- The Washington Times - Friday, September 20, 2002

Perhaps the biggest news for Pontiac's Grand Am for 2003 is that it has shed its lower body cladding.
Because Pontiac is divesting itself of its bric-a-brac image, the plastic along the lower third of the Grand Am had to go. Otherwise, enhancements are few and far between.
One of the noticeable additions, however, is the introduction of a new SE2 trim level. Adding roughly $1,500 to the base price of the SE1 model, the SE2 comes standard with a 3.4-liter V-6, rather than the SE1's 2.2-liter four-banger. Other standard extras include a leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel with redundant audio system controls, alloy wheels, cruise control and an electric trunk release.
For another $325, the Grand Am can be equipped with the new XM satellite radio system. This offers 100 coast-to-coast stations covering every imaginable format. The real beauty of this system for folks who regularly cover wide distances is that the same station is available no matter how far you travel.
The extra cost at purchase gets you the XM setup, but there is also a monthly subscription fee of about ten bucks to receive the signal.
Another available option is the OnStar emergency and navigation system. It can summon emergency vehicles, provide destination directions or even make dinner reservations.The Grand Am is an extremely driveable car. It handles well, yet provides excellent over-the-road comfort. It certainly isn't a sports car, but feels solid and fairly well connected in the curves.
The steering is responsive with quick turn-ins. A firm brake pedal and decent stopping power provide a feeling of confidence. Anti-lock brakes are standard.
A meaty performer, the 3.4-liter V-6 delivers 170 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of peak torque. An electrically controlled four-speed automatic transmission sends engine power to the front wheels. The V-6 offers plenty of get-up-and-go. The starts aren't exactly jackrabbit quick, but less than eight seconds are needed to reach 60 mph from a standstill.
Engine noise is noticeable under hard acceleration, while the exhaust makes a satisfying low-level growl. Fuel economy is average for a V-6 and has garnered the SE2 an Environmental Protection Agency miles-per-gallon rating of 20 in the city and 29 on the highway.
As Pontiac's bread-and-butter nameplate, Grand Am needs to appeal to a wide audience. Its interior is designed for maximum comfort and utility. All the controls are placed conveniently near the driver and are easy to use. The front seats offer lots of support and are engineered to keep driver fatigue to a minimum. Rear-seat room is a tad skimpy, but two adults can survive there without much complaint. The trunk has an adequate 14.6 cubic feet of space.
While Pontiac was able to de-stylize the Grand Am's exterior a bit for 2003, the interior is another story. At times flash overshadows function. Some may find the excess of plastic somewhat overwhelming. All the parts, however, fit tightly together.
The SE2 is jam-packed with standard features. Among them are power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry, six-speaker audio system with CD player, air conditioning and automatic headlamp control.
My test Grand Am also had a $2,345 appearance package with 16-inch chrome wheels, upgraded eight-speaker Monsoon audio system, power sunroof and leather seating.
Base price of the Pontiac Grand Am SE2 is $20,790. With its gutsy V-6, fluid automatic transmission and grocery list of standard features, the SE2 is a pretty good value in the compact arena.


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