I wrote my first test drive in 1984, and plenty of them were obituaries for departed brands that either died or left the U.S. market - Oldsmobile, Plymouth, Peugeot, Daihatsu, Daewoo, Yugo, Eagle, Isuzu, TVR, Bitter, Laforza, Merkur, Renault, Sterling, Alfa-Romeo, AM General - and man, that list turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it would be when I started writing this sentence.
None, though, made me as sad as this last test drive of a Pontiac, a brand so mismanaged by General Motors that its death is more of an assassination than from natural causes.
My family owned several Pontiacs - my mother still has a 1986 Grand-Am my father bought new shortly before he died - and my first Pontiac was a new 1977 Trans-Am. A couple of years ago I drove a vintage Trans-Am from that era, and it was a revelation: It was the oldest car I've driven that feels very much like new cars do today, with radial tires, a solid suspension, good brakes, precise steering. I didn't realize that in 1977, but I knew it was an excellent car, during a period when Detroit arguably was at its lowest point.
Well, lowest until now, I guess.
Enough grousing. The last Pontiac, and the only 2010 model, is the Vibe, which was redesigned for the 2009 model year. As you may know, the Vibe is essentially a twin to the Toyota Matrix.
This partnership dates to 1986, when the little Chevrolet Nova was a twin to the Toyota Corolla, built in a joint-venture plant in California. The Nova became the Geo Prism, and then in January 2002, the Pontiac Vibe. General Motors announced in June that it had chosen to end this partnership with Toyota (one more mistake but by now, who's counting?).
The test Vibe was a base model, but had the optional 2.4-liter, 158-horsepower four-cylinder engine. I prefer the standard 1.8-liter, 132-horse four-cylinder, not just for its lower cost, but for its better fuel mileage. The power difference isn't that noticeable.
The interior of the Vibe is basic but complete. Front seats are nothing special; rear-seat room is adequate for two, tight for three. There's 20.1 cubic feet of luggage space beneath the rear hatch, which turns into 49.4 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.
There's all the safety equipment you need - six airbags, antilock brakes and stability control - and the ride and handling is on par with the competition. It's just a good, well-developed little car that should run for a long time with minimal maintenance. And the $2,500 rebate the Vibe currently carries doesn't hurt.
Nothing exciting, nothing disappointing, other than the fact that the brand is gone. Too bad.
Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smith can be reached at 407-420-5699, firstname.lastname@example.org or through his blog at Enginehead.com.
2010 Pontiac Vibe
Base price: $17,445.
Price as tested: $20,285.
EPA rating: 21 miles per gallon city driving, 29 mpg highway.
Details: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive hatchback with a 2.4-liter, 158-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a five-speed automatic transmission.