2006 Pontiac GTO

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2006 Pontiac GTO

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2006 Pontiac GTO review: Our expert's take

By G. Chambers Williams III

Gone again.

That’s the fate of the Pontiac GTO — the latest version, that is — thanks to slow sales and new government safety rules that would cost General Motors a small fortune to meet. By mid-year, the GTO will go away for the second time, having just been in the Pontiac fleet for three model years this time around. The GTO name was revived for the 2004 model year after lying in hiatus since the mid-60s, when it was first used on the legendary Pontiac muscle car.

General Motors said last week that it would end production of the Australia-built GTO coupe at the end of the ’06 model year; but spokesman Jim Hopson said it was not an easy decision.

“We announced that the GTO will be discontinued because of some new federal safety standards on air bags,” he said. “To bring it back for 2007, the instrument panel would have to be extensively re-engineered, and that would be too costly. Unfortunately, we love the car and would love to keep building it.”

That’s the official line anyway.

The real story, of course, is that the car never met GM’s sales expectations, even with an upgrade last year that brought a version of the newest Corvette engine into the GTO, with a whopping 400 horsepower. That was up from the 350 horsepower provided by the previous-generation Corvette engine, the 5.7-liter LS1.

GM said originally that it expected to sell about 18,000 of the vehicle annually. But sales totaled just 13,569 cars in 2004 and 11,590 last year.

Dealers complained that the price was too high. The car’s base price for 2006 is $32,995, including freight. That doesn’t include options or the $1,300 federal gas-guzzler tax, which applies only to automatic-transmission version. The automatic is EPA rated at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 21 mpg on the highway, compared with 17 city/25 highway for the manual model.

Although I haven’t driven the latest model at length, I did an extensive test of the 2004 model, including one stretch where I tried to keep up with then-GM North American Chairman Robert Lutz. He left me in his dust when he got to about 135 mph. Lutz is the automotive whiz who brought us the retro-styled Chrysler PT Cruiser and the Plymouth Prowler production street rod while he was still in charge of the old Chrysler Corp. For fun, he flies a former Czechoslovakian military jet over the skies of Detroit. It was his idea to create a new GTO for GM, as part of his role to bring more pizazz to GM’s cars.

The GTO handles like a true sports car — the Corvette, for instance — and has more power than anyone has a legitimate need for.

But the lackluster styling probably was the car’s real undoing, along with its failure to generate much excitement among those who loved the original GTO and who keep it alive with their careful restorations and weekend get-togethers.

The name is revered among the baby boomer set, who lusted after cars such as ’64 GTO, an enduring symbol of the American muscle car mania that struck during the decade that also brought us the Beach Boys, the Beatles and the flower-power movement. As I’ve mentioned before, I was in high school when the GTO was popular. Along with such vehicles as the 1963 split-rear-window Chevrolet Corvette coupe, the GTO helped define a generation of youth who came of age when American cars were king, and only rich or odd people drove “foreign” cars.

The current GTO, however, could qualify as a foreign car. It’s built by GM in Australia, using the chassis of the Australian Holden Monaro sport coupe, which itself was derived from the GM Opel Omega from Germany.

The Corvette engines and transmissions used in the GTO are built in the United States and shipped to Australia, where they are installed in the cars before they are transported to North America for sale.

GM said the GTO design involved more than 450 changes to the Monaro, engineered by a crack team from GM’s North American operations. It will be sold only in the United States — not even in Canada.

Unlike the past, when car companies would build one car and try to sell it worldwide, this arrangement takes common vehicle architecture and allows each market to have its own unique vehicle from that architecture.

Unfortunately, though, this sometimes backfires for U.S.-bound cars because of continuing changes in U.S. motor-vehicle safety and smog standards that the vehicle’s architecture might not support.

“It’s a global strategy, not of world cars, but globally shared architecture,” Lutz said at the time of the GTO re-introduction. “It doesn’t mean the same car, or necessarily even the same parts. It’s a common way of putting General Motors cars together.” The big savings comes from the fact that “the basic engineering is done once,” he said. GM was hoping that the new GTO would be able to cash in on the wave of nostalgia sweeping the baby boomer generation.

Automakers have learned that consumers are a nostalgic lot when it comes to automobile purchases. To satisfy that, the carmakers have brought out several new products with retro styling that takes us back to the days of our youth.

Some of these have been successful; some not. The current Ford Mustang, introduced for 2005, is an example of one that succeeded; the recent Ford Thunderbird, which has now been discontinued, is one that did not. The GTO, in the end, will join the ones that did not.

A little bit of history: Pontiac introduced the GTO in 1963 as a 1964 model, and some folks believe it to be the best of the muscle cars of that era. GM says in its history of the GTO that it is the car that started the muscle-car craze.

The current GTO shares some of the styling of the Monaro CV8 coupe, with unique Pontiac touches including a dual-port grille. But it has virtually nothing linking it to the original GTO other than the name, and that’s where GM went wrong, critics say — especially if the automaker wanted to appeal to baby boomers.

