By Greg Wilson
Photos by Paul Williams
Second Opinion by Paul Williams

2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP
Click image to enlarge

After the introduction of the V8-powered Bonneville GXP earlier this year, Pontiac decided to drop a 5.3 litre V8 into the mid-size Grand Prix GXP mid-way through the 2005 model year. To their credit, this is not just an ordinary Grand Prix with too much horsepower – Pontiac also beefed up the GXP’s transmission, suspension, tires and brakes to handle the V8’s hefty 303 horsepower and prodigious 323 foot pounds of torque. Also to their credit, they gave the Grand Prix GXP a sportier look without resorting to excessive bodywork protrusions.

Interestingly, the 5.3 litre OHV V8 also features GM’s Displacement on Demand (DOD) technology which de-activates four cylinders under light load, saving up to 12% in fuel.

Currently, Pontiac offers two V6 engines in the other Grand Prix models: base and GT models have GM’s enduring 200 horsepower 3.8 litre pushrod V6, while the GTP offers the supercharged version, a 260 horsepower 3.8 litre V6.

You can recognize the V8 GXP by its sleeker nose treatment, chrome-trimmed honeycomb grilles, 18 inch performance radials and polished alloys, cross-drilled disc brake rotors, slightly lower ride height, big rear trunk spoiler, and four chromed tailpipe tips. Inside are a unique gauge cluster, suede seat inserts and numerous GXP logos.

The 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP starts at $37,110, or about $9,300 more than a base V6 Grand Prix. My test GXP had almost $5,000 worth of options bringing the as-tested price to over $43,000.

Driving impressions

2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP
Click image to enlarge

Placing a 300 horsepower V8 sideways in the engine bay of a front-wheel drive car has, as you might have guessed, some implications for the driving experience. On the positive side, the all-aluminum 5.3 litre pushrod V8 is a very smooth, quiet, powerful powerplant with good throttle response – 0 to 100 km/h goes by in about six seconds – and passing power is excellent because 90 percent of the V8’s torque is available from 1500 rpm to 5200 rpm. At freeway cruising speeds, the low revving V8 idles along smoothly. For example, at 100 km/h in fourth gear, the engine does just 1700 rpm.

Combine this with the GXP’s DOD cylinder deactivation which essentially shuts off four cylinders under light throttle load, and the GXP’s highway fuel consumption is surprisingly good: 8.1 L/100 km (35 mpg). City fuel consumption is rated at 13.5 L/100 km (21 mpg) (Natural Resources Canada figures). However, the recommended Premium Unleaded gasoline (92 octane) will cost you a bit more.

On the downside, the V8 engine’s 303 horsepower, and more importantly, its 323 foot-pounds of torque, creates some torque-steer under certain conditions. Under hard acceleration, the steering wheel attempts to pull to one side or the other and the driver must keep both hands firmly gripped on the steering wheel to maintain the desired direction. Standard traction control helps reduce front wheel-spin, particularly in slippery conditions, but probably more important to safety here is “human” traction control: common sense throttle application.

2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP
Click image to enlarge

The standard four-speed automatic transmission, which has been beefed up for the V8’s extra torque, shifts smoothly and quietly. Shifting manually with the “TapShift” requires moving the floor shifter back a notch into the ‘M’ position, and then using the ‘paddles’ on the steering wheel to shift up and down. Both paddles operate the same way: push forward to shift up, pull back to shift down. However, there is a problem with the position of the paddles. While my hands were placed at the 9 and 12 positions on the steering wheel, I found that while my forefingers could reach the back of the paddles, my thumbs were not able to reach the front of the paddles unless I released my grip. This seems like a design flaw to me. Still, when shifting manually, the transmission shifts are quick and responsive.

