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Review and photos by Laurance Yap
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Two-seat roadsters get a lot of media attention because of their aggressive styling and generally sportier bent, but it’s four-seaters that more people actually end up purchasing. Two of the most popular rental cars in the southern States are the Ford Mustang and Chrysler Sebring droptops; they combine a dash of style with the ability to share the fun with three of your friends. For sun-seekers not interested in screeching around corners, cars like these can seem like an ideal compromise.
Given their relative anonymity, it’s surprising how many four-seat convertibles there are on the market. In addition to the Sebring and Mustang, Canadian drivers can choose a Toyota Solara; move a bit up in price, and luxury four-seaters are available from Saab, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Audi. But while these vehicles sell in relatively decent numbers because of their relative practicality (if you don’t use the back seats for passengers, you surely will use them as parcel shelves) they’ve lacked one crucial element to make them all-weather, all-seasons machines: a folding hardtop.
Who would have thunk that it would be Pontiac to introduce a four-seat drop-hard-top first? The 2006 G6’s folding hardtop is the first such unit offered on anything even close to its sub-$40,000 price point; the Volvo C70 is nearly $20,000 more, the Lexus SC430 $20,000 over that. Like a Mercedes SL or Cadillac XLR, watching the G6’s top in motion is like watching a piece of mechanical ballet. The trunk lid swings open backwards, a trim panel slides out, and the roof bisects itself, disappearing smoothly into the top half of the cargo area. Unlike some higher (much higher) priced convertibles, the roof requires you to be in park to operate it, but it’s acceptably quick for such a large piece, disappearing in about 20 seconds.
As with all folding hardtops, you pay a price in cargo space when it’s folded. Given how large the G6’s top is, it’s remarkable that GM has managed to preserve any cargo space at all (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever tried to put luggage into the trunk of a Solstice with its roof down). What remains of the trunk when the roof is folded is a large, flat area atop the spare tire that isn’t very tall. Your laptop bag would fit in there, or a few old vinyl records, but not much else; put the roof up and there’s almost as much room as in the G6 sedan. Perhaps GM should consider fitting the G6 convertible with a tri-fold roof like the Volvo C70, or at least run-flat tires. Removing the spare would free up a lot of extra space under the folded roof.
Of course, the major advantage to having a folding hardtop in a country with a climate as variable as ours is how much more secure it is during the times you have it up. Here, the G6 was a little bit of a disappointment. While the top is nicely finished – it has a nicely-textured headliner and closes tightly against the windshield header and windows – it would rattle over every set of bumps I drove over, as if there were some loose pieces somewhere in the mechanism – and my tester had fewer than 1,000 km on its odometer.*
On smooth roads, though, the top does an excellent job of insulating the cabin from wind and road noise, and has admirably thin pillars, making for good visibility with it up (the G6’s trunk, however, is very high up, making every car behind you look like it’s already embedded in your back bumper).
Don’t let the GTP designation fool you: unlike the G6 GTP coupe, the convertible is definitely set up more for comfortable cruising than aggressive corner-carving. Perhaps in part to compensate for the huge roof opening (and a resultant loss of structural rigidity, despite additional bracing), the suspension has been set up very softly. The G6 just floats over bumps on the highway, with a little secondary rebound that reminds you of old Cadillacs. Cornering is accompanied by lots of roll, though the car always feels planted; the brakes are strong but the pedal feels wooden under your foot. The steering is quite nice, with lots of road feel.
With a 3.9-litre V6 producing 240 horses, the G6 convertible is a relatively unstressed car; acceleration is free and easy despite the automatic transmission having only four gears (the Toyota Solara, for instance, has five). Downshifts for passing are prompt and smooth and around town, there’s plenty of pep, as well as a nice growly exhaust note, off the line. One downside of the four-speed transmission is fairly high fuel consumption: at 13.7 L/100 km in mixed conditions (albeit during a very hot week when I ran the air conditioning pretty much continuously), I didn’t even match Transport Canada’s city rating, let alone the highway rating.
General Motors’ interiors continue to improve, as evidenced by my G6’s cabin. While some of the plastic surfaces still felt just a little cheap (why, for instance, is the centre console separated from the dash by a wide gap and distinguished by a different sheen of plastic when the two were obviously designed to be together in shape and material?), the overall impression was one of solidity and high quality. The optional leather seats have perforated surfaces, contrasting inserts, and nicely embossed GTP logos; the fake wood trim is convincingly lifelike; subtle chrome touches enliven the door handles, shift knob, and gauge cluster.
Still, GM has a ways to go. The Toyota Solara’s interior, for instance, is even tighter in its construction, and the ergonomics are superior as well: its radio and climate controls are bigger and easier to use, and its steering wheel telescopes as well as tilts. In the G6, I would also have appreciated a driver’s seat that was a little less reclined in its most vertical position. On the other hand, the G6’s Monsoon stereo blows the Solara’s high-end audio setup away: it pumped out tunes clean and clear even at highway speeds with the roof down.
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The optional XM satellite radio was a must-have for me at just $325; I really like the commercial-free music content, the uncensored comedy channels, and the BBC world service.
It’s thoughtful touches – little ones, like the XM radio and remote starter as well as big ones like that folding hardtop – that make the G6 convertible endearing despite its few rough edges. In its price category, it’s not the best-made convertible (that’d be the Solara), the roomiest (that’d be the Sebring) or the sportiest (that’d be the Mustang, which you can get with a V8 for about the same price as the V6 Pontiac), but in a lot of ways, it’s the most interesting. It’s neat to look at top-up or top-down, decent to drive, and turns a lot of heads. In the end, that’s what cars like this are all about, anyway.
* Subsequent investigation by General Motors found that an adjustment that was supposed to be performed during the car’s pre-delivery inspection was not done and was the source of the roof rattle. G6 convertibles delivered from dealerships should not have this problem. (ed.)
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