Good things come in bigger packages at Pontiac for 1992.
The compact Grand Am has been restyled and lengthened by 7 inches, which means the car now offers more head, leg and arm room for occupants in the rear seat and more capacity for their luggage in the trunk.
It also means the Grand Am looks a lot like the larger Grand Prix even though the Grand Am is built on a 103.4-inch wheelbase and is 186.9 inches long, versus a 107.5-inch wheelbase and 194.8-inch length on the Grand Prix.
One reason Grand Am looks so much like a Grand Prix is the extensive use of plastic in the wraparound bumpers, grille, air dam, thick bodyside moldings, rocker panels and wheel well extensions. The one styling touch most observers didn`t like was the large, rounded, bulbous taillights.
We previously test drove the top-of-the-line Grand Am GT (Cartalk, Sept. 1) in Orlando, and now have had the opportunity to drive the base model SE sedan (a switch from `91 when the SE was the top-of-the-line model) in the Chicago area.
The two most significant changes other than the new styling and greater size are the addition of anti-lock brakes as standard equipment on all Grand Ams and the return of the 3.3-liter, 160-horsepower V-6 engine after a three- year absence in which Pontiac relied instead on a variety of 4-cylinder engines, but no V-6.
It took but a few hours in the Grand Am for the ABS to prove its merit. We signaled and then attempted to make a sharp left turn onto a two-lane street covered with wet leaves. In the middle of the turn, where the leaves were the thickest, the rear end on the front-wheel-drive Grand Am decided it wanted to make a right turn instead.
The book says don`t panic, and steer out of the mess. The nerves said hit the brakes, which is what we did. The ABS immediately stopped the rear end from sliding in the leaves. We recovered control of the car in an instant and completed the turn. WhileABS typically is associated with quick, sure stops in a straight line on wet or icy pavement, it also helped us regain traction in a turn to allow us to keep going again.
The ABS provides the security, the 3.3-liter V-6 the pleasure in the Grand Am. The 160-h.p., 3.3-liter V-6 is smooth and quick, yet quiet. We detected a bit of a raspy exhaust sound to accentuate the performance. The sound effects are more suited to the GT and aren`t really needed in an SE.
The 3.3 with 3-speed automatic is rated at 19 m.p.g. city/29 m.p.g. highway. Perhaps a 4-speed automatic could help kick up the city mileage to the 20 m.p.g. level.
Considering ABS was added as standard as a concession to safety, it`s unfortunate Pontiac didn`t go one step and a few dollars further and offer a driver-side air bag, too. None will be offered until 1995.
Pontiac General Manager John Middlebrook says statistics show that people are likely to use an air bag once in 175 years, bu t ABS once every year and, in Chicago weather, much more frequently.
Still, more consumers are asking for air bags than they are the one safety system added to the Grand Am that`s so aggravating-power door locks. The locks automatically engage when you put the car in a forward gear. That`s good. But when you stop, the locks stay engaged and you have to constantly reach for the button to unlock the doors. No quick exit. That`s a pain. Many luxury cars offer power locks that engage when the car is in gear and then automatically unlock when you stop and turn off the key.
Positives include seats that are firm without being rock hard and that offer good side support for corners and turns. Controls also are simple to see and use. One other negative: We`d prefer a spring-held hood to a prop job.
The Grand Am first appeared in 1985. About 1.6 million have been sold since then. Pontiac is counting on many of those cars to be in need of replacement or upgrade oon. The larger dimensions, standard ABS brakes an d return of the peppier V-6 engine on the `92 could keep many Grand Am owners in the Pontiac fold.
Base price of the SE is $11,999.
Standard equipment includes power brakes and steering; 14-inch, steel- belted, all-season radials; double-sided, galvanized, steel body panels; tinted glass; power door locks; rear seat heat ducts; clear coat paint; dual glovebox cupholders; dual visor vanity mirrors; AM/FM stereo; stainless steel exhaust; rear-door child safety locks; and remote fuel and trunk release buttons.
Our test car added a $1,841 option package that included split folding rear seats, power windows, intermittent wipers, air conditioning, power mirrors, cruise control and tilt steering.
A value option package for $353 included decorative wheel covers, 15-inch touring radials and a radio upgrade to AM/FM stereo with clock and cassette.
Automatic transmission ran $555, the 3.3-liter V-6 $460, rear window defogger $170, and a variable effort upgrade to the normal power steering ran $82.
First review: 9/1/91
Apology accepted, Pontiac.
With the introduction of the second-generation Grand Am for 1992, Pontiac atones for the shortcomings of the current model-a cramped rear seat and a lack of anything but four-cylinder engines to power the car.
For 1992, the Grand Am is seven inches longer than the existing model. That translates into ample leg, head and arm room for two adults in the back seat, an area heretofore off limits for those whose age and waist size were the same.
And the 160-horsepower, 3.3-liter V-6 returns after a three-year absence to offer Grand Am owners smooth, quick, quiet acceleration while still delivering 20 miles per gallon city and 27 m.p.g. highway, teamed with a four- speed automatic transmission.
The Grand Am first appeared in the 1985 model year. While the base 2.5- liter, 4-cylinder engine came up a bit short on power and long on noise, Pontiac at least offered the 3.3-liter V-6 as an option. In the 1989 model year, the 3.3 was dropped for the Quad Four as GM scrambled to offer the multilvalve 4-cylinder in a host of cars to give the engine credibility.
Pontiac officials said they expect the 3.3 to be the choice of about 20 percent of the buyers. We expect the final tally to be closer to 40 percent.
