- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2004

General Motors is chasing the European sedans, attempting to make their own mark on this profitable market. This is particularly true with GM’s Pontiac division. GM product czar Bob Lutz has made it perfectly clear that he wants Pontiac to become the American BMW.

Introducing the Grand Prix GTP is a move in that direction, and while Pontiac has a way to go it has made a giant step toward its goal.

The one aspect that needed attention, and in my mind one of the most important, was the body cladding Pontiac designers became obsessed with. Thank heaven the cladding is gone. Well, most of it, as the GTP still retains a smattering with a small rear spoiler on the trunk lid. But nearly all the side cladding has disappeared.

While retaining that GM/Pontiac styling, the Grand Prix GTP looks like a performance car. The deep wraparound, one-piece front bumper incorporates the signature Pontiac grille and large integrated fog lamps.

Along with the body cladding Pontiac is also dumping a lot of the attention-grabbing features that just haven’t captured buyer’s affections. Always a place for far too many switches and buttons, the interior is now much cleaner looking. Most of the unnecessary controls are gone. The head-up display continues to be offered, but hasn’t become a “must have” feature the automaker thought it would.

Following the lead set by the Europeans, Pontiac has added steering-wheel shifting paddles for the manual shifting mode of the automatic transmission, which Pontiac calls TAPshift. The transmission works well in both manual and automatic modes, but the TAPshift steering-wheel controls used for manual shifting made it necessary for me, even with my large hands, to stretch out to shift gears.

Under the hood sits the fully tested 3800 V-6 engine that has served General Motors well. In the GTP it receives a supercharger that bumps the power and performance up the scale. With 260 horsepower the GTP jumps up to highway speed effortlessly.

The automatic transmission handles shifting quite well, but I found I enjoyed having that chore left to my pleasure. It would be nice to see GM offering a six-speed manual transmission in its “sports” cars, but with the cost of certification in this country it just doesn’t make a good business plan. Too bad for us.

Going back to its WideTrack roots, Pontiac has widened the stance of the Grand Prix to give it a better hold on the road. The four-wheel independent suspension uses MacPherson struts up front and a multilink system at the rear.

While the Grand Prix GTP isn’t a sports car, it is a good representation of a sports sedan. Braking is good through the Grand Prix’s four-wheel disc-brake system and is made safer with the Anti-Locking Brakes offered here.

There is no doubt Mr. Lutz has made an impression on the design studios at GM. And, as the new design boss, Ed Welburn, takes control we will see cleaner versions of all GM vehicles.

After all, Mr. Welburn was responsible for the SSR sport pickup and will surely make his mark on all of the GM product line.

Mr. Lutz has promised a V-8-powered Grand Prix in the near future, but for now we will have to be satisfied with this supercharged V-6 version.

It turns out that this is a pretty good performer and looks pretty good, too.

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