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2008 Pontiac G8 GT

Pontiac Imports Some Thunder From Down Under

     Before the GT hit these shores earlier this year sedan shoppers looking for a bit of excitement at the Pontiac dealer had to settle for the Grand Prix GXP. Although it does have a V8, the Grand Prix’s front wheel drive chassis and archaic transmission will not cause BMW owners to get nervous at stoplights. That might start to change as the latest (and probably greatest) Pontiac starts to populate the byways of America. See, the new G8 not only packs a seriously gutsy V8, it also offers up a great transmission to send power to the rear end of a completely modern chassis. And all that adds up to a car that can get off the line like few other large sedans, but also carve corners like a much smaller one. We’re not giving anything away by saying we like GM’s latest import (designed and assembled in Australia) but it’s not without its faults. Read on.
     The area where we have no reservations is under the twin-nostril hood. The 6.0-liter pushrod V8 serves up a healthy dose of good ol’ fashioned torque (385 lb-ft) and enough horsepower (361 hp) to make it the most powerful car under $30,000. Not a bad honor. GM included its Active Fuel Management program on the engine to shut down half of the cylinders when not needed and boost fuel economy to a respectable 15-mpg city and 24-mpg on the highway. No, they aren’t Prius numbers, but the V6 version only squeezes another mile out of every gallon on the highway. Of course, acceleration this strong in a sedan this big can be kind of addicting, so your mileage will suffer accordingly if you exercise your right foot as much as we did. In GM’s full-size SUV’s the AFM cylinder deactivation is virtually undetectable but we noticed a pitch change and a slight increase in NVH through the steering wheel and floor when our car was running in V4 mode. Nothing obtrusive, but noticeable nonetheless and possibly limited to our specific tester. Still, we’ll take whatever fuel savings we can get these days.
     We wish Pontiac would let owners choose a manual transmission if they so desired, but the 6L80 6-speed automatic borrowed from the Corvette is a great match for this car. It eagerly kicks down when called upon, especially in Sport Mode and manual mode gives the driver complete control, redline be damned. Power flows from the transmission to the standard limited slip differential out back and down to optional 19” wheels. We far prefer the upgraded wheel to the standard twin-spoke 18” design, especially since it comes as part of the Sport Package (metallic pedals, summer tires, leather steering wheel) and only costs $600. Surprisingly, even with 245/40 series tires the G8’s ride strikes an almost perfect balance between comfort and control. Frost heaves don’t upset the chassis and the steering wheel never jiggles in your hand over broken pavement, yet the car takes a set when pushed hard in the corners and hunkers down for whatever you can throw at it.
     If we had to complain about something dynamically it would be that the steering gets a little too light at speed, although it always remains satisfyingly direct. While we are at it, the car is way too quiet for an American V8 sport sedan. Seriously, is Pontiac afraid somebody might find out this is a higher performance vehicle than most? Our motto is if you’re going to show off quad pipes you’d better send some sweet sounds out of them. No complaints needed in the brake department with big 12.6-inch discs up front with dual-piston calipers and even bigger 12.7-inch discs at the rear with single piston calipers. The brake pedals is very responsive although maybe a bit softer than other sports sedans.
     Inside the Australian designed and built G8 fares much better than the GTO that Holden sent to our shores a few years ago. There are a few clues that this isn’t your typical American car, but most (center window switches, separate radio power button, odd button markings) can be adapted to in short order. Most materials are quite good although you’d better like black because that is about the only choice you have unless you want red accents on the seats. The steering wheel is a delight to grip and the tach and speedometer offer clear markings and everything is backlit with an upscale white light at night. We’d complain about the stupid digital readouts at the top of the center stack but GM has already announced they won’t be in 2009 models, so who says GM doesn’t listen. The front buckets are nicely sculpted although the leather Pontiac uses is pretty rough. Overall this is an average interior for the industry in 2008 but considering what this car offers for what GM is charging, we won’t complain. At least Pontiac gives every customer a decent 230-watt 11-speaker Blaupunkt audio system in lieu of a throaty exhaust note.
     We said upfront we liked this car. Sure, it has its faults, but not many of them. It offers up a driving experience far more fulfilling than any other large sedan under $30,000 and it looks better than most too. But we’ll always look back fondly on this car for another reason. The G8 (and the 300C before it) represent a whole breed of cars that could have populated the country had $140 a barrel oil not derailed the dreams of auto enthusiasts nationwide. Bottom line: Get one while you still can.

The Good:
Mature styling, V8 power, impressive transmission, room for five, doesn’t shy away from the curves.
The Bad:
Not even the option of a manual, slightly soft steering and brake pedal, no XM radio or navigation system.
The Verdict:
Here’s hoping the replacement for the G6 is a scaled down version of this slick sedan.
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