Edmunds Full Test: 2004 Pontiac GTO

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Apr 1, 2004.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    A Goat in Soul, if Not Body

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    By John DiPietro
    Date posted: 03-30-2004

    Two American automotive icons set the world afire when they debuted around 1964, went through some questionable stages and recently have emerged better than ever. Can you name them? We're sure you'll agree that the Ford Mustang is one. Who could forget the Pinto-based Mustang II? Hopefully, we all can — not exactly a high point in that car's history. But the powerful, retro-styled 2005 model is anxiously awaited by many pony car fans. And the other icon? That would be the Pontiac GTO. When introduced as a high-performance version of Pontiac's Tempest, the GTO won American enthusiasts over with its combination of good looks, manageable size and pavement-scorching V8 power. The GTO was the first muscle car, a midsize car sporting a big car's engine (in this case a 389 V8), a firmed-up suspension and visual tweaks such as hood scoops, fancy wheels and chrome dual exhaust outlets. Competition-bearing names like Roadrunner, Charger, 442, SS396 and Torino Cobra quickly sprouted in rival showrooms like so many dandelions on a springtime lawn.

    The GTO, like other muscle cars, eventually fell victim to ever-tightening emissions regulations and horsepower dropped as quickly after 1970 as it had risen in years before. By 1974, the sacred GTO moniker was reduced to being affixed to Pontiac's Ventura, a clone of the Chevrolet Nova. That "Goat's" source of motivation was a 5.7-liter V8 that put out an admittedly respectable-for-the-day 200 horsepower. Still, this didn't come close to packing the punch of an old 389 with Tri-Power (triple two-barrel carburetion) that could scare the daylights out of an unprepared passenger.

    After 1974, there was no more GTO and all us car guys with 93 octane running through our veins never thought we'd see another one (at least not one worthy of that hallowed badge) ever again. Well, here it is 30 years after that dark time (and on what would be the GTO's 40th birthday) and we're road testing a Pontiac GTO. And we're glad to say that, for the most part, this is a worthy descendent of the old Goat.

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    Scoping out the new GTO, you may think that Pontiac's using the body stampings from Volvo's recently departed C70 coupe. The general shape, and in particular the roof pillars, side windows and character lines are so similar, it's uncanny. But no, it has no Swedish ties. It is, however nearly a full-blooded Australian. Essentially, the new GTO is a rebadged Holden Monaro.

    We're sure many of you are thinking, "Hold on a minute, what the heck is a Holden?"
    Well, mates, we don't blame you a bloody bit for not knowing — even most car enthusiasts wouldn't have a clue. Holden is a General Motors division in Australia, and the Monaro is the division's modern-day muscle car. When Pontiac decided to bring back the GTO, it could've done a lot worse than choosing this Aussie relative, which happens to be powered by a Corvette V8 that drives the rear wheels.

    Although resembling a handsome European luxury coupe isn't a bad thing, many have expressed disappointment with the GTO's style. Those expecting twin scoops and a tach on the hood and old-school Rally wheels at the corners voiced comments to that effect, the most common being: "It doesn't look like a GTO should." Of course, since it's been over three decades since the last "real" GTO rolled off the line, what the modern-day successor should look like is anyone's guess. Also a mystery is the use of two third brake lights, one on the rear shelf and one built into the rear spoiler. This aesthetic faux pas makes it look as if the rear spoiler is a dealer-installed option, but it is actually standard equipment.

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    The cabin was roundly lauded by our staff for its premium-grade materials and clean styling.

    When it came to the cockpit, opinions were more unified. Displaying a combination of high-quality trim, attractive but not gaudy style and fine build quality, the interior was given high praise all 'round. A pair of genuine well-shaped buckets in back offers nearly as much comfort and support as the first-class chairs up front. A button on the outboard side of the front seat will power it (albeit slowly) forward to let a passenger in or out the back. Although we were generally impressed with the cabin, there was a smattering of complaints. The doors are heavy, something that will make Firebird owners feel at home, no doubt. Even the glovebox door shares this trait and if your passenger doesn't watch it she may end up getting a whack to the knee that'll make her feel like Nancy Kerrigan after that infamous incident involving Tonya Harding. "Why? Why? Why did they make the glovebox door so heavy?"

    One eagle-eyed staffer noticed that the metallic trim was comprised of both plain and tinted aluminum, a needless expense that had us scratching our collective heads. And a glaring turquoise-colored "MPH" indicator is constantly illuminated in the face of the speedometer. It seems to be there to point out the obvious and remind the driver that, yep, those numbers represent speed in miles per hour. This may seem like a petty gripe, but the retina-searing display doesn't dim when you lower the instrument lighting. Additionally, the power windows' "one-touch down" feature is overly sensitive, as they would almost always "express down" when the button was pressed lightly. This is a problem we've experienced in other GM vehicles, notably their trucks and big SUVs, and although it's not a big deal (just quickly hit the button again to stop the window's motion), it's still annoying.

