The 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP seems like a throwback to an earlier era of Detroit muscle cars. Unfortunately, it also feels like more of an anachronism than a fresh take on the past, and not nearly as competent as many of its competitors.

We tested a Grand Prix GXP with only a handful of options, priced at $31,135, including destination.

SHE: This high-performance edition of the Grand Prix reminded me of our old dog Cokie. When I used to walk him, he pulled me so hard in different directions that people passing by would often comment that I looked like I was water-skiing. In other words, there was just too much power and torque on his motor for my small frame. That's the same sensation I had in the GXP -- that there was just too much muscle in that pushrod 5.3-liter V-8 for the car's front-wheel-drive chassis.

HE: Wow, I know exactly what you mean. Initially, I loved the feeling of having all that juice on tap -- 303 horsepower and 323 pounds-feet of torque. The problem is getting it all to the pavement. The GXP has a disturbing tendency to pull alternately in both directions under heavy throttle -- sort of like a high-spirited horse shaking its head and trying to unsettle the rider. It's not a pleasant sensation. There's a heavy dose of torque steer from that big motor, combined with a loosey-goosey power steering unit that lacks a precise, responsive feel. Good thing the car has terrific brakes, with standard antilock. The GXP also comes equipped with standard traction control and stability control, which should help enhance tractability in crummy weather. They don't do much, however, to offset that annoying head-wagging sensation when you put your foot into the V-8.

SHE: I'm not a big hot-rodder, but you'd never guess it by the way I was constantly peeling out of our neighborhood while chirping the tires in first gear without even trying. It was almost embarrassing. And I was really taken aback by the mileage. Even though the EPA says you should expect to get 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 27 on the highway in the GXP, those numbers are wildly optimistic. We averaged just under 16 mpg on mixed driving.

HE: I want to give Pontiac credit for attempting to inject some life back into the Grand Prix. But like Cadillac with the V-series edition of the CTS, there are so many endemic problems with the Grand Prix that haven't been addressed, it's difficult to forget them while you're trying to enjoy the extra shot of adrenaline. Like the CTS, the Grand Prix suffers from a tawdry cabin whose one saving grace -- handsome top-stitched leather seats with suede inserts -- barely compensates for the cheap-looking and old-fashioned controls and displays that would be more at home on an economy car. Also like the CTS, the Grand Prix's interior appears to have been designed by two or three individuals who were completely oblivious to one another, resulting in a jumble of uncoordinated materials and textures. And what's with the cramped rear seat? I had trouble squeezing through the narrow door openings, and once back there, my head hit the ceiling and my knees hit the seat backs.

SHE: You don't have much nice to say. You should calm yourself by thinking about dogs -- like Cokie. He may have been a pain to walk, but he was one of the most beautiful dogs we ever owned, with a glossy coat and a noble face. Likewise, the GXP -- our test car had a pleasing dark cherry metallic finish -- must be given kudos for its sporty exterior and distinctive Pontiac face. I especially like the 18-inch performance tires and cool five-spoke alloy wheels that show off the red disc-brake calipers behind them. I just wish the ride quality were a little better. I pulled off the freeway at one point to check if I had a flat tire, the ride was that rough.

HE: I guess I didn't find it as rough as I thought it felt floaty. The car didn't seem to want to hunker down and hug the pavement like, say, the Dodge Charger. When you hit a stretch of choppy pavement, there was just too much movement, like the Grand Prix was on the verge of losing its composure.

SHE: I have to believe there are buyers out there who are looking for a vehicle just like the Grand Prix GXP -- with a little retro flavor and a lot of power.

HE: For $30,000, I'll take a Charger with a Hemi V-8 any day.


2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP

Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan

Price: Base, $29,995 (inc. $660 destination charge); as tested, $31,135

Engine: 5.3-liter V-8; 303-hp; 323 lb-ft torque

EPA fuel economy: 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway

Where built: Oshawa, Ontario

Key competitors: BMW 3-Series, Cadillac CTS, Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Ford Five Hundred, Ford Taurus, Honda Accord, Saab 9-3, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat, Volvo S60

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan: $1,408 (Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)

Anita's rating: 3

Likes: Sporty exterior with distinctive Pontiac face. Comfortable front bucket seats. Cool alloy wheels with 18-inch tires. Ample cargo space with low liftover. Fold-flat front passenger seat.

Dislikes: Why no modern five- or six-speed automatic? Narrow rear doors make it difficult to get in and out. Cheap-looking silver trim around gauges. Overhead console and headliner not securely fastened to roof.

Paul's rating: 3

Likes: Powerful V-8 makes more than 300 horsepower. Nice top stitching and suede inserts on seats. Useful head-up display. Excellent brakes. "Tap shift" provides manual capability.

Dislikes: Not in the same league as the Chrysler 300C and Dodge Charger. Disturbing torque steer under heavy throttle. Power steering feels too loose.

Rating system: 1. Unacceptable, 2. Subpar, 3. Acceptable, 4. Above Average, 5. World Class


Anita and Paul Lienert are partners in Lienert & Lienert, an Ann Arbor automotive information services firm.