2009 Pontiac G8
2009 Pontiac G8. Click image to enlarge
Manufacturer’s web site
General Motors Canada

Review and photos by Haney Louka

Fredericton, N.B. – Holding the media launch presentation for the new G8 from Pontiac at the oldest engineering faculty in the country – the University of New Brunswick held its first engineering course here in 1854 – is a bold move for GM’s “performance” division. Especially when you consider that, at least in my lifetime, Pontiac has been more about badge engineering than the engineering of the product itself.

All of that changes now that the country’s first new G8s are beginning to arrive at dealerships. And this isn’t just marketing, folks. The new G8 is an honest-to-goodness, rear-wheel-drive performance sedan with real-world capabilities and practicality.

2009 Pontiac G8
2009 Pontiac G8. Click image to enlarge

Based on the two-year-old Holden Commodore, a car engineered and built in Australia (and one that, by the way, was Australian Car of the Year in 2006), the G8 is identical in every way except the front fascia and hood, which are distinctly Pontiac. Right down to the twin-nostril grille and fake air intakes. Design-wise the car isn’t a breakthrough, but it is a victory for a division of General Motors that at one time saw fit to slather plastic cladding on almost all of its market offerings.

Pontiac’s marketing folks have targeted the Dodge Charger and new-for-’09 Nissan Maxima as primary competitors, but I think they’re selling themselves short. The Charger is a cruder animal with in-your-face attitude, where the G8 is cleaner and more refined. The Maxima comes only with front-wheel-drive and uses only a continuously-variable transmission, neither of which belong in a performance-oriented sedan.

To me, this is a budget Infiniti G35.

That said, it’s important to note that the G8 comes with exactly none of the luxury or prestige found in the Infiniti, but the cars’ missions are very similar: genuine performance with the practicality that people with families need.

2009 Pontiac G8
2009 Pontiac G8. Click image to enlarge

And folks who aren’t comfortable with having the rear end of a car swing out on a slick road after a little too much throttle application needn’t worry: all models have electronic stability and traction control as standard equipment. But if you revel in such antics, all you need to do is push the console-mounted button and tail-out shenanigans are a mere stab of the throttle away.

The throttle is something we got to know well during our 400-km trek south from Fredericton through St. Andrews-by-the-Sea and then east to Saint John. The route contained a nice blend of narrow, patchy two-lane roads and smooth blacktop highways, allowing us to examine both how well-planted the car felt as well as how well each engine performed under the hood of this 1,800-kg (give-or-take) sedan.

I intentionally drove the base V6 model first for a few reasons: driving the car with the tamer engine allowed me to pay more attention to things like interior fit and finish, ergonomics, and handling.

Fit and finish is where the car’s value proposition comes into focus. This isn’t a Lexus or a Volkswagen. It’s a car that’s built to a price and the designers’ priorities are exactly in the right place. What that means to prospective buyers is that you shouldn’t look too closely at things like panel gaps, plastic mould seams, or how soft the dash materials feel. If you do, you’ll be disappointed, but more importantly you’d be missing the point of this car.

2009 Pontiac G8
2009 Pontiac G8. Click image to enlarge

Ergonomically there are a few quirks that take some getting used to, but overall it’s refreshing if only because it’s a departure from the status quo. Power window, mirror, and door lock controls are located on the centre console. Only the driver’s window is a one-touch affair, and only in the down direction.

The standard seven-speaker Blaupunkt audio system (complete with XM radio) is controlled primarily using dash-mounted buttons, but there are redundant controls for some features on the steering wheel. Cruise control is activated via the turn signal stalk and climate controls are located below the audio screen and are easy to operate. The cars at the press launch all had the uplevel Blaupunkt unit with a 230-watt amp and 11 speakers.

The 3.6-litre V6 is the same design as that used in several other GM vehicles, from the Chevy Malibu to the Cadillac CTS to the GMC Acadia. It possesses a fairly broad torque curve which peaks at 248 lb-ft at 3,200 rpm. Mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, the engine moves this large sedan with surprising ease and was particularly satisfying when passing was the task at hand. My only complaint is that the engine’s sound is harsh and unrefined under acceleration.

I drove the eight-cylinder GT next, all six glorious litres of it. It’s a pushrod design shared mostly with the General’s light duty trucks like the Yukon and Silverado, with a six speed slushbox managing the power delivery. We’re talking about truly exhilarating performance here with a claimed zero-to-60 time of just 5.3 seconds and a 13.8-second quarter mile. And it sounds wonderful.

2009 Pontiac G8
2009 Pontiac G8. Click image to enlarge

The transmissions in both cars were smooth and responsive, particularly with the shift lever pushed to the right into sport mode. The driver can select gears manually, but I decided to leave it alone because the sport mode was so intuitive: lower gears were held longer and downshifts were instant at the behest of my right foot.

But the story here is not only about straight line performance: whether the cylinder count under the hood is six or eight, these cars remained composed and planted on all of the roads we drove. Great steering response, tight control of body motions, and strong braking are all accounted for.

This is a significant time in Pontiac’s history, where the engineering behind the product is finally committed to delivering what the marketing promises. Now it’s up to the public to reward GM for this bold move that has been a long time coming.

Manufacturer’s web site
General Motors Canada

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