Pontiac’s long history came to an end in 2009 amidst GM’s bankruptcy and Pontiac’s lack of distinction within the General Motors family. But, the announcement came at at time when Pontiac began to distance themselves from the GM marching order, and a few years before had started producing some models with some real “driving excitement”. The GTO, which was a bit of a market fluke, may not have looked the part of a muscle car, but certainly went like one. The Solstice, the General’s answer to the Miata, hit the streets in 2006, after a very positive reception on the auto show circuit. On the heels of the Dodge Charger (and the renaissance of the big RWD-V8 American sedan), Pontiac launched the G8 in 2008, right when I turned 18–and I kept going back to the local Pontiac dealership waiting for one to arrive.
Back at the time, the new model was available with two engines, with a third coming for 2009. The base model got the fairly new 3.6L “High Feature” V6, rated at about 250hp, while the GT was blessed with a new variant of the 6.0L LS2 engine, putting out 361hp, in “L67” guise. The V8 also included cylinder deactivation, a nice touch for economy. In 2009, Pontiac put the new GXP on sale, featuring the 6.2L LS3 engine (with 430hp), a standard six-speed manual transmission, and upgraded suspension and brakes. The car was based on a Holden, the Commodore VE, and was essentially rebadged and given left-hand-drive. Sales in the USA for the G8 were rather poor due to a lack of marketing and slightly high prices (launching it not long before a recession likely didn’t help) with less than 40,000 sold in less than two years.
The car I drove was a used 2009 G8 GT in medium gray with about 40K miles on it and a gray interior, without the sport appearance package. This particular car was also equipped with a Pypes exhaust system, replacing the standard four exhaust outlets with a pair of single outlets. The G8 GT has a high level of equipment, with standard leather seats, a sunroof, a rear wing, 19″ rims, power front seats, steering-wheel radio controls, fog lights, and automatic climate control. Unfortunately, it never came with GPS navigation, which likely could have been fitted into the large center stack but somehow never was. That said, the standard Blaupunkt audio unit provides a great sound for its size, and is not too hard to figure out. The interior quality as a whole is a step above normal 2009 GM products (and a huge step forward from the Grand Prix it replaced for ’08), with rich leather and convincing plastics and colors. Styling-wise, the big G8 is sharp, with a good take on Pontiac’s corporate look, but without the ugly body cladding of years previous. Everything still worked as new, although for some reason, the G8’s seatbacks do not recline easily. I had constant trouble figuring out how to get the backrest to adjust. The power window switches are also not on the doors–they are mounted in the center console, likely so that the Commodore could be easily changed to left hand drive. But, these two flies in the ointment aren’t enough to break the deal.
In the GT model, the 6.0L GM V8 puts out 355hp (midyear 2009 models have additional catalytic converters) and is hooked up to a 6L80-E automatic transmission, with manual-shift capability, but does not use paddle shifters. A manual was considered during development for the GT but never made it to production (this was rectified with the GXP). On the move, the GT does feel quite large, owing to its wide hips and its chunky fenders. But, visibility fore and aft is quite good for its size, and the seats are both comfortable and supportive. The instrument panel is very easy to read as well.
The ride is fairly good, if a little stiff due to the large 19″ rims. The power steering is surprisingly heavy for a big American sedan–a big plus for enthusiasts and a clear reason to consider one of these over the Chrysler 300C. The brakes are balanced well, bringing this big hulk of metal to a stop without drama. Of course, though, a straight line is where this car shines. The big V8, especially with the custom exhaust on this one, has a deep idle and cuts to a roar on acceleration, with the typical sound of a big Detroit V8. It accelerates like a slingshot from a 30MPH roll up to 95 without any trouble–in fact, for a car this size, the torque and the rate of change of speed is surprising. I was not expecting the G8 GT to be as responsive as it is, but once I de-welded my foot from the gas pedal, I realized just how much fun this car is on the highway. A lot of it could be traced to the automatic transmission, which in most GM cars is a fault; in the G8, however, the 6L80-E is responsive and kicks down much faster than Chrysler’s ZF-sourced five speed auto.
Fuel economy is, of course, not so good, but with this being a V8-powered American heavyweight (built by Oz), that comes as no surprise. It has its faults, including a slightly confusing interior and below average fuel economy, but the G8 GT has its charms. It’s a shame that after GM shut down Pontiac they did not reassign some of their products to other brands, which they did do with Oldsmobile (the Bravada became the Buick Rainier, the Silhouette became the Buick Terraza, etc), as the G8 would have made a fantastic Impala replacement. However, the new Chevrolet Caprice could be considered its spiritual successor (although it is only available as a police car). This car stickered for about 32K new, and turned up used for about 23 large, a very good deal for a 3-year-old vehicle. Would I get one after this drive? I wanted one when it was new–and now that I have driven one, I want one even more.
-Albert S. Davis