Test Drive: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE Sedan car test drives pontiac
2007 Pontiac Wave SE sedan. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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Photo Gallery: 2007 Pontiac Wave

Small hatchbacks such as the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris are very popular right now, but not all economy car buyers like hatchbacks. The ‘three-box’ sedan bodystyle is still popular with many consumers, even in the subcompact category. The reasons vary: some people just prefer the traditional styling of a sedan and the security of a separate trunk. In the subcompact class, the sedans are usually longer than their hatchback counterparts and often have more cargo room in the trunk than the hatchbacks do behind the rear seats – for example, the 2007 Pontiac Wave sedan is 430 mm (16.9 in.) longer than a Wave hatchback, and has a 330-litre (11.7 cu. ft.) trunk while the Wave hatchback has a 200-litre (7.1 cu. ft.) cargo area behind the rear seats.

There’s another advantage of a sedan body style: crash safety. The extra vehicle length provided by a trunk offers improved crash protection in the event of a rear-ender.

In the subcompact class, there are currently seven four-door sedans available in Canada: the Chevrolet Aveo and Pontiac Wave, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Suzuki Aerio – and coming next year, a Suzuki SX4 sedan. Surprisingly, there is no Honda Fit sedan or Suzuki Swift+ sedan, and neither VW nor Mazda offer a subcompact sedan or hatchback in Canada. Mazda’s all-new subcompact Mazda2 hatchback was just unveiled in Geneva, but it’s not coming to Canada, and there’s no sedan anyway. Pity!

Test Drive: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE Sedan car test drives pontiac
2007 Pontiac Wave SE sedan. Click image to enlarge

The Pontiac Wave is the sister car to the Chevrolet Aveo and Suzuki Swift+ and all are built in Bupyong, South Korea by GM-DAT (General Motors-Daewoo Auto and Technology), a company formed about a decade ago when GM, and minority shareholder Suzuki, bought ailing Daewoo. At the time, I was skeptical that GM could improve the quality of Daewoo cars – the imported Daewoo models I drove were poorly built, noisy, and ugly. So I was pleasantly surprised by the speedy transformation in quality of GM-DAT vehicles, such as the Chevy Epica and Optra.

The Pontiac Wave, which is sold in Canada but not in the U.S., was first introduced for the 2005 model year. Significant changes have been made to the sedan model for 2007, but the Wave hatchback carries on mostly unchanged except for some additional safety features.

Test Drive: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE Sedan car test drives pontiac
2007 Pontiac Wave SE sedan. Click image to enlarge

The 2007 Wave sedan is 76 mm longer, 40 mm wider and 10 mm taller than the 2006 sedan, but has the same 2480 mm (97.6 in.) wheelbase. It’s a very handsome little car with clean lines and a nice paint finish – bright red in my tester’s case. My only criticism with the styling is that the Wave’s tall bodystyle makes the wheels and tires look small (typical for this class of car) even though they are the optional 15-inchers. Still, that’s a small sacrifice to pay for the extra headroom and large door openings of the Wave’s tall body style.

Other changes for 2007 include a redesigned interior with better quality dash and seating materials, new silver accent trim, a new folding armrest on the driver’s seat and a manual height adjustment and manual lumbar adjustment; a new radio with single CD/MP3 capability and a new auxiliary audio jack; lower rear head restraints for better visibility; and new optional steering wheel audio controls and power mirrors. The uplevel SE model now includes air conditioning and heated power mirrors as standard equipment.


Pricing and options

The base 2007 Wave sedan starts at $12,995, and includes a 103-horsepower 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission, 185/60R-14-inch tires, front disc/rear drum brakes, fog lights, two-stage frontal airbags, five seatbelts and four head restraints, power steering, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with four speakers and audio jack, 12-volt powerpoint, digital clock, tilt steering column, folding armrest on the driver’s seat, two cupholders in front and one at the rear, fixed-delay intermittent wipers, manual remote mirrors, rear defogger, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, rear door child locks, and rear anchors and tethers for child seats.

Test Drive: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE Sedan car test drives pontiac
Test Drive: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE Sedan car test drives pontiac
2007 Pontiac Wave SE sedan. Click image to enlarge

Stand-alone options on the base model include air conditioning ($1,150), AM/FM stereo, 6-disc in-dash CD changer with MP3 playback and auxiliary audio input jack ($350), four-speed automatic transmission ($950), trunk spoiler ($295), power sunroof ($985), and the Security Package with side airbags and anti-lock brakes ($960). Some of these options are lumped together in the Wi Special Edition option package ($1,095 on my car, but listed at $1,120 at www.gmcanada.com ), that includes 15-inch alloy wheels and 185/55R-15-inch all-season radials, trunk spoiler, six-speaker premium sound system with steering wheel controls, and an Apple iPod.

