- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

Pontiac-GMC General Manager Lynn Myers is a businesswoman with a firm hand shake and a firmer grip on the General Motors division she guides.

Pontiac is the "we build excitement" passenger car side of the equation, while GMC is solidly planted in the lucrative truck market. Trucks in many forms seem to be unstoppable, with sales continuing to grow in a down-turned economy, albeit, growth that is minimal. The passenger car side of the market is having some major growing pains, with the best of the best attempting to find the right formula.

Pontiac stumbled a bit with the unexciting debut of the Aztek. But that tide is turning. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Miss Myers and drive the all-new Pontiac Vibe.

The Vibe does everything right from the beginning. It is a crossover vehicle that brings economy and comfort to a versatile and compact automobile. Miss Myers is careful not to call the Vibe a sport utility vehicle for it is much more carlike than an SUV. While it is available with all-wheel drive the Vibe is not a vehicle directed toward off-road adventures.

Designed and engineered in concert with Toyota, the Vibe is a sturdy and well designed activity vehicle that is meant to be the modern station wagon. Don't say that too loud because people cringe at the thought of driving a station wagon. Of course, that is exactly what they've been driving for years; it's just that those SUVs have four-wheel drive.

The Vibe impressed me in many areas, but at the forefront is the quality and solidness of the structure. The fit and finish of all the body panels and doors, even for the preproduction vehicles Miss Myers was allowing me to drive, was perfect. One area this is most evident is at the rear lift gate, where many other vehicles in this class fall short. The Vibe exceeded my expectations.

Instead of offering just one power plant, and probably disappointing many potential buyers, Pontiac offers two different engines in three models. There is a base, all-wheel drive and a GT Vibe. The base engine is a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder that produces 130 horsepower and 125 pounds-feet of torque. The all-wheel-drive model is equipped with the same engine, but the torque is lowered to 118 pounds-feet because of the manner with which the exhaust must be routed for the all-wheel-drive system.

The GT receives a boost in performance from the more powerful engine and a tuned suspension system. The GT engine is a Yamaha-modified 1.8-liter four-cylinder that is a completely different than the base engine. After Yamaha gets through working its wonders, the GT engine produces 180 horsepower.

According to John Mack, chief designer, although they started with a basic two-box design typical of a wagon configuration, they modified it tremendously to refrain from appearing wagonish. "We worked hard to retain the dihedral angles to give the Vibe's belt line a more aggressive appearance," Mr. Mack said. Yes, the Vibe retains a Pontiac family resemblance with the front-end design, but what is noticed right away is the absence of huge amounts of body cladding.

The interior incorporates an active-lifestyle design much like the Aztek, but this execution is far superior and more fashionable. The amalgamation of silver and chrome trim, coupled with the manner with which the interior design comes together makes for an attractive package. It is a new direction for Pontiac.

Keeping in mind that this is essentially an economy vehicle, so the fact that it doesn't have neck-snapping power isn't a hindrance. The Vibe demonstrates that Pontiac is knocking on the door of a new era. On the subject of where Pontiac is headed from here, I turn to Miss Myers' reply to my question. "Just keep watching, you'll be pleasantly surprised, certainly you won't be disappointed," she said.

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