Test Drive: 2006 Pontiac Torrent FWD car test drives pontiac
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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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There’s little to distinguish the new 2006 Pontiac Torrent from the Chevrolet Equinox, other than some exterior styling and equipment differences — but the Torrent does give consumers the option of buying this SUV from their Pontiac dealer if there doesn’t happen to a Chevy dealer in the neighbourhood.

The Torrent and the Equinox are marketed and priced as compact SUVs, yet they are much bigger than other compact SUVs. Compared to the popular Ford Escape, the Torrent is 353 mm (13.9 in.) longer and 34 mm (1.3 in.) wider, though not quite as tall. Even compared to the Toyota Highlander, which is bigger than the new 2006 RAV4, the Torrent is 106 mm (4.2 in.) longer and almost as wide. However, the Torrent is strictly a 5-passenger SUV while the RAV4, Highlander and the new Hyundai Santa Fe offer 7-passenger seating — well, let’s say five adults and two children.

Noteworthy is the Torrent’s long 2857 mm (112.5 in.) wheelbase, considerably longer than the Highlander’s 2715 mm (106.9 in.) wheelbase. This means that Torrent buyers are getting a very roomy ‘compact’ SUV for about the same price as other compact SUVs.

Test Drive: 2006 Pontiac Torrent FWD car test drives pontiac
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All Torrents come with a torquey 3.4-litre V6 engine with overhead valves and two valves per cylinder, unlike the overhead cam units used by many of its competitors. A four-cylinder engine is not available in the Torrent. As well, all Torrents have a standard 5-speed automatic transmission — a manual transmission is not available.

Though Pontiacs are supposed to be sportier than Chevrolets, you won’t find any major mechanical or even major interior differences between the Equinox and the Torrent. One would hope for the availability of a manual transmission or a supercharged engine or a sport suspension in the Pontiac, but the differences are primarily cosmetic. The Torrent does have what’s called an “FE2 sport suspension”, but I didn’t find it any sportier than the suspension of the 2005 Equinox I drove in 2004.

The Torrent does have a sporty front end with the familiar twin-grille used by all Pontiacs, covered headlights, a honeycomb grille, fog lights, and lower bodywork that resembles a skid plate. My car also had dark tinted windows, tubular roof rack and 17-inch tires and alloy wheels. The Torrent certainly looks sporty.

Pricing and standard equipment

Base Torrents start at $26,585 with front-wheel drive or $29,195 with an on-demand all-wheel drive system. Standard are the 3.4-litre V6 engine, 5-speed automatic transmission, a fully independent suspension, front disc/rear drum brakes, air conditioning, six-speaker CD stereo, power door locks with keyless entry, power windows, sliding rear seat, split folding rear seatbacks and flat-folding front passenger seat.

Test Drive: 2006 Pontiac Torrent FWD car test drives pontiac
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Anti-lock brakes and traction control are optional on the base front-wheel drive model.

The $28,790 Torrent Sport FWD and $31,500 Torrent Sport AWD add premium cloth upholstery and a 6-way power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise control buttons, cruise control, MP3 playback, anti-lock brakes and traction control.

My base Torrent FWD test vehicle was equipped with optional 6-way power front seats ($765), curtain side air bags ($580), 4-wheel ABS w/traction control ($780), 235/60R-17-inch tires and painted alloy wheels ($435), heated front seats ($370), OnStar ($1540), trailer towing package ($515), a smokers package ($40), and a Preferred Equipment Group, which includes AM/FM stereo w/CD/MP3 player, cruise control, deep tinted glass, and roof rack cross bars ($805), for a total of $5,830 in options.

As tested, with $1,100 Freight and $100 A/C tax, my Torrent came to $33,615.