The 2007 Wave SE sedan starts at $15,495, and adds standard air conditioning, silver interior trim, power heated mirrors, cruise control, power windows, power door locks, and remote keyless entry with alarm. Options include 15-inch alloy wheels and tires ($545), automatic transmission ($1,150), AM/FM stereo, 6-disc in-dash CD changer with MP3 playback and auxiliary audio input jack ($350), trunk spoiler ($295), power sunroof ($985), and the Security Package with side airbags and anti-lock brakes ($960). The Wi Special Edition option package is also available on the SE.

Test Drive: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE Sedan car test drives pontiac
2007 Pontiac Wave SE sedan. Click image to enlarge

My SE test car was equipped with the optional automatic transmission, sunroof, and the Wi Special Edition package with an as-tested price of $18,580. My test car didn’t include the optional Security Package with anti-lock brakes and side airbags ($960), but I would highly recommend this option. Side airbags have been shown to greatly enhance occupant protection in side collisions, particularly in smaller cars. Anti-lock brakes provide more steering control and stability under panic braking conditions, particularly in slippery conditions.


Interior impressions

Test Drive: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE Sedan car test drives pontiac
Test Drive: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE Sedan car test drives pontiac
Test Drive: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE Sedan car test drives pontiac
Test Drive: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE Sedan car test drives pontiac
2007 Pontiac Wave SE sedan. Click image to enlarge

The Wave sedan’s tall roof, large doors, and raised seats make it surprisingly easy to get in and out of. Once inside, there’s enough headroom for six footers, front and rear, although only two will fit in the rear seat. Legroom is adequate in the rear if the front seats aren’t pushed back too far.
The driver’s seat is height adjustable and there is a manual lumbar adjustment – but the feature I liked the most was the folding armrest on the right side which made it easy to rest my right arm while cruising. Outward visibility is very good, despite the high trunk.

The Wave has a nicely finished interior, with a mix of smooth and dimpled dash plastics, chrome on the gauges, metal-like trim on the doors, dash, steering wheel, and around the shift gate. The seats are covered in a durable fabric with attractive speckled seat inserts and door inserts. There are two small horn buttons on the steering wheel, but they’re hard to find in an emergency – there should be one button in the centre of the steering wheel. My biggest complaint with the Wave’s new dash layout is that the gauges are hard to read unless you turn on the headlights to illuminate them with the bright red backlighting. Even then, the numerals are small and difficult to read at a glance. Another small beef: the power window buttons and power mirror buttons are not backlit at night.

I wasn’t that impressed with the sound quality from the radio, so perhaps the optional premium stereo is worth the money. There’s a new auxiliary input for audio players, and two 12-volt powerpoints for electronic devices, one at the bottom of the centre stack and one between the seats. Two cupholders slide out of the lower centre console and there is another one for rear passengers at the rear of the centre console between the seats.

Test Drive: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE Sedan car test drives pontiac
Test Drive: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE Sedan car test drives pontiac
2007 Pontiac Wave SE sedan. Click image to enlarge

Interior storage is limited: there’s a small glovebox, door pockets and open area near the shift lever, but no centre storage bin.

60/40 split folding rear seats are standard equipment, but when folded down, they aren’t level with the trunk floor, and the metal seatbacks are exposed to damage. Also, they’re not lockable. Still, it’s better having them than not having them.

The 330-litre trunk is large for a small car, but the lining is rather cheap-looking.
The optional remote keyless entry locks and unlocks all the doors with one push of the button on the key – but for safety reasons, most keyless systems now require one push to unlock the driver’s door and another push to unlock the other doors. Another small beef: I couldn’t find a door-unlock button inside the car.

Side airbags are optional, but unlike some of its competitors, the Wave doesn’t offer curtain airbags.


Driving impressions

After a week, I came away impressed at how nice the Wave is to drive for such an inexpensive car. Visibility is good, acceleration and handling performance are adequate, steering effort is light when parking, the ride is comfortable, and the small 1.6-litre DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine is surprisingly quiet and refined.

