional ($650) 17-inch all-season radials designed for better handling.
And while energetic, the 2.4 liter tends to growl-make that roar-when you hit the pedal hard on dry roads. You tend to overlook the engine noise when plowing through half a foot of snow but not when all is clear.
A lot of road noise also filters back into the cabin.
On the plus side, the suspension minimizes the harsh feedback into the cabin over uneven surfaces, and stability control keeps you from wandering when and where you shouldn't.
Perhaps you don't feel bumps because the seats are soooo soft-too soft because the bolsters tend to flatten out in aggressive maneuvers, doing little to hold you in place.
Seats are equally soft in back, where a tad more knee room would be welcome. The roof line is so high that little ones probably could stand without hitting their melons against it, yet an adult on a trip of any duration will fidget trying to find a place for their knees.
The cargo hold is spacious with a vinyl floor that can be washed. Rubber strips also keep items from sliding into each other. The same surface is on the back of the second row seats, which fold flat for even more cargo room- after you've removed the headrests.
The cargo area also has hooks in the sidewalls to hold grocery bags and a handy plastic divider that lifts from the floor to create compartments for milk, groceries or gym bag. Nice touch, but it would be even nicer if removable for easy loading/unloading.
The 2009 AWD Vibe tested starts at a respectable $18,910. That includes air conditioning, side-curtain air bags, anti-lock brakes, satellite radio and a roof rack, though the next time we see anything tied to a roof rack will be the first time we've seen anything there in years.
A preferred package at $1,070 adds a lot of the goodies that could have been standard if Pontiac had been willing to put a $19,900 base price on the AWD model. That includes power locks/windows, keyless entry, cruise control and intermittent front/rear wipers. Power mirrors are standard, but power seats aren't offered.
AM/FM stereo with CD player and auxiliary input jack is standard, but if you add the sun and sound package at $1,285, you get a Monsoon upgrade with seven speakers as well as a power sunroof. A sunroof is bundled in the sound-system package on the base and AWD models, but can be ordered separately on the GT.
In addition to a remodeled Vibe, Pontiac is filling holes in its lineup left by the departure of Grand Prix and Bonneville. Only a few weeks ago, it added the sporty rear-wheel-drive '08 G8 sedan and said a higher-performance G8 GXP arrives late this fall. A Solstice hardtop coupe comes on board next spring with a two-seat, two-door G8 car/truck due in the fall of '09.
Pontiac, it seems, is trying very hard to make everyone forget the Aztek.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Transportation. Contact him at email@example.com.
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