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Base G6 Evokes Little 'Gee Whiz'

2005 Pontiac G6

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 10, 2004; Page G01

General Motors Corp. makes good cars. The problem is that it makes too many of them. This confuses things.

Take the 2005 Pontiac G6, which replaces the Grand Am as Pontiac's mid-size sedan.

2005 Pontiac G6

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: On the G6-6 Cylinder and G6 GT, the interior trunk lid lacks a vanity cover. So, various steel supports and locator holes are exposed, creating a less-than-attractive sight and adding an air of cheapness where none should exist.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Good marks all around in the G6 GT; good-to-excellent marks in the prototype G6 GTP. The G6-6 Cylinder is quite ordinary in every respect.

Head-turning quotient: A very nice exterior for the three models I played with. The interior in all three models is attractive -- but more so in the GT and GTP.

Body style, layout: The G6 GT and G6-6 Cylinder are front-engine, front-wheel-drive sedans with traditional trunks. Trunk-mounted release levers can be used to flip the rear seats forward for more cargo space.

Engines/transmissions: The standard G6 engine is a 3.5-liter V-6 that develops 200 horsepower at 5,600 revolutions per minute and 220 foot-pounds of torque at 3,200 revolutions per minute. The engine is linked to a standard four-speed automatic transmission that can also be operated manually. The GTP will get a 240-horsepower V-6 and a six-speed manual transmission.

Safety: Four-wheel disc brakes; anti-lock system and traction control standard on GT and optional on 6 Cylinder; dual-stage front air bags; seat belts (use them). Side bags are optional.

Capacities: The G6 sedans have seating for five people. Trunk capacity is 14 cubic feet. The cars can be equipped to tow up to 1,000 pounds. The fuel tank holds 16 gallons of recommended regular unleaded gasoline.

Mileage: I averaged 25 miles per gallon in city/highway driving in the G6 GT.

Price: The base G6-6 Cylinder starts at $21,300. The G6 GT starts at $23,925. No pricing yet available for the G6 GTP, coupe or convertible. The tested GT came with $2,000 in options and a $625 destination charge, taking its total price to $26,550. Estimated dealer's invoice price with those options and destination charge is $24,000. Pricing sources include Pontiac and Edmunds.com.

Purse-strings note: The G6 GT is a buy. People interested in the base G6-6 Cylinder would be better off buying the new Chevrolet Cobalt instead.

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At the moment, there are two versions of the G6 on sale in the United States -- the base G6-6 Cylinder and the upscale G6 GT. Both are good sedans with available seating for five people. Both certainly are more attractive cars, inside and out, than the over-clad, boy-racer-inspired Grand Am.

But the G6 GT is substantially better than the G6-6 Cylinder. It has better seats, a better suspension system and an overall better feel -- for nearly $3,000 more.

That discrepancy in quality could lead to buyer's remorse and possibly widespread rejection of the G6. Here's why: Most of Pontiac's G6 advertisements feature the GT. Some even hint at the even more powerful, super-spiffed G6 GTP.

The G6 GTP, along with a very nice G6 coupe and a G6 convertible with a retractable hardtop, will go on sale in the United States next year. Those are the hip, hot mainstream cars that will help restore Pontiac's long-fading image as GM's "excitement" and "action" division.

That revival won't come about with the okay-but-fairly-ordinary G6-6 Cylinder. It will happen somewhat with the better-than-okay-but-several-steps-below-exciting G6 GT. Those are the kinds of cars you give away on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" -- sort of a motorized version of a Habitat for Humanity charity gesture -- good, solid cars like Habitat's decent, affordable housing, but nothing that will dramatically move the market.

Thus, people going to the G6-6 Cylinder with G6 GT expectations will be disappointed, just as those going to the 200-horsepower G6 GT with 240-horsepower G6 GTP dreams will be similarly disgruntled. All of those models wear the G6 nameplate, but they vary widely in their ability to please the customer.

Frankly, Pontiac should drop the base G6-6 Cylinder. It is the kind of automobile car-rental companies buy because it's the cheapest model in the lineup. The rental companies then advertise that they have the "all-new Pontiac G6!" Excited customers take that bait only to find out that they're renting a base, marginally enjoyable car.

As a result, car-rental customers are left with the wrong impression -- that the Pontiac G6 is a good, but only so-so, kind of front-wheel-drive mid-size car.

The truth is something else. As evidenced by runs in the GT and the prototype GTP, the new G6 has much to recommend it. The GT, for example, is tightly built and well equipped. It has the best seats you'll ever find in a family sedan. Its standard 3.5-liter, 200-horsepower V-6 engine is no award-winner, but it is a very good engine that will do a better-than-adequate job of getting you where you're going.

Standard safety equipment in the GT includes anti-lock brakes, traction control, power-adjustable accelerator and braking pedals, tilt/telescoping steering wheel and dual-stage-deployment frontal air bags. Side bags are optional.

Also optional is a neat four-panel panoramic sunroof that gives the car a touch of class.

What it comes down to is this: Until the G6 GTP, G6 coupe and G6 convertible become available next fall, Pontiac's marketers ought to stop portraying the current models as road-burning hot rods, which they are not.

They are just two very decent family sedans, one with more panache than the other, sold at very reasonable prices.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company