Pontiac's all-new G6 got a major publicity boost when Oprah gave away 276 of them, donated by General Motors, on a recent show.

This cleanly styled midsize sedan is based on the same Epsilon chassis platform as the Chevy Malibu and Saab 9-3. A G6 coupe, hardtop convertible and a performance version will eventually round out the model line. Prices start at $20,675 for the base model, while the GT starts at $23,300.

The G6 is about the same size as the Grand Am, but the 112.3-inch wheelbase is 5 inches longer. This gives the G6 good rear-seat leg-room, while the fully independent suspension provides a smooth ride. The new body structure is quite stiff, thanks in part to a cross-car magnesium beam behind the instrument panel. The rigid structure translates into tight handling, fewer squeaks and a solid feeling.

One of the first things to catch your eye is the wedge shape, sharp creases and lack of chrome. The roofline curves into the trunk almost as sharply as a coupe. Pontiac has also dropped its use of gaudy lower body panels in favor of a simple, elegant look, and the result is refreshingly simple.

The G6 is powered by GM's 200-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. This engine is the only one available now, but 2006 models will offer a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder as well as a high-output, 240-horse 3.9-liter V-6. The high-output engine will be mated to a six-speed manual or an automatic transmission with manual-shift mode.

The 3.5-liter engine moves the G6 nicely from rest because it produces 220 pound-feet of torque. The automatic transmission is the only unit available at this time, and the one in the GT has a manual-shift mode. Smooth shifts are the order of the day.

Four-wheel disc brakes are standard. Antilock brakes and traction control are standard on the GT and optional on the base model.

Pontiac has tuned the G6's suspension to have a sporty ride, but I would prefer more suppleness over bumps and dips. The independent rear axle uses twin-tube shocks and a stabilizer bar to limit body roll in turns.

The variable-assist electric power steering occasionally feels a bit vague, mostly in tight turns.

The cabin is sporty without being gaudy. The top section of the instrument panel is dark to cut down on glare, while the bottom portion is light to give a feeling of airiness. The gauges have chrome trim rings, white numbers and red needles.

The radio controls on the center stack, similar to those of the Chevy Malibu, could be simpler. Many of the knobs are small, and that makes them harder to manipulate. Steering wheel controls for the radio are part of the leather package.

The test car was a GT equipped with the premium package and heated leather seats. It also had OnStar, a six-disc CD player, 17-inch wheels and Pontiac's unique panoramic sunroof. The G6 has a remote-start function that enables the driver to start the car from inside a house, for example, to warm it up during cold weather.

This sunroof consists of small glass panels that stack together as they slide rearward. It creates an unusual sense of openness because it extends well into the back seat.

Because of the sloping roofline, it is easy to bump one's head getting into the back seat. The back seat folds forward, but the only releases are in the trunk. That's handy if you've opened the trunk and need to fold the seat, but I would like to see releases in the cabin as well.

The sporty G6 has simplified styling and an interior that is bigger than the Grand Am's. The Grand Am is still in production, but it is likely to disappear in the near future. It will be interesting to watch for the evolution of the coupe and convertible.

Price

The test car had a base price of $23,300. Options included 17-inch wheels, panoramic sunroof, OnStar, heated leather seats, power driver's seat, side-curtain airbags, remote start and a 3.29 axle ratio. The sticker price was $28,280.

Warranty

Three years or 36,000 miles.

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Engine: 3.5-liter, 200-hp V-6

Transmission: automatic

Front-wheel drive

Wheelbase: 112.3 inches

Curb weight: 3,428 lbs.

Base price: $23,300

As driven: $28,280

MPG rating: 21 city, 29 hwy.

At A Glance

Point: Pontiac's new G6 has sleek styling, a coupe profile and a 200-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. The sharply creased body has short front and rear overhangs. The GT feels sporty and responsive. The unique sunroof gives a sense of open-air spaciousness.

Counterpoint: A well-optioned GT is fairly pricey considering the class it's in. It's easy to bump one's head getting into the back seat. The radio controls are a bit small and hard to manipulate.