Pontiac Grand Am GT shown, Click image to enlarge

by Greg Wilson

The 2002 Pontiac Grand Am SE Coupe, which starts at a very reasonable $21,640, comes with GM’s new global 2.2 litre four cylinder engine with 140 horsepower. Though this is less than the 150 horsepower of the previous engine, the Grand Am still offers reasonable performance and slightly better fuel economy. Standard equipment on the 2002 Grand Am SE includes a new 5 speed Getrag manual transmission (introduced mid 2001), 15 inch tires, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD, power steering, power door locks, anti-lock brakes, and a fully independent suspension.

New four cylinder is technologically superior, but will buyers notice?

Now into its third year since a major redesign, the Pontiac Grand Am Coupe and Sedan models are best known for their tacked-on ribbed body cladding and their relatively low retail prices. 2002 Grand Am SE four cylinder models start at $21,640, while well-equipped V6-powered GT models start at a reasonable $27,005. Most of the Grand Am’s domestic and import competitors (with the exception of the Oldsmobile Alero) are between $2,000 and $6,000 more than this.

Until this year, the base Grand Am model came with a peppy but rather unrefined 2.4 litre DOHC four cylinder engine — for 2002, GM has replaced it with an all-new global ‘Ecotec’ 2.2 litre four cylinder powerplant that is smoother, more fuel-efficient, and offers reduced emissions. The Ecotec engine is shared with many of GM’s 2002 models including the Chevrolet Cavalier, Pontiac Sunfire, Oldsmobile Alero, Saturn L-Series and Saturn VUE.

A few other minor changes were made to the Grand Am for 2002: a CD player and six speakers became standard on the base SE model; and all Grand Am models received a new LATCH child seat safety restraint system (Lower Anchors and top Tethers for Children), and a new glow-in-the-dark internal manual trunk entrapment release handle.

2002 Pontiac Grand Am SE1
Pontiac Grand Am SE1 sedan, Click image to enlarge

An important addition midway through the 2001 model year was a new Getrag 5-speed manual transmission. For 2002, it’s offered only on the base Grand Am SE model, not the uplevel GT model which comes with a standard 170 horsepower 3.4 litre OHV V6 engine mated to a standard four-speed automatic transmission.

My test car this week is the sporty SE1 two-door coupe ($23,465) with a manual transmission. The SE1 package includes front and rear foglights, rear spoiler, side sills, and more standard interior features than the base SE model has such as split folding rear seatbacks, power windows, cruise control, remote keyless entry, and height-adjustable driver’s seat. My test car also had an option package which included chromed 16 inch alloy wheels and 225/50R-16 inch radials, power moonroof, and a Monsoon Premium stereo with eight speakers. Total as tested price (with Freight) came to $25,725.

Ecotec engine makes gains, but are they enough?

If perception is everything, then the new 2.2 litre four cylinder engine may go unnoticed by Grand Am buyers. With its lightweight design, internal balance shafts, coil-on-plug ignition, roller valve lifters, and equal length air intake runners, the new modular 2.2 litre twin cam 16 valve Ecotec four cylinder engine represents the latest in engine efficiency, reduced fuel consumption, low emissions and ease of production.

But when strict performance and fuel economy figures are compared with its predecessor (the 2.4 litre DOHC 16 valve four cylinder powerplant), the Ecotec engine doesn’t appear to be much of an improvement. With 140 horsepower @ 5600 rpm and 150 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4400 rpm, the Ecotec is actually less powerful than the 2.4 litre engine with 150 horsepower @ 5600 rpm and 155 lb.-ft of torque @ 4400 rpm. One could argue that the 2.2 litre engine develops almost as much power from less displacement – but this won’t be felt in the seat of your pants.

Fuel consumption isn’t much better either: the Ecotec engine offers 11.0 l/100 km (26 mpg) in the city and 7.0 l/100 km (40 mpg) on the highway, while its predecessor offered 11.4 l/100 km (25 mpg) in the city and 7.2 l/100 km (39 mpg) on the highway (with manual transmission). Still, you can’t complain about 40 mpg on the highway in a mid-size sporty coupe, and the SE uses Regular Unleaded gas. I noted there is no locking gas cap or fuel door though.

On the road, the driver and passengers will notice an improvement in engine smoothness and quietness, particularly at highway speeds where the Ecotec engine is virtually silent and smooth-running. Engine speeds in top gear are 2200 rpm at 100 km/h and 2700 rpm at 120 km/h.

During acceleration however, the engine growls loudly – louder than I remember the same engine doing so in the Saturn L-Series and VUE. Perhaps, this Ecotec engine has been deliberately tuned for a sportier sound.

For a small engine, it has a fair amount of torque, and I found it easy to accelerate away at 50 km/h in fifth gear. It’s quite comfortable tooling around town in third gear, and is responsive to throttle input when pulling away from a traffic light.

My car had the Getrag 5 speed manual transmission, and frankly, I was a bit disappointed with it. I found it occasionally clunky and often noisy — in particular, changing from first gear to second gear was balky. Shift lengths aren’t overly long, but the shifter doesn’t have the sure, direct feel that some of its competitors have. Still, it’s not something you couldn’t live with.

One feature I found irritating: the transmission must be in Reverse gear before the ignition key can be removed. And if you put the gear lever in Reverse after you pull up the hand brake lever, you’ll catch your knuckles between the gear knob and the handbrake.

I wasn’t impressed with the flexible boot material at the base of the shifter — it’s made of a cheap-looking plastic material that’s supposed to look like leather.