2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP
Click image to enlarge

Handling is surprisingly good for a V8 front-driver. The GXP’s re-worked independent suspension (front MacPherson struts with coil springs and anti-roll bar; rear tri-link coil over strut and anti-roll bar) includes Bilstein gas-charged struts and higher rate springs, and a 9 mm lower ride height. The GXP corners flat and smooth with minimal understeer or oversteer, and standard ‘Stabilitrak’ stability control activates to keep it on course in the slippery stuff. The GXP is equipped with standard 18 inch W-rated Bridgestone Potenza summer performance tires – P255/45R18 in front and P225/50R18 at the rear – mounted on forged polished aluminum wheels. These tires have great grip, but you’ll need an extra set of all-seasons or winters for the Winter. The GXP’s cabin is fairly quiet, although I noticed some tire noise from the Potenza tires on some surfaces. The engine can barely be heard.

2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP
Click image to enlarge

One problem with the GXP’s firmer suspension is a stiffer ride. The suspension feels hard over potholes and road bumps and there’s no doubt some ride comfort has been sacrificed for performance.

The GXP’s rack and pinion steering with GM’s Magnasteer II magnetic power assist system provides quick, low-effort steering response, although I wasn’t that impressed with it return-to-centre feel. The GXP’s turning circle of 11.3 metres (37.4 feet) is not bad for a large mid-size car.

Upgraded brakes include bigger four-wheel disc brakes with a standard Bosch four-channel ABS system. The brake rotors are not only larger than those of other Grand Prix models – 12.7-inch-diameter in front and 12-inch-diameter in the rear – but are vented and cross-drilled. The icing on the cake is red-painted high-performance aluminum callipers, with twin-piston callipers in the front.


Interior impressions

Despite the use of brushed aluminum trim, “engine-turned metal” look around the gauges, and suede inserts in the seats, the dark interior of my GXP test car looked rather dreary. Still, the large side bolsters on the front sport seats offer excellent lateral support, and the suede inserts are warmer on your butt on a cold morning than smooth leather. As well, the leather seats have seat heaters with two temperature choices. I found the seat cushion of the driver’s seat a bit hard, but the seat is power adjustable and mine included optional power lumbar support.

2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP
Click image to enlarge

The Grand Prix GXP is a roomy sedan with large door openings, big front seats and plenty of headroom and legroom for front passengers. Rear passengers have generous legroom and adequate headroom, but a couple of design factors make the rear seat less comfortable than it could be: the rear window is directly above the passenger’s heads, and the side windows have a high ledge and a low roofline, restricting vision to the sides.

For safety, front passengers have height adjustable head restraints, but the two outboard rear head restraints are not height adjustable – however, they are positioned high enough to offer proper head restraint for average size adults. There is no middle rear head restraint. Dual front airbags are standard while side curtain airbags are optional ($750).

2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP
Click image to enlarge

The GXP’s attractive round gauges – tachometer, speedometer, fuel/coolant – are extra large for easy viewing. As well, the GXP includes a ‘Head-up display’ (HUD), which is an illuminated display projected onto the inside of the windshield ahead of the driver. The green HUD display consists of a digital speedometer, compass, transmission indicator and outside temperature gauge. To the driver, it appears to be somewhere out over the hood, and it’s quite easy to shift your eyes’ focus from the road ahead to the HUD and back again in less time than it takes to review the round instruments behind the steering wheel. The HUD can be adjusted for brightness and height with a control knob on the lower centre console. Personally, I find HUD’s distracting from the driving experience, but some drivers prefer their ease of reading.

2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP
Click image to enlarge

More information for the driver is available at the top of the centre instrument panel in an orange/black digital display that offers information on day, date, outside temperature, direction of travel, and gear selection, and other functions such as odometer and driving range.

My test car also had the optional 9-speaker Monsoon stereo system and Navigation system ($2,605). The central colour touch screen can be used to operate the stereo or the navigation system, but not at the same time. The navigation screen displays a map of the area, and can be programmed to give instructions to find a desired destination, or the nearest gas station, hotel, restaurant or GM dealer. The screen also serves as touch-screen for choosing radio stations, scanning for stations, and bass/treble/fader adjustments. However, volume adjustment and ‘Seek’ are accomplished manually with a dial and button on the dash as well as controls on the steering wheel. Neatly hidden behind the screen are the slots for the CD player and the navigation DVD.