Other options available in the Torrent are leather seats, 6-disc CD changer, sunroof, and XM satellite radio


Interior impressions

Test Drive: 2006 Pontiac Torrent FWD car test drives pontiac
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The Torrent’s interior quality and design is a step up over previous Pontiacs with a generally cleaner and more stylish design and improved materials. My test vehicle had charcoal silver trim on the centre console, leather wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise buttons, and stylish red backlit gauges with chrome rings. My only criticism was the quality of the dash material: many of the Torrent’s competitors have a higher grade of dash plastic which looks and feels more expensive.

The centre instrument panel design is similar to the Equinox with the shifter in an elevated position and the power window buttons located in the centre rather than on the doors. This is unusual in an American vehicle, but the buttons are easy to reach for both the driver and front passenger.

Test Drive: 2006 Pontiac Torrent FWD car test drives pontiac

Test Drive: 2006 Pontiac Torrent FWD car test drives pontiac

Test Drive: 2006 Pontiac Torrent FWD car test drives pontiac

Test Drive: 2006 Pontiac Torrent FWD car test drives pontiac

Test Drive: 2006 Pontiac Torrent FWD car test drives pontiac
Click images to enlarge

The controls for the radio are similar in design to other GM vehicles, and I’ve never quite liked them. They have unusual shapes and angles, and are hard to read. It’s a case of style over function. Just below that, the three dials for the heater and ventilation are much easier to operate.

I liked the Torrent’s woven fabric seats with supportive side bolsters, two-temperature seat heaters (optional), and the rear-view mirror which includes a compass and outside temperature gauge. Personally, I wouldn’t bother with the optional OnStar roadside assistance and information system which is a $1500 option.

The Torrent has some unique storage areas: an open coin tray to the left of the steering wheel, a large open storage area with 12-volt powerpoint and two cupholders between the seats, and a fold-up armrest/storage bin which has two flip-out cupholders, coinholder and tissue container inside it.

I disliked the transmission gear indicator in front of the shift lever because it’s horizontal, not vertical, which I find counter-intuitive.

The Torrent’s single rear bench seat slides forward and back by a full 200 mm (8 in.). This allows rear passengers to have abundant legroom. If more cargo space is needed, the seat can be pushed all the way forwards significantly increasing cargo space behind it.

The split folding seatbacks are not quite flat when folded, but nevertheless useful for hauling large items. As well, the right front passenger seatback folds flat, handy for loading long items.

The cargo area features an optional removable, double-sided tray which can be positioned in a high or low position for carrying two levels of cargo.

Test Drive: 2006 Pontiac Torrent FWD car test drives pontiac
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This is a great idea, but the tall suspension strut housings in the cargo area limit the overall width of the cargo area. If you want a wider cargo area, and you’re ordering your vehicle – as opposed to buying one off the lot – ask for option code R6D (Rear Cargo Area Panel System Delete), which removes the cargo panel support towers and replaces them with flat trim panels. It must be factory-ordered, though, and can’t be retrofitted to a Torrent that already has the towers.

The big rear hatch door has a large opening with a low liftover height, but the rear window can’t be opened separately. I liked the plastic cover on top of the rear bumper to prevent scratching the bumper paint when loading.

Dual stage front airbags are standard, but side airbags, and curtain airbags are optional on all Torrents. ABS and traction control are standard on all but the base FWD model, and stability control is not available at all.


Driving impressions

Test Drive: 2006 Pontiac Torrent FWD car test drives pontiac
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It’s easy to get in to the Torrent. It has large front and rear doors and a low step-in height. Even so, the driver and passengers sit up fairly high with an expansive view out of the large windshield and side windows. As well, a third side window helps when lane-changing. The view out of the rear window is okay, but the because the vehicle is so high, cars directly behind the Torrent tend to disappear. For foggy morning and rainy or snowy days, the standard rear wiper with a variable intermittent wiping mode is very handy.

I had a concern with a blind spot on the right front passenger side. The thick A-pillar combined with a tweeter installed in the lower pillar and the rear-view mirror housing make a fairly large obstruction that affects visibility when turning right around a 90 degree bend, such as in an underground parking lot.

