Old school? No argument there.
The 2008 Pontiac G8 is a big, rear-wheel-drive sedan with your choice of a pair of powerful engines, essentially replacing the Pontiac Bonneville as the flagship of the "We Build Excitement!" company.
But with each increase in gasoline prices, "big" and "powerful engine" likely drop on consumers' most-wanted list. Even so, the G8's fuel mileage is, well, not terrible, but no one is likely to have the G8 on the same shopping list as a Toyota Prius hybrid.
The G8 is a product of General Motors' Australian arm, Holden. The roster of Australian-built vehicles that have migrated to the United States is short and not that distinguished, including the Mitsubishi Diamante station wagon and the Mercury Capri roadster. More recently, Holden built the coupe Pontiac introduced in 2004 as the GTO, which was a far better vehicle than it was given credit for -- almost a Chevrolet Corvette with a (small, anyway) rear seat.
Two versions of the G8 have arrived as late 2008 models -- the regular G8, powered by a 3.6-liter, 256-horsepower V-6, and the G8 GT, which has a 6.0-liter, 361-horsepower V-8. The regular G8 has a five-speed automatic transmission, the GT a six-speed automatic. Coming for 2009 is the G8 GXP, which will have a 6.2-liter V-8 with at least 402 horsepower, and will offer a six-speed manual transmission. Also coming: A vehicle based on this same platform much like the old Chevrolet El Camino and Ford Ranchero. Those truck-cars have never fallen out of favor in Australia, and GM is gambling that they can make a comeback in the U.S.
I haven't driven a G8 with the V-6, but having driven other GM cars with that engine, I suspect it's pretty peppy. The G8 GT is slightly beyond peppy, with the V-8 nicely matched to the six-speed automatic transmission to maximize acceleration -- Pontiac claims a brisk 5.3 seconds in a 0 to 60 mph dash.
The G8 is EPA-rated at 17 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway. The G8 GT is rated at 15 mpg city, 24 mpg highway. Our overall mileage in the GT was a better-than-expected 22.1 mpg, not bad for a powerful V-8. Likely helping was the "active fuel management" system, which can shut down some of the engine's cylinders when their power isn't needed, thus saving gasoline.
Outside, GM and Holden did a commendable job of making the G8 look like a Pontiac. Styling is clean but conservative, certainly unobjectionable.
Inside, the G8 GT interior is handsome and very comfortable, but like the exterior, otherwise undistinguished. The leather-trimmed bucket seats -- part of a $1,250 "Premium Package" that also includes power seats and seat heaters -- are very comfortable. Rear seat room isn't bad for average-sized adults, and there's plenty of trunk room, something the GTO lacked due to U.S. regulations that mandated the gas tank be moved from its original location. G8 instruments are, in Pontiac tradition, lighted in orange, which you either like or you don't. I don't.
On the road, the G8 feels smaller than it is, which is a compliment. Brakes are excellent, steering precise, and the ride is smooth for a performance car. The brake and accelerator pedal seem closer together than they should be for my size-11 feet, but maybe it's just me.
The G8 with the V-6 lists for $27,585, including transportation. The G8 GT starts at $29,995, allowing GM to advertise that it's the most powerful sedan you can buy for under $30,000. With that premium package, the test car cost $31,245.
GM and Pontiac are gambling that there's life left in an "old school" sedan, and they've delivered a quality product. But only consumers can tell them whether GM has built the right car at the wrong time.
Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smithcan be reached at email@example.com.