Test Drive: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE Sedan car test drives pontiac
Test Drive: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE Sedan car test drives pontiac
2007 Pontiac Wave SE sedan. Click image to enlarge

Acceleration from a standing start is brisk, and the Wave feels peppy around town – however, it strains when accelerating onto the freeway, or when pulling out to overtake another car. Independent acceleration tests of the Wave sedan equipped with an automatic transmission conducted by the Automobile Journalist’s Association of Canada (AJAC) last October show a 0 to 100 km/h time of 12.0 seconds – that’s slightly faster than a Hyundai Accent sedan, but more than a second slower than automatic-equipped versions of the Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris sedans. Small cars almost always accelerate faster when equipped with a manual transmission because it allows the driver more control over shift points – so if you’re looking for improved performance, go with a manual transmission. It will probably shave a second off the 0 to 100 km/h time.

The same tests showed an 80 to 120 km/h passing time of 11.0 seconds, compared to 11.1 for the Accent, 9.6 for the Versa, and 9.3 for the Yaris. At freeway cruising speeds, I recorded a top gear engine speed of 2,300 rpm at 100 km/h and 2,800 rpm at 120 km/h, and at those speeds, the engine is fairly quiet, and wind noise isn’t too bad.

The optional automatic transmission is very smooth under normal acceleration, but punch the throttle, and it will jump into a lower gear accompanied by a loud engine buzz. Still, I thought the Wave was quieter than a Fit and Yaris I had tested earlier. The automatic transmission includes a unique Hold Control Mode. By pressing a button next to the shift lever, the driver can hold a higher gear, thus reducing torque to the driving wheels and reducing wheelspin on slippery roads.

Test Drive: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE Sedan car test drives pontiac
Test Drive: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE Sedan car test drives pontiac
2007 Pontiac Wave SE sedan. Click image to enlarge

Energuide fuel consumption figures (with automatic transmission) are good: City: 8.9 L/100 km (32 mpg Imp) and Hwy 5.9 L/100 km (48 mpg); that’s comparable with the Versa, Accent and Aveo, but way behind the class leader, the Toyota Yaris sedan with City/Hwy 7.0/5.6 L/100 km.
A pleasant surprise during my test drive was the Wave’s comfortable ride. Despite its short wheelbase, it’s not choppy or bouncy or too firm or too soft – in fact it’s a nicer ride than some much more expensive cars I’ve driven lately.

The suspension is fairly typical for a subcompact: front MacPherson struts and rear torsion beam. GM revised the front stabilizer bar for 2007 to enhance the handling, and though it’s a tall car, it doesn’t lean too much in the corners, and handles quite well, in my opinion. As well, the optional 15-inch Hankook Optima all-season tires provide better grip than the standard 14-inch tires. The Optimas provided satisfactory all-around wet and dry road performance during the week that I had the car.

Being relatively short and narrow, the Wave is a great city car: it’s easy to park and its turning diameter of just 9.8 metres (32.2 feet) makes it easy to do tight turns, and get in and out of parking spots. The standard power-assisted, variable-rate rack-and-pinion steering keeps steering effort light when parking, and is quite responsive at higher speeds, although not that quick.

Test Drive: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE Sedan car test drives pontiac
2007 Pontiac Wave SE sedan. Click image to enlarge

The Wave’s weakest performance attribute is its braking. In braking tests conducted by AJAC last fall, the 2007 Wave sedan performed the worst of five subcompact sedans tested. Its 100 km/h to 0 braking distance of 53.3 metres compared to the Nissan Versa with 45.2 m, Honda Fit 43.5 m, Toyota Yaris 41.8 m, and Hyundai Accent 40.9 m. Four out of the five cars had rear drum brakes, but the Wave was the only one without anti-lock brakes (all the more reason to get them). The impressive performance of the Hyundai Accent GS Premium can be attributed to its optional four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake force distribution.


Verdict

The Pontiac Wave SE sedan is a lot of car for under $20,000 all-in. It’s surprisingly roomy, comfortable and attractive. Quibbles include hard-to-see gauges, limited interior storage, and the unavailability of curtain airbags. The optional ABS and side airbags package is a must for safety.


Pricing: 2007 Pontiac Wave SE sedan

  • Base price: $15,450
  • Options: $3,030 (Preferred Equipment Group 1SB: 15-inch alloy wheels, P185/55R-15 all-season tires, rear spoiler, mp3 jack, premium six-speaker stereo, steering wheel audio controls, $1,095; four-speed automatic transmission, $950 ; power tilt/slide glass moonroof, $985)
  • Freight: $1,045
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Price as tested: $19,625 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives


Specifications


Related stories on Autos


Competitors

Crash test results


Manufacturer’s web site




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).