Orlando Sentinel's view

When Pontiac rolled out the new version of the Grand Prix in 1997, it became my favorite American car.

It still is.

But I like the Grand Prix even more now that the gearheads at SLP Engineering have worked their magic on what is definitely the best American-made sports sedan ever built.

SLP (Street Legal Performance) is the outfit that made a name for itself by creating the Firebird Firehawk and Chevrolet Camaro SS — cars that were done so well, General Motors made them regular production options that could be ordered through any Pontiac or Chevy dealership. This does not happen often.

SLP engineers have a knack for coming up with high quality, high value performance-boosting modifications. They must have really jumped at the chance to tinker with the new Grand Prix — the hottest-selling Pontiac sedan in years.

The Grand Prix GTX sports a real “Ram Air” hood — which soups up the power by allowing more fresh air into the engine — a special air cleaner, free-flowing performance exhaust system and bigger wheels and tires. The GTX items add about $5,200 to the cost of the standard Grand Prix. But some of the parts, such as the Ram Air system, can be ordered separately from SLP for less.

The GTX package can be added to any model of the Grand Prix but works best on this week’s test car, a supercharged model with a 3.8-liter engine.

In order to speed delivery, SLP has created about 50 authorized service centers around the country. You buy the Grand Prix from the Pontiac dealer. Then he sends the car to an SLP service center for the conversion. The whole process takes about three or four days, says SLP’s Reg Harris.

Readers, callers, e-mailers and friends often ask me what car I would buy. The 1998 Grand Prix GTX is the car I would own if I were in the market. It’s one of those rare vehicles that’s fun every time you get behind the wheel.


Our test GTX started life as the fully equipped Grand Prix GTP — which means it left the factory with a 240-horsepower, supercharged, 3.8-liter V-6. Although this engine has been around for quite a while in various GM cars, it still is a marvel of a powerplant.

SLP engineers wrangled better performance out of the 3.8-liter by more efficiently managing the way air flows through the engine.

Horsepower jumps from 240 to 260 thanks to SLP’s Ram Air hood and free-flowing exhaust system. The hood has two ducts that close down on top of an air filter box that routes cool air straight into the engine. The new stainless steel exhaust system is less restrictive, which allows exhaust gases to flow out with less pressure.

When you turn the key, you hear a deep and powerful rumble from the dual exhaust tips under the rear bumper. It’s a hearty sound but not annoying or intrusive.

The engine makes a nifty turbinelike whine as it revs up. Power is strong, smooth and steady. When you mash the accelerator in the GTX, you better hang on tight — the c ar leaps into motion. The four-speed automatic transmission changes gears exceptionally smoothly. There’s no trace of torque steer — that slight tugging to the left or right when you accelerate. In fact, the GTX is so well-balanced and engineered, you’d be tempted to think it’s a rear-wheel drive car.

The SLP 17-inch tire and wheel combination sharpens what is already very crisp handling. The ride remains smooth and quiet, and the bigger Michelin tires provide greater grip when cornering quickly. The GTX’s power-assisted, rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes are superb.


I took a very close look at the SLP-designed parts. They are at least as good as the original GM components. And they carry the same three-year, 36,000-mile warranty as the original GM parts.

The GTX’s hood is made of the same basic (and very durable) composite plastic material used on Saturns.

The exhaust system looks slightly larger than the stock Grand Prix set-up, so those with sharp eyes will know the car has been tweaked.

Our test car was black — a color I wouldn’t recommend in Florida, especially during the summer. The interior, also black, was like an oven each afternoon. The air conditioner struggled to bring down the temperature. The GTX is also available in red or white for no extra charge.

The four-door test car has what Pontiac calls a “sports roof” — a sloping roof that gives the sedan a coupe look. In fact, you have to look twice to even notice the car has four doors.

There’s excellent room for adults and plenty of comfort in the rear of the GTX. I like the view from the backseat of this car. You can see what’s going on up front, so you don’t feel cut off from the driving experience.

Of course, the driver’s seat is really the place to be in this car. The front bucket seats are great. The power driver’s seat is heated and has an inflatable lumbar support.

Our test car came loaded. It even had the head-up display system that projects the car’s speed onto the lower left portion of the windshield. You can see how fast the car is going without taking your eyes off the road. Radio controls on the steering wheel also allow you to make changes without looking away from the road.

The list of features in the fully loaded Grand Prix GTX is long, but even so, such things as the power sunroof, power windows, door locks and mirrors, cruise control, CD player and automatic air conditioning system don’t push the price of the car anywhere near a foreign sports sedan with the same equipment.

The 1998 Grand Prix GTX offers outstanding performance, exceptional value and more fun per dollar than anything in its class.

1998 Pontiac Grand Prix GTXBase price: $25,240.Safety: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, daytime running lights and side-impact protection.Price as tested: $30,735.EPA rating: 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway.Incentives: None.

Truett’s tip: The Pontiac Grand Prix GTX not only is America’s best sports sedan, it’s good enough to take on the best of the Germans and Japanese. The GTX outperforms, outhandles and outvalues everything in its class.

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