2006 Pontiac Vibe GT
2006 Pontiac Vibe GT. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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Pontiac Vibe, 2003-2008

In 1984, Toyota and General Motors launched New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI), a joint venture that allowed Toyota to establish a manufacturing facility in the United States. It also benefited GM, as it allowed the American company to sell Toyota-engineered products under its own brands’ banners.

Among these have been a couple of Chevrolets (the 1984-1988 Nova and the 1998-2002 Prizm), a Geo (the 1990-1997 Prizm) and most recently, the 2003-2008 Pontiac Vibe.

The thread that ties all of these models together is that all have been based on Toyota Corolla platforms and running gear; more specifically, the Vibe is a near-identical twin to the Corolla-based Toyota Matrix.

2006 Pontiac Vibe GT
2006 Pontiac Vibe GT. Click image to enlarge

The Vibe first arrived in Pontiac stores in 2002 as a 2003 model. Most models used a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine making 130 horsepower, or 123 horses in an all-wheel drive version. There was also a Vibe GT that used a high-revving variant of the same motor that produced 180 horsepower, at least until 2006, when stated output was revised to 164.

New horsepower calculating methods for 2007 models meant lower power numbers, but didn’t affect performance; the new horsepower numbers were 126 and 118 for regular and all-wheel drive Vibes.

The base transmission was a five-speed manual; a four-speed automatic was optional in all but the all-wheel drive model, which got the auto as standard equipment. The sportier Vibe GT used a six-speed manual as the only choice.

In 2007, the all-wheel drive and GT models were dropped, the all-wheeler supposedly due to low demand, and the GT because the high-revving motor no longer met emissions standards.

2007 Pontiac Vibe
2007 Pontiac Vibe. Click image to enlarge

The Vibe’s Toyota running gear made for economical operation. A 2003 base Vibe with manual transmission was rated at 7.7 L/100 km (city) and 6 L/100 km (highway), while choosing the automatic drove consumption up to 8.3 L/100 km (city) and 6.4 L/100 km (highway). The all-wheel drive model’s numbers were 9.1/6.9, and the GT’s were 9.3/7.1.

Consumer Reports calls the Vibe a “good bet” in its used vehicle ratings. The only trouble spot that publication notes is poor paint quality, which is reflected in comments in the forums at Generation Vibe (GenVibe.com). Apparently, the problem lies in a too-thin clearcoat and soft paint, which results in paint chips in the hood, among other issues (http://forums.genvibe.com/zerothread?id=5132).

Another thread details cold starting problems that owners have linked to a too-weak original equipment battery. (http://forums.genvibe.com/zerothread?id=2976)

Other problems that cropped up in my research for a used Matrix article (http://www.autos.ca/articles/cc/02-06matrix.htm) include a rough idle and auto transmission cooler lines that cause a “whistle” or “hoot” sound under light acceleration. Clutch failures in the Matrix XRS (the Toyota version of the Vibe GT) seem to be common, but there’s a fair chance this is related to XRS and GT buyers being more aggressive drivers than the average Matrix or Vibe owner.

2005 Pontiac Vibe GT
2005 Pontiac Vibe GT. Click image to enlarge

A 2003 Vibe crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) earned five stars for driver and front passenger protection in frontal impact tests. In side impact tests, a Vibe without optional front-seat side airbags earned five stars for front-seat and four for rear-seat occupant protection.

Interestingly, in 2005, another Vibe tested without side airbags earned three stars for driver protection in side impacts, while the passenger rating in frontal impacts was reduced to four stars.

In 2007, the NHTSA tested Vibes both with and without side airbags; without, the results were the same as those for 2005 and 2006, but results with side airbags were five stars for driver protection in both frontal and side impacts, and four stars each for front passenger protection in frontal crashes and for rear-seat occupant protection in side impacts.

According to Canadian Red Book, used Vibe values range from $6,175 for a 2003 base model, to $16,325 for a 2008 base model (note that all-wheel drive and GT models were dropped after 2006).

Vibe GT values start at $7,100 for a 2003 and top out at $14,300 for a 2006, while all-wheel drive values range from $6,675 to $12,950.

2003 Pontiac Vibe
2003 Pontiac Vibe. Click image to enlarge

While the availability of all-wheel drive is a nice touch, I don’t think it’s really necessary on this type of vehicle, and serves mostly to increase fuel consumption. Meanwhile, the GT’s engine is peaky and not a lot of fun in daily driving unless you’re a regular stoplight drag racer; plus, the high-revving motor used here likes premium fuel. Therefore, a front-drive, non-GT model is the best choice for economical operation.

A 2005 base Vibe is worth just under $10,000. While going for a basic Matrix would net you a whole lot of nothing options-wise, note that the Vibe came with a healthier list of standard equipment. While the Vibe’s starting price was a few thousand dollars more, its resale values are weaker; a 2005 Matrix XR (roughly equivalent equipment-wise to the base Vibe) is worth about $3,500 more.

In the past, when car-shopping friends had asked me about the Vibe and Matrix, my advice was always this: buy the Matrix new and take advantage of its high resale value, or buy the Vibe used and benefit from its quicker depreciation.

Same goes here: the Vibe and Matrix are both smart used buys based on their reliability history, but the Vibe is by far the better deal.

Online resources

Generation Vibe is a great starting point; it’s a very busy place. Otherwise, have a look at MatrixOwners.com and the Matrix forum at ToyotaNation.com.

Related stories on Autos
First Drives
  • 2003 Pontiac Vibem by Greg Wilson
    First Drives
  • 2003 Pontiac Vibe AWD, by Jim Kerr
  • 2003 Pontiac Vibe AWD, by Haney Louka

    Manufacturer’s Website
  • General Motors of Canada

    Recalls

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2008123; Units affected: 15,257
    2003-2004: On certain vehicles, the regulator bolts – which attach the front side window glass to the power window regulator – may become loose, causing a loud noise to be generated when the window is raised or lowered. If the window is continuously operated in this condition, the bolts may eventually separate, causing the glass to become misaligned, and in the worst case, allowing the glass to completely shatter. Correction: Dealers will replace the flange bolts.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002044; Units affected: 411
    2003: Certain 2WD Pontiac Vibes have loose hub to axle bolts. This could cause the bolts to break with resultant separation of the wheel assembly from the vehicle. Correction: Dealers will tighten the bolts to the correct torque.

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

    Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

    For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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