Wednesday, July 05, 2006

DRIVEN: 2006 Pontiac G6 GTP

Story by Steven James Day
Photos courtesy Steven James Day and GM Canada

Driving the 2006 Pontiac G6 GTP reminded me that I’m old enough to remember when GM offered its mid-size sporty cars such as the Lumina Z34 and Pontiac Grand Prix GTP with manual transmissions. They weren’t always the most refined, but they were quick and, most importantly, fun to drive. Then, citing poor sales, almost all the manual transmissions were cancelled and GM asked people to settle for automatics. And while GM does build some of the best automatics in the business, it’s no substitute for a proper manual.

Well, it’s 2006 and building a sporty car without a manual just doesn’t cut it, so Pontiac found a six-speed manual for the new G6 GTP coupe and sedan. Although they share identical drivetrains, I prefer the look of the coupe, so I arranged to test a Liquid Silver example that also featured the optional Ebony leather interior. The GTP-badged heated sport seats are very well bolstered, supportive and comfortable all at once. I can also honestly say that the quality of leather is one of the best I’ve experienced in any recent GM product that doesn’t have a wreath and crest on it. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is nice and chunky, with the shift knob (also leather wrapped) fitting well in my hand. The shifter doesn’t feel as precise as a Honda’s, but is smooth nonetheless.

The overall interior fit and finish is well executed, and although some of the trim pieces seemed to differ greatly in quality, it doesn’t feel cheap. You certainly won’t mistake it for an Audi, but it is leaps and bounds over anything that ever wore a Grand Am badge. The ergonomics are great and all of the controls were intuitive and easy to use. The four-gauge cluster (240 km/h speedometer, 6,000 RPM tach, water temp and fuel) was clean, attractive and easy to read, and light up at night in the orange-red that has been a Pontiac trademark for years now.

The standard eight-speaker 200-watt Monsoon stereo sounds crisp, clear and very loud for a stock system. It even features speed-compensating volume control, and since my test car had the leather interior, redundant controls were on the steering wheel. You can opt for the oddly named sport package to get the radio controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel/shift knob with the standard cloth interior.

Two optional features that my test car was equipped with was a six-disc in-dash CD changer ($435) and XM satellite radio ($325 plus monthly subscription). I might be a bit biased here since I do have XM in my personal car and love it, but I think one negates the other since I rarely listen to CD’s anymore since getting XM. Although I know quite a few people that can’t fathom paying $12-15 a month for radio, I find it worth every penny not to have to listen to the commercials and repetition that come with regular radio.

BMW’s Chris Bangle has drawn more than a little fire for his designs over the last few years, but you can clearly see the impact he’s had when it comes to automotive design. For someone who is supposedly reviled as a designer you can see his influence in quite a few cars, such as the new Lexus LS. Add the G6 coupe to the list because there is a crisp line in the trunk that is obviously the result of Bangle’s influence. Bob Lutz did hint that he saw Pontiac as the American BMW. Maybe those recent rumours of Pontiac’s entire line up going RWD will come true.

Back to the G6 – there’s a little Toyota Camry Solara in the rear with a hint of Nissan 350Z in the taillights. But overall the exterior is very clean, uncluttered and – most importantly – cladding free. The standard 18 x 7 inch wheels and chrome dual exhaust tips are a nice touch.

The only proportion that I found odd is when viewing the G6 directly in profile. The optional 18-inch ultra-bright polished wheels are pushed to the corners thanks to its stretched wheelbase, so it seems a bit long. However that translates into above-average rear-seat room for a coupe. I put my five-year-old son and his booster seat in the rear and had no issues buckling him in. I thought the rear window might be a bit too high for him to see out of, but he assured me that he could see just fine. Sitting “behind myself” was comfortable, but I don’t know if I could take sitting for a long trip back there. But then again I don’t plan to be anywhere but the driver’s seat…

Speaking of the driver’s seat, there were no problems getting comfortable thanks to the aforementioned sport seats that feature six-way power adjustment and manual lumbar support. Although clutch take-up is bit heavy, it’s nothing to be concerned with, and since the G6’s 3.9 litre V-6 produces 241 lb-ft of torque at only 2,800 rpm, the car launches with confidence when the throttle is mashed. Torque steer is minimal even with the standard traction control switched off and Pontiac claims a 0-100 km/h time of just less than 7 seconds, which I have no reason to dispute.

Horsepower comes in at a very respectable 240 @ 6,000 rpm. The engine is torquey off the line, simply just explodes above 4,000 rpm and pulls hard all the way to redline. The 3.9-litre V6 accomplishes this without four valves per cylinder or overhead cams, however it does feature variable intake valve timing and variable induction.

Out on the highway at 120km/h in sixth gear the engine just loafs along at around 2,000 rpm, which should make for very decent fuel economy. There is more than enough power to pass if you need to or just drop a gear or two and you’ll slingshot by just about anything. There also weren’t any squeaks or rattles as the NVH was kept to a minimum. I could hear my passenger without any problem.

The G6 feels way more Saab than Pontiac, which makes sense since it is based off GM’s Epsilon platform, which also underpins the Saab 9-3. The chassis absorbed any bumps I could throw at the car with a minor thump, and while the ride is firm it’s not harsh. The steering is weighted perfectly to the suspension and at 8/10ths the car handles very well. But when driving at 10/10ths and you push it a little too hard into a corner, understeer is the result as the 225/50R18 inch all-season performance tires lose grip. There is also quite bit of body roll through some tighter corners.

Should you push it beyond your capabilities, GM has fitted its StabiliTrak dynamic stability control system to both GTP versions, and full-function all-speed traction control is included as well. Both can be switched off via a button on the dash, but since I wasn’t able to test the G6 at the safety of a track I can’t say whether or not ‘off’ does indeed mean ‘off.’ While it’s nice to have collision-avoidance features such as ABS and StabiliTrak as standard equipment on the GTP, I would like to see the optional front and rear side-impact and head curtain airbags standard as well. However, unlike StabiliTrak, the front and rear side-impact and head curtain airbags are available across the entire G6 line. ABS is also optional on the lower trim levels.

My tester’s four-wheel discs with ABS possessed fantastic pedal feel and stopped the car repeatedly with confidence and without issue. Gone is the long travel and mushy feel of previous GM brakes.

Base price is a very reasonable $29,885 for the GTP coupe, while my test car came to $34,882 before freight or taxes. This price as tested includes $1,732 for the leather seats, $1,195 for the power sliding sunroof, $1,310 for the Ultra-bright polished 18-inch wheels, $435 for the six-disc in-dash CD changer and $325 for XM. I would skip the leather, polished 18 inch wheels and CD changer and opt for the side impact/head curtain airbags.

I enjoyed my time with the G6 GTP. It’s not a raw performance coupe – neither are its Accord or Solara competition for that matter – but is a very nice GT-type car with lots of standard features, luxury touches and quite a bit of refinement with excellent balanced performance. The G6 GTP would make an excellent daily driver, just be sure to opt for the six-speed to make it a fun daily driver. For a slightly higher base sticker price of $36,885 and slightly lower horsepower rating of 227 horsepower and no six-speed manual the GTP is also available as a hardtop convertible.

Georgian Pontiac in Barrie, ON provided the author’s 2006 Pontiac G6 GTP.