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    OK, enough about power windows already. This car is all about the power under the hood. With 350 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque, the 5.7-liter, "LS1" powerhouse runs through either a four-speed automatic (which our test car had) or six-speed manual gearbox and on to a 3.46-to-1 limited-slip rear end. Traction control is standard and a welcome feature for those who have to drive in inclement weather. Seventeen-inch, five-spoke wheels wear 245/45 BFGoodrich performance tires and even when the traction control was switched off, they did a great job launching the GTO off the line. Forget about trying to put down this new breed by comparing its performance to its ancestors ("Back in my day, my stock GTO ran 13-second quarters on bias-ply tires!" Yeah, right, and when I used to walk to school, it was uphill both ways.in the snow!). Blasting from zero to 60 in just 5.5 seconds and blitzing the quarter-mile in 14 ticks flat means a 2004 GTO will simply embarrass nearly any old Goat you could name.

    When we discovered that we were getting an automatic car, we were at first a little bummed. We car nuts tend to love shifting gears ourselves, but we found it hard to criticize the performance of the GTO's automatic tranny. GM automatics tend to be among the best in the world, and this one upheld that lofty reputation. Upshifts occur smoothly and with barely a pause in acceleration when you've got your toes in the carpet, and downshifts happen with the snap and precision of a military salute. And with such a broad spread of power, the four perfectly spaced gears are plenty. Kinda makes us wonder why certain high-end German carmakers think they need six or even seven speeds in their automatics. Still, an automanual setup would be nice, and it's ironic that it isn't offered in light of the fact that Pontiac actually presented this feature back in the 1960s. Anyone remember the old Hurst Dual Gate (also called "his and hers") gear selector that allowed ratchet-style manual shifting of one's GTO? Or are we just showing our age?

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    Under the hood this baby is all-American; you're looking at a 350-horsepower Corvette mill.

    When it comes to hauling down all that mass (we're talking 3,700 pounds), the antilock four-wheel disc brakes are just as capable of arresting the GTO as the LS1 is at flinging it down the road. Anytime you can stop from 60 mph in under 122 feet, that's pretty darn good, and the GTO pulled down a best of 121.1 feet. Doubly impressive is the fact that this was the third out of three back-to-back panic stops, which indicates that the easily modulated brakes obviously had no problems with fading under hard use.

    Scanning over the chassis specs, the '04 GTO looks great on paper: four-wheel independent suspension, variable-assist power steering and those sticky tires promise a good time for twisty road traveling. On the street, we appreciated the luxury carlike ride quality, and when pushed a bit, the GTO seemed to handle predictably and respectably, despite a fair amount of body roll. But when driven more aggressively, the car felt heavy and the steering felt a little slow and numb. Running through the slalom at our test track cemented these impressions. Honestly, we expected a firmer ride and sharper handling. This is nothing that a little suspension tuning (such as stiffer shocks and springs) and parts bin scavenging (a quicker steering box) can't cure. We think that Pontiac should offer an optional sport package and for old time's sake call it the Judge option. We can almost see the commercial now: "Here comes da Judge, and it's ready to set any road straight."

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    With a list price of around $33 grand, some folks think, "That's a lot of money for a Pontiac." Their mindset tends to be that the new Goat is a replacement for the Trans Am (which in a way, it is) and until they actually see the car, figure that it has mediocre interior materials, some cheesy design elements and a solid rear axle (as opposed to a more sophisticated independent rear end). The reality is that the '04 GTO is well built, boasts excellent fit-and-finish, has a world-class powertrain along with an Indy rear end and comes loaded with the exception of a sunroof and a navigation system. In fact, the only option is the six-speed manual transmission (at $695), though we would like to see Pontiac offer those other two features mentioned above. If you want to shop around for other true four-seaters that can run with this Pontiac, you'll be visiting BMW and Mercedes-Benz showrooms and be looking at $50,000-plus window stickers.

    So is this transplanted Aussie a Pontiac GTO? No, not if the chief criterion is that it be born in the U.S.A. — though it is a product of the General. But definitely yes in the sense that it's a midsize Poncho with a rumbling, tire-smokin' V8 that has no problem showing its taillights to those pricey foreign jobs.

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    Second Opinions

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    Road Test Editor Erin Riches says:

    Where performance is concerned, the GTO has the basics covered. Even with 3,700 pounds to haul around, the LS1 V8 is an absolute beast — stuffing the driver back into the seat under wide-open throttle. Although the engine delivers a satisfying rumble upon acceleration, it settles into the background at a cruise. A well-tuned suspension complements the big V8, making the GTO into an entertaining back-roads ride. The steering is a letdown, though, as it's unremarkable for its weighting, response and road feel. The unrefined traction control system is a minor annoyance; when slippage occurs at low speeds, you can feel the accelerator pedal pushing back against your foot as the system cuts the throttle. This is disconcerting, and I ended up switching it off. GM's more versatile StabiliTrak system would have been a better choice for a $31K car.

