- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

Pontiac endures as General Motors' stylized, high-performance division.

No vehicle in its stable better reflects this mandate than the Grand Prix. Without much of the exterior bric-a-brac found on some other Pontiac models, Grand Prix is actually more conservative-looking than the smaller Grand Am. And, in its highest performance GTP form, Grand Prix delivers excitement many of its competitors can only dream about.

Available in two body styles and three trim levels, Grand Prix base prices can vary from just under $20,000 to nearly $25,000. Power plants range from the 175-horse-power (up 15 horsepower from last year) 3.1-liter V-6 (SE) to the 240-horsepower supercharged 3.8-liter V-6 (GTP). A somewhat tamer 200-horsepower version of the 3.8-liter engine is offered in the GT. My latest Grand Prix was the sporty GTP coupe.

For 2000, Pontiac created a special Daytona edition Grand Prix. Available only as a GTP coupe, this limited edition trim package is a replica of the Daytona 500 pace car. It comes with unique 16-inch aluminum wheels, functional heat extractors on the hood, rear decklid spoiler and bright exhaust tips. A special silver color is the only paint available for the Daytona, which also sports Daytona decals. Inside, the Daytona package features unique trim plates on the instrument panel and console, contrasting color seat inserts, and special Daytona emblems embroidered into the headrest inserts. Pontiac will create only 2,000 copies of the Daytona 500 pace car replica for an added $2,345 to the bottom line of the GTP coupe.

The large "Daytona" decals notwithstanding, the Grand Prix coupe is one sleek, sporty-looking package. While many coupes just look like two-door versions of the sedan, Grand Prix's two-door edition is better-looking than its four-door sibling. Its exterior lines seem to lend themselves better to two than four doors. And, after all, that's just what a coupe is supposed to do: be a more dashing version of the sedan.

In its GTP guise, Grand Prix certainly delivers on its rakish styling. General Motors has been refining the 3800 engine powering this top trim level for years. In its normally aspirated version, the 3800 is a solid performer. When supercharged, the 3.8 V-6 gets downright explosive. Put a foot to the accelerator and the Grand Prix charges off the line, sprinting from stop to 60 mph in under 8 seconds. A four-speed automatic transmission hurries engine output to the front wheels. Despite its acceleration capabilities, the GTP has earned acceptable fuel economy ratings from the government. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the Grand Prix GTP's gas mileage at 18 in the city and 28 on the highway.

Pontiac makes much of its wide-track engineering. It certainly comes into play in the Grand Prix. In driving the GTP, one gets the sense of it being anchored to the pavement. Yes, there is a touch of torque steer under hard acceleration, but once the rubber is rolling it feels stable and secure. Cornering is accomplished with minimal body roll.

Grand Prix's hospitality can be stretched to include five adults in a pinch, but four is optimum. The front seats are comfortable, offering enough support to make you feel rested after several hours on the road. A highly stylized dashboard is typical Pontiac. A profusion of buttons is scattered around the center of the dashboard. My test GTP had the jet fighter-inspired head-up display. This projects the speedometer readout and a bit of other information on the windshield. I happen to like this feature. It keeps the driver's attention focused on the road where it should be. Lots of storage places help keep the cabin free of all that stuff that seems to accumulate from cleaning to cleaning. One down side of the coupe is the absence of front shoulder belt height adjustments. Otherwise, it makes for a pleasant driving and riding experience.

Base price of the Grand Prix GTP coupe is $24,280. Standard features not already mentioned include full-function traction control, dual air bags, programmable power door locks, daytime running lamps, remote keyless entry, integrated fog lamps, dual-zone air conditioning, power windows, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel with redundant audio system controls, AM/FM stereo/CD player, six-way power driver's seat, cruise control and rear-window defogger. My test GTP also had the $2,345 Daytona pace car package, upgraded audio system ($370) with Bose speakers, front license plate cover ($10) and a trim package ($1,620) with power sunroof, heated driver's seat, four-way power lumbar support on driver's seat, head-up display and electrochromic rearview mirror. Adding the $550 deliver charge brought the price as tested to $29,185.

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