I found the clutch pedal effort moderate and clutch engagement was smooth and chatter-free.

For a sporty car, the Grand Am has a really comfortable ride. There is none of the usual stiffness and limited wheel travel that you expect in a sporty two-door coupe. And the handling is crisp and responsive too. The suspension is fully independent: MacPherson struts in front and tri-link at the rear, and the standard tires are beefy Goodyear Eagle 225/50R-16 inch radials.

The Grand Am’s power rack and pinion steering is neither too vague nor too responsive — it’s somewhere in the middle. The SE doesn’t get the variable-effort steering offered in the V6 model. Its turning diameter of 11.5 m (37.7 ft.) is reasonable for a mid-size coupe.

Grand Am SE models have standard front disc/rear drum brakes with four-wheel ABS as standard equipment, but the four wheel disc brakes offered on the GT model are not available on the SE.

I found outward visibility to the front and to the sides unobstructed, but the Grand Am’s high tail and stylish but functionally-useless add-on rear spoiler impaired vision when backing up into a parking space.

Interior impressions

2002 Pontiac Grand Am with leather
Leather seating shown, Click image to enlarge

Typical of a two-door coupe, the Grand Am’s doors are long and heavy — not a problem in a vacant parking lot, but an annoyance when you’re parked three feet away from another car, or beside a concrete wall.

The Grand Am’s bulging, rounded dashboard looks as if it is being inflated from behind. The speedometer and tachometer are buried in two over-sized pods, and there are three large round air vents strategically positioned on top of the dashboard. Sensibly, the centre stack protrudes outwards for easier reach, and my test car included the optional Monsoon AM/FM/CD/cassette with eight speakers which includes protruding buttons and a red backlit liquid crystal display that matches the red instruments and controls. I’m not an expert on car stereos, but I enjoyed the rich, panoramic sound of this stereo and its easy-to-use controls.

The seats are covered in soft, velour-type cloth and I found the driver’s seat wide and comfortable although the backrest was a bit firm. My car had the optional power seat-height adjustment. I found most dash and door controls are easy to reach, including the door-mounted power window buttons that are angled towards the driver, large ring-type interior door handles, twist-type headlight controls on the left stalk, and an ignition keyhole in the dash rather than on the steering column.

The Grand Am’s long doors do have one advantage — they make it easier to get into the back seat. The front passenger seats slides forwards when the seatback is released, but the backrest doesn’t return to its normal position when pushed back.

The rear seat offers adequate headroom and legroom for average adults, and there are three seatbelts – two outboard 3 point safety belts, and a centre lap belt — but there are no rear head restraints. There are two fold-out rear cupholders, but no fold-down centre armrest. The 70/30 folding rear seatbacks are released from inside the trunk with two straps to prevent unauthorized access to the trunk.

The Grand Am’s fully-lined 14.6 cubic feet trunk is big and has a wide opening, but the liftover height (773 mm/30.4 in.) is higher than average.

Competitor overview

Mid-size coupes aren’t very popular these days, so the $23,465 Grand Am Coupe SE1 doesn’t have too many direct competitors. Possible competitive mid-size, two-door coupes with four cylinder engines include the Oldsmobile Alero GL Coupe ($23,755), Chrysler Sebring Coupe LX ($28,580), Honda Accord Coupe SE ($24,800), and Toyota Solara SE ($27,265).

The Alero, built on the same platform with the same engine is basically the same car with different styling. It’s comparable in every respect to the Grand Am except resale value where it’s likely to be less valuable after a few years due to the fact that Oldsmobile is going out of business soon.

The Chrysler Sebring Coupe is considerably more expensive than the Grand Am, but is roomier and more stylish. It’s not offered with a manual transmission, and because it’s heavier, it’s about a second slower from 0 to 100 km/h even though it has 10 more horsepower.

The Honda Accord SE is a little more expensive than the Grand Am SE, but it is more refined, offers better fit and finish, and is about a second quicker to 100 km/h. And of course it has Honda’s reputation for reliability.

The Toyota Solara SE is considerably more expensive than the Grand Am and isn’t offered with a manual transmission. But it is roomier and a little quicker to 100 km/h even though it weighs more. Base on the Camry platform, it too has a good reputation for reliability.

It’s worth noting that the Sebring, Accord and Solara come with 5 year/100,00 km powertrain warranties — something the Grand Am and Alero don’t offer.


The Grand Am’s aggressive exterior and interior styling is strictly a matter of taste, so I won’t get into the merits and demerits of its fashion sense. There is no doubt that the Grand Am is a good value — perhaps the best value – in its class; and it offers a peppy and fuel-efficient four cylinder engine, snappy handling, a comfortable ride, and a comfortable interior. Mostly though, the Grand Am is a good value.

Grand Ams are assembled in Lansing, Michigan.

Technical Data:

2002 Pontiac Grand Am SE1
Base price (SE) $21,640
Base price (SE1) $23,465
Freight $845
Options $1,415
Price as tested $25,725
Type 2-door, 5 passenger coupe
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.2 litre ‘Ecotec’ 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 140 @ 5600 rpm
Torque 150 lb.-ft. @ 4400 rpm
Transmission 5-Speed manual
Tires 225/50R-16 inch radials
Curb weight 1385 kg. (3050 lb.)
Wheelbase 2718 mm (107.0 in.)
Length 4732 mm (186.3 in.)
Width 1788 mm ( 70.4 in.)
Height 1400 mm ( 55.1 in.)
Trunk space 413 litres (14.6 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 11.0 l/100 km (26 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.0 l/100 km (40 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km

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