Pontiac is jumping on the small-car bandwagon with its own version of the Chevrolet Aveo, the G3 five-door hatchback.
Prices start at $14,995 with AM/FM stereo, air conditioning, four airbags and OnStar. Daewoo, GM's Korean subsidiary, builds the G3. Major competitors include the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio and Nissan Versa.
GM has announced a Total Confidence plan for vehicles purchased in April. If the buyer loses his or her job during the first two years of ownership, GM will make payments of up to $500 per month for nine months. Check www.pontiacconfidence.com for details.
G3's 1.6-liter engine has 106 horsepower. Fuel economy is rated at 27 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway with the five-speed manual transmission. Acceleration is modest but certainly enough to keep up with traffic comfortably. The clutch is light, but the manual transmission's shift linkage has somewhat long throws.
The engine revs over 3,000 rpm at 70 miles per hour, and wind and road noise were somewhat intrusive.
The chassis has a 97.6-inch wheelbase. The overall length of 152.7 inches is more than 2 feet shorter than the Chevy Cobalt.
The G3 has decent interior space in spite of the smallish overall size because it is tall and narrow. The upright seating position gives good headroom and legroom. I had a hard time finding a comfortable driving position because my feet were too close to the pedals when I was close enough to the steering wheel.
The attractive instrument panel has a pebbled surface that is visually interesting without being gimmicky. The gauges are easy to read in daylight and at night. The air conditioning has cabin filtration and rear-seat air vents.
The audio and HVAC systems are nicely integrated into the center stack. Controls are attractively styled yet easy to operate. The wiper control is the only switch that felt clunky.
The hatchback is practical because it has a 60/40 rear seat that can fold down like that of a small station wagon. The front passenger seat can be folded forward to accommodate long items.
The G3's suspension is a compromise. The ride felt soft in town, but it was firm on the highway. MacPherson struts are used in front while the rear axle is a torsion beam. The brakes are vented discs in front and drums in back. Anti-lock is optional, but I think it should be standard.
The base price of the test car was $14,995. Options included power windows, keyless entry, power locks and heated outside mirrors. The sticker price was $15,565.
Three years or 36,000 miles with a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
2009 Pontiac G3
Engine: 1.6-liter, 106-hp 4-cyl.
Wheelbase: 97.6 inches
Curb weight: 2,546 lbs.
Base prices: $14,995
As driven: $15,565
MPG: 27 city, 34 hwy.
Tom Strongman's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.