- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2001

When verifying Pontiac's claim to excitement, you need look only as far as its venerable Grand Prix.
Freshened for 2001, it continues to carry Pontiac's banner in the crowded midsize segment. Bold, aggressive styling sets Grand Prix apart from many members of the midsize fraternity. Its WideTrack design supports its sporty mission, giving it a decidedly hunkered-down look.
Nameplates such as Camry and Accord appear downright conservative when held up to the rakish lines of Grand Prix. A vehicle aimed at owners who want to be noticed and have fun while doing so, Grand Prix isn't your run-of-the-mill family car.
Available as a sedan or coupe, Grand Prix has three trim levels: the SE (sedan only), GT and GTP. Prices range from $20,360 for the SE sedan to $25,535 for the GTP sedan. Sure you can break into the midsize segment for less than the entry-level SE, but would those less pricey sedans have dual remote outboard mirrors, dual-zone air conditioning, power door locks and windows, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and a V-6?
A lot of value is packed into the SE, and with the new $1,100 Smart Package option group with deck-lid spoiler, 16-inch aluminum wheels, upgraded cloth bucket seats, cruise control and a six-speaker audio system, the SE seems an even better deal.
My most recent Grand Prix experience was with a GTP Special Edition Coupe. The Grand Prix is about style, and eliminating two of the doors emphasizes that mission. The Special Edition refers to a new option group with deck-lid spoiler, chrome exhaust tips, chrome wheels, twin hood-heat extractors, roof fences, painted trim plates, and two-tone leather seating and door trim.
On another car, some of these features could be viewed as excessive, but this is a Pontiac after all. GM's rocket division has never been accused of subtlety. One thing is for certain, the GTP Special Edition is an eye-catcher, especially when sporting the bright red paint of my test Grand Prix.
The base SE V-6 has a 3.1-liter displacement and emits 175 horsepower. Moving up to the GT series will get you the outstanding 200 horsepower 3.8-liter V-6. For a truly moving experience, though, opt for the GTP with its supercharged version of the 3.8 V-6. It delivers 245 horsepower and 280 foot-pounds of peak torque.
A four-speed automatic transmission shepherds engine output to the front wheels for all three engines. GTP acceleration is invigorating. It's not scalded-cat fast, but from a standstill 60 mph comes up in less than eight seconds. Fuel economy is reasonable with an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway.
Grand Prix rides on four-wheel independent suspension. Tuned toward handling rather than ride, this architecture provides a firm platform. Ride quality isn't harsh, but it's no Buick LeSabre either. There is ample steering feedback and very little input is required from the driver to put this machine on a new desired heading. Braking is solid too, and the standard ABS is a big plus.
Inside, the Grand Prix looks every inch the sporty coupe it is. The front bucket seats wrap around their occupants. The instrument panel is an interesting collection of curves and angles. Everything is easily reachable by the driver. There are cup holders, pockets and storage cubby holes all over the place. The rear seat is less than spacious and despite large door openings, the rear seat is a challenge to access. Loading larger items into the spacious trunk is hampered a bit by the smallish opening. When underway, the cabin is quiet and well insulated.
Base price of the Pontiac Grand Prix GTP Coupe is $25,355. Standard features not already mentioned: traction control, variable-effort steering, dual air bags, daytime running lights, theft-deterrent system, remote keyless entry, fog lamps, AM-FM stereo CD player, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel with redundant audio controls and cruise control.
My test GTP also had an option package ($1,115) with heated seats, leather seating and power sunroof, and the Special Edition Package ($1,995). Adding the $600 delivery charge brought the price as tested to $29,465.

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