Test Drive: 2006 Pontiac Torrent FWD car test drives pontiac
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As an aside, A-pillars are getting thicker and thicker to meet more stringent roll-over and crash standards, and this is beginning to affect the driver’s visibility.

With 185 horsepower and 210 foot pounds of torque, the Torrent’s V6 engine is very responsive off the line and when merging on to the freeway or passing. 0 to 100 km/h in approximately nine seconds is fairly quick for a 1660 kg SUV. Once on the freeway, the engine is very quiet and low-revving. I had no complaints with the five-speed automatic transmission, and though it doesn’t offer a manual mode, it’s not something I missed in this vehicle.

Test Drive: 2006 Pontiac Torrent FWD car test drives pontiac
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Fuel consumption is about average for a V6-powered compact SUV — that’s pretty good considering that the Torrent is probably the largest ‘compact’ SUV in it class.

I would recommend getting the optional traction control and anti-lock brakes on the base FWD model, or simply buying the AWD model. Its on-demand AWD system runs in front-wheel drive most of the time, but allocates torque to the rear axle if the front wheels start to slip. This system is good enough for typical winter conditions on urban and suburban roads, but may not be good enough for daring off-road pursuits. The AWD system doesn’t have a centre differential lock or low range gear.

With a fully independent suspension and the optional 235/60R-17-inch tires, the ride is very comfortable and I found handling to be sure-footed if not nimble. It would be better if the Torrent had a shorter wheelbase and a smaller turning circle. Its 12.8-metre (41.8 ft.) turning diameter makes tight turns a challenge or an impossibility.

Test Drive: 2006 Pontiac Torrent FWD car test drives pontiac
Click image to enlarge

As an aside, the suspension of the Equinox I tested last year didn’t absorb pavement cracks or potholes very well at all, but the new Torrent seems to have more shock absorption, and while occasionally firm, it is not as harsh.

While the Torrent’s alloy wheels look great, the spokes protrude beyond the edge of the tire, and can be easily damaged if you contact a concrete curb. Purists would say that you should never touch the curb anyway, but I would argue that even the best driver is going to scrape the curb sometime, and it only takes once to ruin the wheel — which is usually not repairable.

Verdict

A roomy, powerful SUV that’s well-priced in its class, the Pontiac Torrent is comfortable, well-equipped and easy to drive, but has a wide turning circle and a narrow cargo area.


Technical Data: 2006 Pontiac Torrent FWD

Base price $26,585
Options $5,830 (6-way power front seats $765; head curtain side air bags $580; smokers package $40; 4-wheel ABS w/traction control $780; 235/60R-17-inch tires and painted alloy wheels $435; heated front seats; $370; On-Star $1540; trailer towing package $515; Preferred Equipment Group — (deep tinted glass, centre roof rack cross bars, cruise control, AM/FM Stereo w/CD/MP3 player $805)
Freight $1,100
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $33,615 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact SUV
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 3.4-litre V6, OHV, 12 valves
Horsepower 185 @ 5200 rpm
Torque 210 @ 3800 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Tires P235/60R-17 all-season
Curb weight 1660 kg (3660 lbs)
Wheelbase 2857 mm (112.5 in.)
Length 4795 mm (188.8 in.)
Width 1814 mm (71.4 in.)
Height 1703 mm (67.0 in.)
Ground clearance 201 mm (7.9 in.)
Towing capacity 1588 kg (3500 lbs)
Payload capacity 585 kg (1290 lbs)
Cargo capacity 997 litres (34.1 cu. ft.) seats up
  1900 litres (67.1 cu. ft.) seats down
Fuel consumption City: 12.6 L/100 km (22 mpg Imperial)
  Hwy: 8.5 L/100 km (33 mpg Imperial)
Fuel type Regular unleaded
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Assembly location Ingersoll, Ontario




About Greg Wilson

Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and contributor to Autos.ca. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).