We test drove a 1992 Grand Am GT four-door sedan in Orlando at the press preview of Pontiac`s upcoming model lineup.
For 1992, in addition to new dimensions, the Grand Am sports new sheet metal-though that`s somewhat a misnomer, considering all the plastic used in the wraparound bumpers, grille, air dam, thick bodyside moldings, rocker panels and wheel well extensions.
When it comes to styling, the car looks very much like the old model; especially familiar is the split grille pattern up front. The rest of the bod y, however, is much more rounded. One shortcoming are the rounded, somewhat bulbous taillights.
For 1992, the Grand Am looks very much like a Grand Prix. Though the dimensions are smaller (103.4-inch wheelbase and 186.9-inch overall length versus 107.5 and 194.8 on the Grand Prix) you`ll be hard-pressed to tell the two apart in a parking lot.
Inside, you`ll find lots of changes-not all of them for the better. For starters, we were annoyed by poor visibility in the sedan. Front, side and rear roof pillars (called A, B, and C pillars in Detroit vernacular) are big and wide. In backing out of a parking space at a shopping center, it took more than one glance to ensure no cars were coming. Adding to the visibility problem were headrests on front and rear seats and the third brake light hanging down in the rear window.
Also, the front-seat shoulder belts are attached to the side window frames, and that blocked visibility as well. In 1991, the belts wereatt ched to the top of the window frames-only slightly better.
Rather than a concealed coin holder, the ce nter console has a series of deep grooves for storing change for tolls. That design leaves money out in view and means you could be acting as your own toll collector should you have to stop or veer suddenly and the coins scatter.
One safety feature is a bit annoying, too. The doors automatically lock after you engage the manual or automatic in gear. It means you don`t have to press the door-lock button before departing, but it means pressing the button before you can exit. The locks don`t release automatically when the ignition is turned off. Those self-locking doors prevent a quick exit.
Another gripe was the dual cupholders in the bottom of the glove box lid. Drop the lid and you expose two holders, but because the glove box lid slants down, it doesn`t look like you`ll have enough support to avoid spilling the drinks.
The final gripe is that Pontiac chose to save a few pennies and use a prop-held hood rather than the easier and safer springs.
Annoyances duly listed, let`s focus on the strong points.
Anti-lock brakes are standard equipment on all Grand Ams, from SE to GT, coupe to sedan.
Orlando was experiencing continuous showers the day we tested the car, and that gave us numerous chances to use the ABS. Every time we simulated a panic stop on the wet pavement, the car halted in a straight line quickly. Pontiac insists tht accident avoidance in the form of ABS is more important than accident protection, such as air bags that come into play after you and another car have kissed bumpers.
Pontiac general manager John Middlebrook says statistics show that people are likely to use an air bag once in 175 years, but ABS once every year and, in Chicago weather, much more frequently.
The Grand Am ABS system is great, but having an air bag certainly would be an added benefit. The Grand Am won`t offer air bags until 1995, when all Pontiacs will have driver-side bags as standard.
We also appreciate the 3.3-liter V-6 and its quick, yet quiet, acceleration and its power in reserve when you punch it to pass. A Quad Four might deliver the power of a V-6, but psychologically, a V-6 gives a sense of performance the 4-cylinder doesn`t convey to all consumers.
Complementing the V-6 in the GT we test drove was a level 2 suspension system. Level 1, of course, is the softest, level 3 the firmest, level 2 the happy medium to hold you to the road without bouncing you off of it. One stretch of road in Orlando felt as if it were paved with discarded armadillo shells, yet it didn`t transmit any road harshness back into the wheel or seat. Ride and handling were almost Bonneville-like. Optional 16-inch touring radial tires helped in the pavement hugging.
Complementing the suspension is a firm, yet not rock-hard, seat with ample back suppor t for long-distance travel and ample side support for cornering and turning without sending you into the passenger`s lap.
Controls also are easy to see and use and simple to understand. Heating and cooling controls are quick-responding dials. And you don`t need a Ph.D. in electronics to understand the radio or a calculator to count the buttons.
Other nice touches include a slide-out second shade from the sunvisor to block out glare above the rearview mirror or to the side; an overhead roof bin for glasses or garage-door opener; and hood and gas door release levers under the driver`s seat.
Prices have yet to be announced, but making ABS standard alone will add $450 to the price of the `92. For 1991, Pontiac offered base, LE and top-of- the-line SE versions of the Grand Am. For 1992, the SE is the base and the GT the top. For 1991, the SE started at $16,344 and the sedan at $16,544.
Since 1985, Pontiac has sold about 1.6 million Grand Ams,or ab ut 200,000 a year. Middlebrook says many of those owners are about to or have just made their last payment and are ready for a new one. He`s counting on them to account for sales of 225,000 this year, up 40 percent from last year. Grand Am is the ideal car for those who`ve outgrown the Sunbird but don`t need the size-or the price-of a Grand Prix. Pontiac considers it a rival to the Honda Accord for `92. It shouldn`t rule out the Toyota Camry, either.
>> 1992 Pontiac Grand Am Wheelbase: 103.4 inches Length: 186.9 inches Transmission: 4-speed automatic only with V-6 Fuel economy: 20 m.p.g. city/27 m.p.g. highway Strong point: Ample rear-seat room, return of the 3.3 V-6, ABS standard Weak point: Styling very similar to Grand Prix, exiting the car with self-locking doors not easy, lots of obstructions block visibility >>