- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2005

When the powers at Pontiac decided to design a new car for 2005 to replace the Grand Am, they chose a name to signal a significant departure from the past. They called it the G6.

From a styling standpoint, the G6 does depart from Pontiac’s recent past. Gone are the trademark busy lines and fluted body cladding, replaced by crisp lines. Viewed from the front, it carries over the Pontiac face, but the rest of the body adopts an aggressive, forward-motion look.

Whether that will be enough to propel the G6 to the top ranks is questionable. It competes in one of the toughest segments in the market — midsize sedans — against the likes of the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Mazda 6, Ford Taurus and even its General Motors cousin, the Chevrolet Malibu.

In fact, it is crafted from the same basic architecture as the Malibu, as well as the Saab 9-3 from Sweden. GM owns Saab.

Unlike the main competitors, which offer both four- and six-cylinder power, the G6 starts out with one V-6 engine, an older pushrod design.

With 3.5 liters of displacement, it delivers 200 horsepower to the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission. That falls short of the Accord’s V-6, which has 240 horsepower, and the Camry’s, which has 210. Moreover, both the Accord and Camry have five-speed automatic transmissions.

Despite that, the G6 does not feel deprived. Its zero-to-60 acceleration time is in the seven- to eight-second range, and the automatic transmission gearing and throttle response give it a sensation of quickness off the line.

Prices start at $21,300. The tested GT model, the top of the line, starts at $23,925. But with a load of options, the bottom-line sticker price was $28,280 — right in there with similarly equipped competitors.

The GT’s standard equipment includes antilock brakes with traction control, automatic transmission with manual-shift mode, a sport-tuned suspension system, 17-inch wheels, remote locking, air conditioning, power-adjustable brake and accelerator pedals, a tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, an eight-speaker audio system, power windows and mirrors, a power driver’s seat and cruise control.

Options on the test car included side air bags and side-curtain air bags, chrome wheels, a six-disc CD changer, GM’s OnStar communications system, leather upholstery and trim, heated front seats, remote audio controls on the steering wheel, and two features not available on competitors’ cars: remote starting and a pano-ramic sunroof.

The sunroof is an unusual design, consisting of four glass panels. The one in front opens to provide ventilation and also acts as a wind blocker. The other three panels open in increments. When the panels are fully retracted, the opening is about twice the size of most sunroofs, and extends into the back-seat area. There’s also a power-operated sunshade.

But there’s a downside. The sunroof mechanism produces a bulge in the headliner in back, reducing headroom for rear seat passengers.

If they sit forward, larger passengers bump their head on the bulge; if they lean back, their heads contact the sharply sloped rear window.

The trunk is a decent size, but the pinched rear styling keeps the opening on the small side. A cargo net is included.

Remote starting, a $150 option, is unnecessary but cool. Stand inside the house of a morning, hit the lock button on the remote control, then press the start switch and the engine fires up.

The G6 sits there, idling, while the climate-control system either heats or cools the car, depending on the outside temperature.

The car stays locked to thwart any potential carjackers. When you’re ready to go, press the unlock button, climb in, insert the key and restart the car. It’s simple and fun.

Except for the limited headroom in back, the G6 is commodious for four. There’s plenty of knee room for outboard passengers in back, augmented by front seatbacks that are concave. However, forget the rear center position. As on most cars these days, it can’t accommodate anything but a pumpkin or a small child, and neither will be comfortable.

Up front, however, the bucket seats, covered in perforated leather, offer firm support, including lateral bolstering, for comfortable long-distance cruising as well as aggressive driving on curving roads.

The suspension system and tires combine for a good compromise between sharp handling and a stable, though far from cushy, ride. On the interstates, the G6 tracks true, with few corrections needed from the variable-assist electric power steering.

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