Where the old GTO was affectionately called a “Goat,” that nickname hasn’t found its way to the new one.

Dealers have reported mixed results with the car.

“We actually did pretty well with the GTO, but the styling was never there,” one Texas dealer reported. “It sure has good performance, but I think Pontiac missed the boat on the retro thing.”

But another dealer said that the GTO had been a slow-seller.

“I think the biggest problem is that it’s high-priced,” the dealer said. “Guys who spend that much for a performance car probably would rather just spend a bit more and buy a Corvette.”

The irony, though, is that this GTO is probably destined to become a popular vehicle with collectors on down the road.

Because of its short run — just three model years — and limited numbers produced, used ones are going to become harder and harder to find, and any new ones built from now until the end of production are going to be snapped up quickly.

For 2006, the car carried over with just a few changes, including a new taillight design whose background is gloss black instead of red. Two new exterior colors are offered this year — fusion orange and spice red. And new 18-inch wheels with bright spokes are included.

Besides the 400 horsepower, the LS2 V-8 engine of the ’06 model turns out 400 foot-pounds of torque. GM’s Hydra-Matic 4L65-E four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission is standard, while the six-speed Tremec T56 manual is optional. GM says the car can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds.

Other features of this rear-wheel drive coupe include two-plus-two bucket seating and a premium sound system with an integrated six-disc CD changer.

The rear seat is designed to hold two adults comfortably for even a cross-country cruise.

G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; chambers@star-telegram.com.

Consumer reviews

Rating breakdown (out of 5):
  • Comfort 4.7
  • Interior design 4.5
  • Performance 4.9
  • Value for the money 4.7
  • Exterior styling 4.3
  • Reliability 4.6

Most recent consumer reviews


Fun, fun, fun!

I bought mine new in January 2006 after I totaled my 1999 BMW Dinan M3. The GTO is simply an amazing performer. The only mod on it is a K&N cold air intake, which actually added a little spunk to it. It revved up quicker and got an extra mile or so to the gallon. I bought a second used 2006 GTO in 2012. It had an aftermarket cat back exhaust system on it and the sound was definitely worth it. Stock, they were identical cars. At the time my husband and I ran them head to head. I was in the one I bought new, which had 40k miles on it and he was in the used one, with 68k miles. I got him through 1st and 2nd gear and he couldn’t make up the difference. My only complaint was the front suspension was set up weird and the front passenger tire rubbed on the spring. It was a fairly common complaint but Pontiac was done making them and refused to correct the issue. We were able to adjust it ourselves and take care of the problem. There was one issue with the climate control electronics but the dealer repaired it. The cars were designed to be put to the test and they held up reasonably well. The used one had to have the top end of the LS2 rebuilt at 70k miles, consequently the bottom end started making noise at about 75k miles, so I sold it. The first one needed a slave cylinder at 44k miles. I I’ve never regretted buying either of them. The interior is a far cry from the M3, but the performance of the LS2 would have left the Bimmer in the dust. In 2006, only 13948 were produced in 7 colors. 63% came with the Tremec 6 sp the other 37% were automatics. They have held their value due to the low production numbers. 15740 were produced in 2004 and 11069 in 2005. If you ever see a 2004 Purple Cosmos GTO, buy it! There were only 700 produced before that color was removed from the lineup.


Absolutely Love It...

I Loved imports all my life and still own a new and old R32 and R35 Skyline. Nothing like a import Turbo Spool and Blow off Valve. However I own a 2006 GTO as my daily driver. In fact this is my second 6.0 GOAT. They are Cyclone Grey. 1st one I had I sold to my brother who loves it. So far I've done every Full bolt on you can think of. From twin xxx rear mounted turbos, Long tube headers, highflow cats with X pipe. Front mount intercooler,ported throttle body from a c7 vetted. Basically everything that goes along with a twin turbo setup. At low boost (26lbs) On a mustang dyno, it makes around 920 hp to the ground. 1100 ft lbs of tq. Now im sorry for the list of parts. However I've had this set up for 3 years now and running high 9's in a 1/4 mile. I drive to the track and drive home. 690miles to and from. This car is insane. The only issue I ran into was having to roll the fenders for bigger rear tires. Which are now 305s. (275s) for daily which actually fit on the stock oem wheel. Oh also the stereo is trash. Lmfao. So I upgraded to a set of 10 speaker bose with a 1500 watt amp right next to my fuel cell in the trunk. Other than being a vette and viper and lambo killer. I would strip all its parts and ride this car stock until the wheels came off. Point Blank Period......


Excellent Car but the ride is hard on bad roads

Daily Driver. Auto. I have had it for 9 years. The roads in Tucson AZ have some horizontal cracks and overly patched rough poor roads. When dealing withe these sections the cars hits pretty hard, any up or down bump will do it. You are really feeling the front. It gets to you after a while. Other than that the car does everything else well. The stereo is poor.

See all 68 consumer reviews

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