Pontiac Vibe AWD
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Story by Jim Kerr

Photos by Laurance Yap

Pontiac dealers have to be excited about the new Pontiac Vibe. It is a compact five-door sports sedan/wagon/SUV, and is set to attract a whole lot of young (or young at heart), active, economically-minded buyers into their showrooms.

My first look at the Vibe confirmed what the pictures show. The styling is bold, aggressive, and appealing. Similar styling cues were used on the Pontiac Aztec, but they didn’t work because of the proportions of the body. On the Vibe, the styling looks unified and sporty. There is the traditional Pontiac plastic lower body cladding but it is not overdone.

The Vibe comes in three models and with a large list of standard equipment. The base unit is a front wheel drive model with 130 horses and a MSRP of $19,150. Even at this price, it comes with air conditioning, in-dash 115 volt AC power outlet, roof rack, CD player, power mirrors, a 5-speed manual gearbox, and much more. Add popular option packages and you get power locks, windows, cruise, 16″ alloy wheels and a four speed automatic for $22,120.

The Vibe GT starts at $26,550, but you get all the performance goodies: four wheel disc brakes, six speed manual transmission, and a 180 horsepower 1.8 litre DOHC four cylinder engine with variable valve timing and lift (VVTL-i) technology. Like the base model, the Vibe GT also comes with lots of standard equipment, including ABS and front-seat side airbags. While the Vibe GT wins the horsepower race, it does so at higher engine rpm. Surprisingly, the lower horsepower Vibe models feel almost as strong during normal driving.

Pontiac Vibe AWD
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That brings us to the Vibe AWD. The all wheel drive platform operates as a front wheel drive, with rear wheel assist. The engine is de-tuned slightly to 123 horsepower and comes only with an automatic transmission, but this is a fun car to drive. Priced slightly lower than the Vibe GT, at $26,150, the Vibe AWD again comes loaded with equipment. The passenger front seat folds flat so an 8-foot ladder can be carried on the passenger side. An in-dash 115 volt AC outlet enabled us to recharge laptop and digital camera batteries on the go. Cargo hooks were abundant, and the roof rack has several different crossbar options to carry anything from bikes to canoes. Designed for the active set, the Vibe has a 1500 lb towing capacity, just right for a personal water craft or sailboat.

Pontiac Vibe AWD
Click image to enlarge

Inside, passengers sit a little higher, almost SUV style. The front bucket seats provided excellent comfort during a long day’s drive. Fit and finish of the interior was excellent and the control layout was easy to use. Our Vibe AWD was equipped with the optional DVD-based navigation system, a first to my knowledge in this price range. Using a 5.8 inch touch screen in the centre of the dash, the system took a little experimenting to set up, but worked fine in populated areas. Unfortunately, a large part of Canada in still not mapped, so the system’s practicality is limited for most of us.

On the road, the Vibe is very civilized. On slippery, snow packed roads, the handling was balanced and predictable. The steering is solid, but could use more feedback to the driver. The all wheel drive system worked perfectly and kept us on the road several times. It’s operation is almost imperceptible to the driver, and the traction was always there when needed.

The automatic transmission was well suited to the torque of the engine, and I never felt like I needed another gear. The engine cruises smoothly and quietly, and the only time I wished for a little more power was when passing at highway speeds. ABS stopped the car in a straight line and allowed steering control on the slippery Northern Ontario roads I was driving on. Overall, the Vibe AWD provided comfortable, secure, and stable transportation, with versatile features and unique styling.

For those of you in the know, the Vibe is a joint venture between General Motors and Toyota. Toyota’s versionn is called the Matrix, and I priced slightly lower than the Vibe, but does not come will as much standard equipment. When similarly equipped, price is comparable. I would put my money on the bolder Vibe styling.

For “Vibrant” online information, check out yourvibe.com and drivethevibe.com.

Technical Data:

2003 Pontiac Vibe AWD
Base price $19,150 (fwd), $26,150 (awd), $26,550 (fwd GT)
Type Transverse front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 1.8 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 123 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 118 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Tires P205/55 R16 all-season
Curb weight 1350 kg (2976 lb.)
Wheelbase 2600 mm (102.4 in.)
Length 4364 mm (171.9 in.)
Width 1775 mm (69.9 in.)
Height 1580 mm (62.2 in.)
Cargo Capacity 547 litres (19.3 cu. ft.) seats up; 1533 litres (54.1 cu. ft.) seats down
Fuel consumption City: 9.1 L/100 km
  Hwy: 6.9 L/100 km

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