- The Washington Times - Friday, August 22, 2008

Nearly lost in the hullabaloo over the launching of a trio of high-performance cars comprised of the Dodge Challenger, Chevrolet Camaro and the redesigned Ford Mustang is a bargain-priced muscle car in showrooms right now. Rear-wheel drive, a colossal V8 and a track-worthy suspension collaborate to deliver performance usually associated with German imports costing thousands more.

Pontiac has called itself the “driving excitement” division of General Motors for more than two decades. It has been spotty in fulfilling that mission over the years, but recently it has shown signs of renewed performance vigor in the guise of the Solstice GXP roadster and the G8 GT sedan.

Currently the G8 is offered in $27,995 base and $31,360 GT versions. The primary differences between the two are horsepower and price. Thrust in the base edition is from a 256-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. It turns the rear wheels via a rather smooth driver-shiftable five-speed automatic transmission.

Although motivating the G8 with a degree of enthusiasm, the V6 sounds harsh and noisy – particularly under hard acceleration. It does, however, work comfortably with the transmission to deliver decent velocity.

The G8’s real excitement comes from a 361-horsepower 6-liter V8 that is bolted to a six-speed driver-shiftable automatic. Mashing the accelerator is rewarded with a scalded-cat launch that should leave most boy racers wide eyed and grinning.

Achieving 60 miles per hour from a standstill requires just over five seconds. If this doesn’t do it for you, a G8 GXP is on the way. Its get-up-and-go is from a version of the Corvette’s 6.2-liter V8 that is expected to deliver 400 horsepower and a sub-five-second 0-60 time.

No surprise that the base earns better fuel economy numbers than the GT, but not by much, which is a little surprising. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the base G8 at 17 mpg in town and 25 mpg on the open highway as compared to the GT at 15 mpg and 24 mpg respectively.

Although Detroit has always been pretty adept at delivering straight-line acceleration, handling and control haven’t always accompanied it. That can’t be said for the uber-athletic G8. Pontiac chose MacPherson struts up front and a multilink arrangement in the rear as the basis for the G8 suspension.

It corners with confidence-inspiring consistency and a definite lack of drama. All of this control doesn’t come at a loss of ride quality either. The G8 manages to absorb most of what paved surfaces throw at it.

Fronting the antilock disc brakes all around are 18-inch alloy wheels. Stability control and traction control are standard on both G8 iterations, as are emergency braking assist and electronic brakeforce distribution. Passive safety features include front side-mounted airbags and front-to- rear side curtain airbags.

Pontiac has shown restraint in penning the G8’s exterior lines. Outside of definitive fender blisters, a very subtle rear-deck lid spoiler and some sheetmetal definition along the G8’s lower flanks, the exterior styling is uncharacteristically subdued.

Only the nonfunctioning dual hood scoops represent a nod to the Pontiac design excesses of yore. This is a handsome sedan that seems to go out if its way to disguise its performance potential.

Billed as a five-passenger sedan, the G8 will indeed accommodate that many adults. The center passenger in the backseat must deal with the driveshaft tunnel, but otherwise rear-seat passengers are pretty comfortable.

With 18 cubic feet of trunk space, the G8 swallows a lot of cargo.

You may have whatever color interior you want as long as it’s black. Even plunking down the additional $1,375 for the premium package in the base G8 gets you black leather.

Also included in the upgrade are six-way power-adjustable heated front seats, rear-center armrest, and leather-wrapped shift lever and steering wheel. Basically the same package in the GT costs $1,200, but does provide the choice of black or red leather seat inserts.

A tidy layout, the instrument panel is well designed and easy to decipher. The key information is delivered by two large round analog gauges in the cluster directly in front of the driver.

The center stack is simple and functional with the controls for the audio system located above those for the climate controls.

Features of the audio system include seven Blaupunkt speakers, a CD player, XM satellite radio capability and an auxiliary input. Audio information is shown on a large LCD screen near the top center of the dashboard.

Included among the standard features are power accessories, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, air conditioning and the OnStar telematics system with a one-year subscription to the Safe & Sound program.

If you want help with navigation, you will have to opt for increasing your OnStar subscription to include the Turn-By-Turn navigation program because the G8 doesn’t have a navigation system option.

In base trim with its V6 engine, the G8 is a competent family sedan with exceptionally good handling.

Move up to the V8-powered GT and the G8 is transformed into a high-performance sports sedan more than capable of shadowing the BMW 5 Series in the twisties or on the straights.

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