Story and photos by Grant Yoxon October 5, 2004 Another new car, another new name. What is General Motors doing? When a new model is not merely the latest rendition of an existing model, but completely new from the ground up, a new name can be a good idea. But when GM introduced the 2004 Chevrolet Malibu, also a completely new car, the Malibu name was deemed worth keeping. The arrival of the Pontiac G6 later this month marks the end for the Grand Am and a name worn by a variety of quite different Pontiacs since 1973. GM press material calls the new G6 "a game-changing car" for Pontiac, one that "emphasizes fresh design direction and renewed performance spirit." The name Grand Am is derived from the racing series by the same name and has, at times, been closely associated with Pontiac performance. Throughout its 30 plus years, the Grand Am name has at least implied performance, even when the cars that bore the name were somewhat less than performance cars. That the name G6 captures a "renewed performance spirit" better than Grand Am is something I'm sure the marketers have researched to death. One thing is certain though, GM marketing is going to need a bag full of money to place the G6 on the same level of awareness in the consumer mind as the Grand Am. Well, perhaps I can do my part, because the G6 really is a game-changing car for Pontiac. It is light years ahead of the car it replaces, better in every respect. This big leap forward begins with the Epsilon platform - GM's global platform that underpins the Opel Vectra, Saab 9-3, Chevrolet Malibu and Malibu Maxx. The Epsilon architecture provides a rigid base with a more solid ride, responsive handling and crashworthiness far superior to the old Grand Am. Driving the G6 revealed a car that has a firm, but supple ride, with quick, precise steering. The cars felt solid with no apparent squeaks or rattles. Then there is the 3.5-litre V-6, a new engine that produces 200 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque. This engine, which also powers the Malibu and Malibu Maxx, is a good, fuel-efficient performer. And then there is space. The G6 is based on the stretched version of the Epsilon platform, the same as the Malibu Maxx. It has a 2,852 millimetre (112.3-inch) wheelbase which helps smooth out the bumps and gives rear seat passengers limousine-like leg room. There is no mistaking the G6 as anything other than a Pontiac. Pontiacs are traditionally more 'swoopy' than Chevys and the G6 is all curves where the Malibu is squared off, or lumpy, depending on your point of view. Personally, I prefer the G6's long, sleek look. Pontiac's designers have done a good job integrating brand elements like Pontiac's twin grille openings with the reflective-optic headlamps and projector beam foglamps. Still, from the side, the G6 appears a bit nose heavy. The interior colours on our pre-production test cars were monochomatic and low-gloss with textured surfaces. Production versions will have a bit more bright work around the HVAC and radio control panel and on the radio knobs to match the trim rings surrounding the ventilation openings and gauges. The gauges will be backlit in red as is typically Pontiac, but daytime lettering will be white on black. Base G6 models are well-equipped with four-wheel disc brakes, power windows, locks and mirrors, 60/40 split folding rear seat, CD changer with six speakers, driver information centre, cruise control, remote keyless entry and integrated fog lamps. The automatic transmission in G6 GT models has a manual shift mode. GTs also have anti-lock brakes, traction control, firmer suspension and larger stabilizer bar, power height adjustable drivers seat, power adjustable pedals, premium sound system with 6-CD in-dash CD changer, 17-inch aluminum wheels, chrome tip exhaust and remote starter. Base and GT models also have different power steering set-ups, with the base G6's being electric, the GT's hydraulic. We drove a base G6 during our test and found the electric system to be wonderful, providing light, easy steering in parking manoeuvres, but firming up significantly at speed. Optional equipment includes leather seating surfaces with heated front seats and 6-way power adjustable driver's seat, leather wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, driver and passenger side head curtain and seat mounted side airbags, chrome wheels and OnStar. Larger wheel and tire combinations are also available. A unique option is a four-panel panoramic sunroof. Three of the four panels slide rearward, creating a sunroof large enough for even the rear-seat passengers to enjoy an open-air, almost convertible-like experience. But at $2,175, the open-air experience doesn't come cheap. Base G6 models start at $24,670, while the G6 GT begins at $27,685. A well-equipped GT with leather and panoramic sunroof, OnStar, 17-inch chrome wheels and side curtain airbags lists at $34,695. Future plans call for a 2+2 sports coupe and a retractable hard top convertible. A GTP sedan with an all-new 3.9-litre, 240 horsepower V-6 and six-speed manual transmission is also planned, as is a 2.4-litre Ecotec four-cylinder version which will also debut in 2006. V-6. Six-speed manual. Perhaps that is the meaning of G6. Would the 4-cylinder model then be a G4? While the name changing game may be hard to understand, one thing is certain, the G6 is a good thing for Pontiac.