Friday, August 29, 2008

A vision of Chevrolet’s El Camino car-based pickup is reappearing at General Motors. This time around the sporty pickup is wearing a Pontiac badge.

GM announced it will build the 2010 G8 sport truck, scheduled for Pontiac dealerships in late 2009. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but it’s expected to have a starting price of about $30,000, similar to its platform mate, the G8 sedan.

Both vehicles are based on the midsize VE Commodore SS from GM’s Australian Holden division. Crossbred car/pickup “utes” have had a strong following in Australia for decades, and the Holdens have been popular candidates for customizing and performance tuning.

Pontiac’s two-seat, V-8-powered G8 sport truck is being viewed by GM almost like it’s an experiment, and there’s no pointing a target buyer.

“I think the time is right to see if there is an interest in this type of vehicle,” said Jim Hopson, a Pontiac spokesman. “This is going to be a niche of a niche.”

While the initial production run will be small, Hopson expects this “segment bender” to draw from different age groups and mind-sets, but with a common goal of wanting combined cargo-hauling flexibility and sports-car-like character.

“We look at it as a sports car with truck-like capability, not

vice-versa,” Hopson said.

Key to attracting this performance-focused buyer is rear-wheel drive and a potent V-8.

Powering the 2-ton sport truck is a 6.0-liter V-8, generating 361 horsepower and 385 pounds-feet of torque. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode - the same transmission used in Cadillac STS-V and Chevrolet Corvette. Selecting Sport mode holds shift points to deliver more-spirited performance. The G8 sport truck is expected to scoot from 0-60-mph in the mid-5-second range and polish off a quarter-mile in under 14 seconds.

Fuel economy is an estimated 15 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. The engine will burn regular unleaded gasoline, but premium is recommended for optimal performance.

There are no initial plans for a higher-performance GXP version or a V-6 option. Demand isn’t high for a V-6, Hopson said, pointing to the fact that 70 to 80 percent of the G8 sedan buyers are opting for the V-8. It has a big payback in fuel economy and only a slight sacrifice in fuel economy compared to Pontiac’s 3.6-liter V-6.

“Right now the V-8 is the hot commodity,” Hopson said. “There’s a pent-up demand for a rear-wheel-drive V-8.”

Power is sent to 18-inch machine-faced aluminum wheels with P245/45R-18 tires. Opting for the Sports Package upgrades the wheels to 19 inchers with P245/40R-19 performance tires. Wheels are stretched on a 118.5-inch wheelbase — about 4 inches longer than the sedan’s.

The G8 sport truck’s body is longer, too, measuring about 5.5 inches longer than the sedan. It slickly integrates a cargo box, just over 6 feet long, with a composite liner. The box is covered with a standard soft tonneau cover, and a hard cover is optional.

The bed provides 47.7 cubic feet of cargo space and carries up to 1,074 pounds of payload. Towing capacity is 3,500 pounds.

Hopson said the suspension is modified to provide strength in the rear to handle work duties. Weight distribution also was addressed, so the vehicle provides a balance between pickup capability and sports car performance.

While the G8 sport truck was born in Australia, it looks convincingly

Pontiac - especially with its signature dual-port grille. A pair of hood scoops, aggressive lower fascia and vented front fenders make strong statements up front.

Fitting for a hot-rod truck, the roofline is short and coupe-like, and fenders have a muscular flare.

There’s a high body-to glass ratio, and upper body lines ascend to meet the tailgate and wraparound taillamps. Spotlighted at the rear are quad polished-stainless-steel exhaust outlets.

Inside the cab are four-way-power-adjustable dual buckets, upholstered in standard cloth. Comfort is enhanced with the optional Premium Package’s heated, six-way-power leather seats. Buyers have the option to further spice up the interior with a red-and-black two-tone theme.

Five-speakers blasting tunes from the G8 sport truck’s 230-watt Blaupunkt AM/FM/six-disc CD audio system more than fills the cab with tunes.

The G8 sport truck is packaged with features geared toward buyers looking for a ride blending practicality with pizzazz.

“It’s everything you would expect in a sports car,” Hopson said, “but this one just happens to have a very long, open trunk.”

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