For 2005, the Pontiac Vibe has a restyled front fascia and grille; a tire pressure monitor standard on GT and AWD models; new fabric patterns; and OnStar Gen 6 hardware with upgraded hands-free capability. New available options include curtain airbags, StabiliTrak vehicle stability system, leather seating and programmable automatic door locks.

The Vibe “tall wagon” comes in three models: front-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive, and the GT. It’s the same vehicle as the Toyota Matrix; the sportier, higher-horsepower GT corresponds to the Matrix XRS. All carry a 1.8-litre four-cylinder that’s tuned with valve lift for extra muscle in the GT. The FWD comes with a five-speed manual that can be optioned to a four-speed automatic. The AWD comes exclusively with the automatic, while the GT comes strictly with its exclusive six-speed manual.

All models come with fog lights, power mirrors, roof rack, 16-inch wheels, variable intermittent wipers front and back, air conditioning, floor mats, tilt wheel, cloth seats, rear 60/40 folding seat, and CD player. Both the FWD and AWD models come with disc/drum brakes; ABS is optional on FWD and standard on AWD.

The GT adds 16-inch aluminum wheels, cruise control, power locks with keyless entry, power windows, leather-wrapped wheel, 200-watt, seven-speaker stereo, and four-wheel disc brakes.

The Vibe is an excellent alternative to a compact SUV; it has a smaller footprint, better fuel economy and lower centre of gravity, but you can still stuff an awful lot into it, especially with the rear seat folded. Its tall stance makes for impressive headroom, and the upright driving position allows excellent visibility. The new, softer nose means it no longer looks like a mini-Aztek, and that’s a good thing.

The AWD system is torque-on-demand, meaning that the front wheels pull it along exclusively unless they slip and some of the torque is transferred to the rear. The extra weight puts a bit more strain on the powerplant, dropping the horsepower rating from 130 hp to 123 hp, but it’s still capable of moving the Vibe along.

There are several competitors in this category, including the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Suzuki Aerio, Ford Focus ZX5 and the upcoming Chevrolet HHR. The Matrix also throws its weight in; the Vibe has a higher starting price, but the FWD and AWD Matrix models come in two trim lines, and the base models don’t have as many features as the Vibe. You have to move up to the Matrix XR to get much of the Vibe’s equipment, and prices climb accordingly. You’ll also have to figure out exactly what you want, since the equipment lists don’t match exactly.

The Vibe is built in Fremont, California.

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