In recent years, General Motors has proved it can build competitive cars — like the 2009 Chevrolet Malibu — that combine stylish design with good value and fuel efficiency. The 2009 Pontiac G6 midsize sedan rides on the same platform as the Malibu, and it’s been Pontiac’s best-selling car since it replaced the tired, plastic-clad Grand Am in 2005. It hasn’t changed much since, though, and today it feels outdated in many ways, both when compared with its stablemates (including the Saturn Aura) and with competition outside GM.
The model reviewed here is a 2009 G6, but Pontiac recently introduced a refreshed G6 with exterior and interior upgrades, dubbed the 2009.5 and labeled the 2009 Pontiac G6 on Cars.com. Shoppers take note: The 2009.5 isn’t significantly different from the 2009. Both versions will be sold at the same time because of overlap from a large unsold 2009 inventory.
G6 sedans are available in base, GT and performance GXP trim levels, while coupes get GT and GXP trims and the convertible is available only as a GT. I drove a 2009 GT sedan. The vehicle was a rental with around 4,000 miles, which is less than our regular press vehicles usually have.
The gaudy plastic side cladding used in previous Pontiac sedans may be gone, but there still aren’t any fender arches or stylish curves in entry-level models to give them distinction in the crowded class of midsize sedans. Sit the G6 next to a redesigned 2009 Mazda6, and the G6’s dated styling shows.
The GT model I drove had attractive five-spoke, 17-inch aluminum rims instead of the base model’s steel wheels with plastic covers. For being standard-issue alloys, the five-spoke wheels with low-profile tires appeared almost aftermarket-like (I actually looked up the specs on the wheels to see if they would fit my own car).
Choosing the GT over the base G6 also adds fog lights and a rear lip spoiler. GXP models get more-aggressive front and rear styling as well as hood scoops and a whale-tail rear spoiler. For 2009.5 models, all G6 trims get styling similar to the GXP, minus the whale tail.
The G6’s interior is stuck in an era in which GM simply didn’t try that hard, unlike contemporary examples like the Malibu. It doesn’t hurt performance, but the ill-fitting, low-grade plastics on the door panels and interior pieces are annoying and unsightly. Despite the interior flaws, the G6 produced minimal squeaks and rattles when driving over bumpy roads.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive, featuring moderate side-bolstering. With 36.5 inches of rear headroom, the G6 sedan has about an inch less than the Saturn Aura and Malibu. I’m 6 feet tall, and I had issues with head-versus-ceiling contact, which wasn’t an issue in the backseat of the Aura. Legroom and knee room were decent thanks to cut-out areas in the backs of the front seats.
GT models have a firmer sport suspension than the base G6’s cushier touring suspension, and the GT’s handling is relatively sporty. It takes corners around town flat, with minimal body roll, but steering effort is light and feels disconnected from the front wheels and road. This is surprising considering the G6 GT uses hydraulic-assisted power steering, not the electric-assisted power steering that exhibits light-steering-effort characteristics in other GM offerings.
On the highway, the G6 has a quiet, smooth ride, similar to the Malibu and Aura.
The GT’s 219-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 isn’t going to win many races, but passing power is good and the drivetrain is surprisingly smooth, despite using old pushrod engine technology. The transmission shifted seamlessly for being an equally dated four-speed automatic. Even though these are older technologies, the 3.5-liter, for example, includes modern features like variable valve timing.
Fuel economy is rated at 17/26/20 mpg city/highway/combined for the GT sedan, which is similar to both the 2009 Mazda6 V-6 (17/25/20) and the 2009 Ford Fusion V-6 (18/26/21).
GT models include a simulated manual transmission function that allows drivers to up- and downshift with a flick of the gear selector, but with only four gears there isn’t much fun to be had. Most of the time, the car didn’t even allow full control in manual mode, as it blocked shifts if the engine wasn’t in a predetermined rpm range. What’s the point?
On other G6 trims, notable powertrains include a four-cylinder with a six-speed automatic transmission in the Sport Package that’s rated at 33 mpg on the highway, plus a higher-performance 3.6-liter V-6 in the GXP that makes 252 hp and is also mated to a six-speed automatic.
This GT sedan has a starting price of $24,180 — which is probably more than most people will pay for it because of incentives on the car. The Mazda6 V-6 has more standard features, like an electronic stability system, than a comparably priced G6 GT, but it isn’t much more expensive ($150). To get an electronic stability system on the G6, you have to opt for the GT Street Edition Package — which adds appearance features like 18-inch wheels in addition to stability control — for $1,590. Also, a Fusion V-6 is priced about $1,700 below the G6 GT with V-6, with an electronic stability system a $495 option.
Just as I got the G6, temperatures started dropping in the Chicago area, creating an opportunity to use the G6’s winter-friendly remote-start feature. It works like any aftermarket remote start, except it’s conveniently packaged into the factory key remote pad. A press of the pad and the car will run for 10 minutes, with the heat and defroster on. Remote start is a plus for anyone who has to brave harsh winters, and having it factory-installed like it is on the G6 is extremely convenient. The feature is optional on base models and standard on the GT and GXP.
The Monsoon stereo system, which is standard on GT trims, provides decent sound and a good amount of bass, but there’s room for improvement if you’re an audio stickler. An optional Sun and Sound Package adds a six-disc CD changer and moonroof.
The 2009.5 G6 will feature a new gauge cluster design, plus GM’s latest center control panel, borrowed from the Malibu.
The G6 earned a Good rating in frontal crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but just Acceptable marks in side tests and Marginal for rear crashes. Two-thirds of the midsize cars IIHS tests — and many smaller ones — score Good in side impacts.
Click here for a full list of safety features. An electronic stability system is optional on the GT sedan but standard on more expensive GXPs and the GT convertible. All Malibu, Aura and Mazda6 trims come with standard stability control, a growing trend, but Pontiac still makes consumers pay extra for the feature on lower G6 trim levels.
Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes and three sets of Latch connectors in the backseat are standard.
The G6 faces competition not only from cars like the Mazda6, but also internally from corporate cousins Saturn and Chevrolet, whose Aura and Malibu are similarly priced and, in many regards, nicer cars.
With a large inventory of unsold 2009 G6s and an influx of updated 2009.5 G6s coming to dealerships, consumers are sure to find attractive incentives on the original 2009 G6. If you just need to get from point A to point B, then the G6 can get the job done. With current incentives, the base trim level especially would be a good value based on its size and potentially low price; right now, Cars.com shows new base G6 four-cylinders priced in the $15,000-$16,000 range. There’s no guarantee on that price, though, and at MSRP the G6 GT just doesn’t stack up to the competition. There’s more value in cars like the Malibu, Aura, Fusion and Mazda6.