The Vibe near the windmill at Exhibition Place - photo courtesy General Motors and Flickr
The Vibe near the windmill at Exhibition Place – photo courtesy General Motors and Flickr. Click image to enlarge

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General Motors Canada

By Chris Chase; photos courtesy General Motors and Flickr

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Autos catches the Vibe

Toronto, Ontario – It all sounds like the plot for a reality TV show: four teams of two set loose in the big city, armed with nothing more than a car, a mobile communications device, a list of clues and their intuition… How will it all end?!

Okay, so a reality TV show minus the camera crews, the million-dollar prize and, you know, the script. But I digress: the event is CatchTheVibe, conceived by General Motors to promote the second-generation, 2009 Pontiac Vibe.

It’s a similar concept to the DriveTheVibe event that put the original Vibe on Canada’s roads for the first time in 2002. There are a few differences, but ironically, the most notable of them have nothing to do with the car.

Where DriveTheVibe saw teams of journalists drive the original Vibe across Canada, CatchTheVibe confines the action to the streets of the country’s three largest cities: Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. DriveTheVibe participants had to haul around a carload of electronics – laptop, digital camera, cellphone, BlackBerry and satellite phone – in order to post blog updates from the road. For CatchTheVibe,, competitors were armed with nothing but a BlackBerry Pearl 8130 with which to capture and upload photos, video and blog entries from all over the city.

Catch the Vibe - Chris Chase and partner Nestor Arellano at the Lion on the Beach pub in Toronto's Beaches neighbourhood - photo courtesy General Motors and Flickr
Catch the Vibe – Chris Chase and partner Nestor Arellano at the Lion on the Beach pub in Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood – photo courtesy General Motors and Flickr. Click image to enlarge

If mobile communications technology has seen a revolution in the years since the DriveTheVibe event, Pontiac – in concert with Toyota, whose Matrix is a mechanical and structural cousin to the Vibe – saw fit to make nothing more than evolutionary changes to the Vibe. Was the original that good? Must have been, judging by how familiar the new one is.

Pontiac made the CatchTheVibe event distinct from most new vehicle launches by inviting journalists from non-automotive disciplines. I was teamed up with Nestor Arellano, a writer for a Toronto-based information technology trade magazine. He and I made good use of the car, an all-wheel drive Vibe with the newly-available 2.4-litre engine, driving more than 200 km around Toronto to collect what we needed to complete the day’s tasks.

These ranged from the simple – find out how long it’s been since the Toronto Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup (41 years) and how long the elevated part of the Gardiner Expressway is (just under seven kilometers) – to the complicated, like making a one-minute video of a team member co-opting a street vendor’s cart to sell hot dogs.

Throughout the day, we submitted photos, videos and blog entries to CatchtheVibe.ca. Friends, family and bored public servants could follow along from their cubicles and home computers and even e-mail hints and help to team members. Nestor and I got some help from a guy named Jerry Ottembrajt, who sent us frequent e-mails with tips on where to find the stuff we were looking for (thanks, Jerry, whoever you are!).

CatchTheVibe started with four days of competition in Montreal during the last week of March. Toronto was the second venue, where the four graphics-festooned Vibes hit the streets starting April 1. The third leg goes in Vancouver April 14 through 17.

If the event was designed to highlight the Vibe’s urban-friendliness, it worked. The new, optional 2.4-litre engine (this motor serves as the base powerplant in the Toyota Camry) is strong and moved our all-wheel drive Vibe with authority, even though we had the four-speed automatic transmission (a five-speed auto is available with the 2.4-litre, but only on front-wheel drive models). Fuel consumption calculations weren’t exactly a priority, but by the end of our 205-kilometre day of mostly city driving, the fuel gauge showed that we’d used about half of the 50-litre tank.

Chris and the Vibe in front of the Royal Ontario Museum - photo courtesy General Motors and Flickr
Chris and the Vibe in front of the Royal Ontario Museum – photo courtesy General Motors and Flickr. Click image to enlarge

Handling felt secure as we scooted along Toronto’s arterial highways, and the brakes hauled us to a confident stop for many a red light during a foray into the suburban mecca of Mississauga. The front seats are comfortable – we should know, having spent a full day getting in and out of them – though we didn’t have time to check out much of the rest of the interior.

Under-the-skin changes from the first to second-generation Vibe are more or less a cut-and-paste job of the update made to the Toyota Matrix for 2009. The base engine is still a 1.8-litre four-cylinder, though horsepower and torque increase to 132 hp and 128 lb-ft from 126 and 122, respectively.

The Vibe GT returns for 2009, but uses the new 2.4-litre engine instead of the high-revving version of the 1.8-litre that powered the last GT (which was discontinued in 2007). One nice option is the ability to get the larger engine in any Vibe model. Power ratings for the 2.4-litre are 158 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque.

Base transmission is a five-speed manual; the GT gives up its old six-speed manual for a five-speed. The GT’s gets shorter gearing than the base model’s manual, though. The four-speed automatic that’s standard in all-wheel drive cars is also an option in 1.8-litre Vibes. The five-speed auto is an option in any front-drive Vibe with the larger motor.

Vibe pricing starts at $15,995; the CatchTheVibe cars were AWD models (starting price, $22,995) with a $1,100 sunroof, an $800 premium sound package and satellite radio for $260. Including freight, the as-tested price came to $26,605. The 2009 Pontiac Vibe is on sale now.

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