2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP
Click image to enlarge

The optional driver/passenger automatic climate control system ($400) provides quick cool-down times in the summer heat, with separate temperature controls and a single fan control. The numerous air vents in the instrument panel can be angled to direct cool air at your face, arms and body simultaneously.

For storage, the GXP has a roomy, open bin at the bottom of the centre console and a small centre storage container under the armrest. For those trips to the Drive-Thru, there are two cupholders between the front seats and two at the rear. The GXP has a large, carpeted trunk (16 cubic feet) with a wide opening, 60/40 folding seatbacks and a fold-flat right front passenger seat for stowing long objects. The trunk can be opened remotely using a button on the key fob.


Verdict

With an emphasis on performance, the new V8-powered Pontiac Grand Prix GXP is a nice package, but high-powered V8s and front-drive seldom mix.



Second opinion


By Paul Williams

2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP
Click image to enlarge

The Pontiac Grand Prix GXP is an eye-catching car, no doubt about it. The sleek lines, iridescent paint, chrome wheels and muscular stance turned many heads on my test loop through Niagara Falls.

The car is very comfortable to drive, handles much better than you might expect, stops with authority, and has no shortage of power. That V8 engine just burbles along at highway speeds, barely exceeding 2000 rpm. It’s a fine cruiser, for sure.

But hit the gas hard and 303 hp and 323 lb-ft of torque conspire to startle the unsuspecting front wheels, causing the car to pull sharply from your intended direction. The movie “Sideways” comes to mind, as the torque-steer in the GXP is ferocious. You’d, better have both hands on the wheel before releasing all that pent-up energy under the hood. Oh, for rear-wheel drive in the GXP.

2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP
Click image to enlarge

Sounds great, though. Real V8 resonance that you can hear at idle and under gentle acceleration.

The paddle shifters are an unexpected feature, but they’re poorly placed and quickly lose their appeal. The transmission is, after all, a four-speed automatic, with fourth gear strictly for overdrive, and first loaded with torque for quick starts. That leaves two long gears, and what are you really going to do with a two-speed V8 on a twisty road?

Put it back in automatic, is what I did.

2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP
Click image to enlarge

The head-up instrument display is a great feature. I don’t know why more manufacturers don’t offer this technology. But no tachometer in the display, which seems an oversight when you have paddle shifters and all. Otherwise I liked it. You can move the numbers into a preferred position, and adjust brightness to suit.

The navigation system worked well, cleverly pivoting to allow access to the CD player.

It’s true that the Grand Prix GXP is a something of a poseur. All the exhaust pipes, racing-style door handles and chequered flag graphics, the euro-shifters and battery of knobs, switches and gauges are a bit much.

But it’s a likable machine — easy to drive, comfortable behind the wheel, and genuinely competent on the road. It even returns decent fuel economy at around 9.1 L/100km on the highway. For the money, with the nice wheels, brakes, V8 engine and creature comforts, there’s an awful lot of content.

The Pontiac Grand Prix GXP is not for everybody, but what is?


Technical Data: 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP

Base price (GXP) $37,110
Options $4,995 (Leather heated seats and 4-way lumbar adjustment $1,240; Premium 9-speaker Monsoon stereo and navigation system $2,605; side curtain airbags $750; dual zone automatic climate control $400)
Freight $1,050
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $43,255
Type 4-door, 5-passenger midsize sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 5.3 litre V8, OHV, 16 valves, D.O.D.
Horsepower 303 @ 5600 rpm
Torque 323 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic with Tapshift manual
Tires front: P255/45WR-18
  rear: P225/50WR-18
Curb weight 1625 kg (3583 lb)
Wheelbase 2807 mm (110.5 in.)
Length 5038 mm (198.3 in.)
Width 1875 mm (73.8 in.)
Height 1420 mm (55.9 in.)
Cargo capacity 453 litres (16.0 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption 13.5 L/100 km (21 mpg) Imperial
  8.1 L/100 km (35 mpg) Imperial
Fuel type Premium unleaded 92 octane
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Assembly location Oshawa, Ontario

Connect with Autos.ca