- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2005

The 2004 Pontiac GTO — the first GTO since the 1970s — is a muscle car that has gone to charm school.

The throaty, powerful V-8 and burbling dual exhaust are there, but so is a clean, almost too-plain exterior.

Why, there aren’t even any hood scoops on this new GTO.

The 2004 GTO, like the old one, is rear-wheel drive. B

But the new car has a sophisticated, independent suspension, traction control and somewhat fat tires that give it standout road manners.

And the leather-trimmed interior looks top quality — almost more European than American. Or should I say Australian?

This new GTO, after all, is built in Australia and based on a car called the Monaro that’s part of the Holden stable Down Under.

Parent company General Motors Corp. owns both Holden and Pontiac

Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the new GTO isn’t cheap: $32,495.

The 2004 GTO doesn’t exactly take a driver back to the old era as much as it draws on some of the best attributes of the old GTO — namely, the V-8 and raw sounds of power — and best attributes of the present, such as a more controlled, comfortable ride.

I touched the accelerator of the 2004 GTO and the engine told me it was ready, deeply growling as it propelled the car forward with an immediate directness and forcefulness.

The powerplant is a 350-horsepower, 5.7-liter, overhead-valve, LS1 V-8 that’s derived from the engine in the Chevrolet Corvette.

Here, it can generate 365 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm, sending the GTO from standstill to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, according to Pontiac.

On the highway, the noise got even louder as I pressed harder on the gas pedal of the GTO. At full throttle, the engine sounds are a roar and are enough to make folks nearby turn their heads to see what’s going on.

The test car had the only GTO option — a six-speed manual transmission. It had a notchy, heavy feel, and the fuel economy rating was poor for a compact car.

This model of GTO is rated at 17 miles a gallon in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway, but I scarcely got a combined 20 mpg during my test drive. Premium is the recommended fuel.

Note that the 2005 GTO gets even more power, thanks to a new, 6.0-liter, LS2 V-8 capable 400 horses and 395 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm.

The GTO handles much better than you might expect. It’s a heavy car at 3,725 pounds.

But its independent front MacPherson struts and rear independent semi-trailing control link suspension work well to even out the bumps and keep passengers from a punishing ride.

At the same time, the GTO feels solidly planted and takes curves and twisting mountain roads with composure.

I was glad all four bucket seats have decent-sized bolsters to help keep the driver and passengers snug in their seats.

The rear seats don’t look as if they’re that roomy, but once a person gets back there, it’s a pretty decent resting spot, even if there aren’t any rear heater ducts.

I didn’t hear much wind noise in the test GTO, but I noticed a gentle rocking of the car as the engine idled at stoplights.

The sensation brought back memories of old-style V-8 cars I rode in as a kid.

The GTO interior is accented nicely with gauges whose colors — blue, red, yellow, etc. — mirror the exterior paint.

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