    Inside the cockpit, the GTO has the best seats in the GM lineup — they're extremely supportive with generous lateral bolstering to hold you in during cornering. The telescoping steering wheel enabled me to find a comfortable position quickly, while a large footwell should give taller drivers plenty of room. The handsome stitching on the leather upholstery gives the coupe an upscale feel that's alien to other GM products, while deep red-faced gauges assert its Pontiac identity. Unfortunately, all of the illumination in the car is bright green — it's easy to read but aren't Pontiacs supposed to have red lighting?

    Driving the GTO made me wish that GM would draw upon its Holden division for more of its U.S. market cars, as the Australian crew obviously has a handle on cabin design and fit-and-finish. Stuff the Corvette's V8 under the hood and it's hard to go wrong. As much as I liked the car, though, its so-so steering and bland exterior keep it from being the definitive choice in its class. And then there's the issue of price. It's not too hard to swallow for what you get, but for a car wearing the historical GTO name, it's steep — and should assure continued demand for used Trans Ams.

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    Ups: Potent performance, strong brakes, great exhaust note, fine build quality, comfy seating for all.

    Downs: Doesn't look like a GTO "should," handling could be sharper, can't get a sunroof or navigation system.


    The Bottom Line: Old-school GTO fans may not like the Euro-style looks of the 2004 incarnation, but there's no denying that under its skin beats the heart of a true muscle car.

    Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $32,495

    Options on Test Vehicle: Gas Guzzler Tax ($1,000)

    MSRP of Test Vehicle: $33,495

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    Consumer Commentary

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    "(I've been) waiting over 30 years for a 'real' GTO, the wait has indeed been worth it. No Pontiac in recent memory gives more bang for the buck. Fun, fast, comfortable; all of the pluses of my old T/A with none of the vices. I love the great engine note! That trip computer is a little bizarre and a little more trunk room would be cool." — ScottieDogFLA, March 2, 2004

    "About all I can say is this car is awesome. Mega power and so comfortable. I love everything about this car. The Mustang Cobra SVT may be a tad faster but when you sit in a GTO and then get into a Mustang there is no comparison. The Mustang feels like a cheap econo rocket. Bring on the Judge!" — Depdoug, March 2, 2004

    "A trim midsize coupe, this car features the LS1 5.7-liter engine, packing 350 horsepower driving the rear wheels (as a proper sport coupe should). The GTO sports one of the most attractive interiors ever in a GM car. GREAT performance; lots of power and tight handling. Fit and finish is excellent. Terrific controls — small yet so logical! Nicest-looking rear end of any Pontiac in recent memory. On the downside, the car has a tiny trunk (due to the placement of the fuel tank), and getting into the rear seat should be a lot easier." — DrSBSNYDER, Feb. 25, 2004

    Edmunds First Drive

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  2. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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  3. coronet

    coronet Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep?

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    Auto?

    AUTO?!?

    :greddy:
     
  4. anemic

    anemic Look just because were bereaved doesn't make us sa OT Supporter

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    ibeveryfordsackridershitsoverthisstatement
     
  5. mucky

    mucky .

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    6 speed manual is available.
     
  6. 2DR Vette

    2DR Vette We don't freestyle the Eyes of Texas, Big Boy.

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    :wackit:

    THe more I see it, the more I like it. :o
     
  7. mucky

    mucky .

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    It REALLY needs a sunroof, god damn it. :rant2:
     
  8. Ro Cobra

    Ro Cobra male slut

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    Whats with the V6 tailpipipes????/
     
  9. DMClark

    DMClark Active Member

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  10. Nyce

    Nyce .

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    they make it look so good.. but it's not as impressive in real life..

    still nice though :hsugh:
     
  11. mucky

    mucky .

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    What?????


    It's a dual exahust system.
     
  12. BLKDVLGSX

    BLKDVLGSX OT Supporter

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    true dual's running next to eachother
     
  13. Ro Cobra

    Ro Cobra male slut

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    So why wont they make it LOOK like a dual exhaust :squint:
     
  14. mucky

    mucky .

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    They had to make a quick reconfigure the gas tank location to meet NHTSA safety standards.
     
  15. jinushaun

    jinushaun New Member

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    Ricer.
     
  16. mucky

    mucky .

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    I was trying to avoid saying that. :mamoru:
     
  17. jrmcm

    jrmcm Actriz Porno

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    :ugh:
     
  18. xzvxwk

    xzvxwk FORMER New Member

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    Because it sounds better this way!
     
  19. xzvxwk

    xzvxwk FORMER New Member

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    [​IMG]

    :wavey: Can I get one?
     
  20. Pursuit

    Pursuit Guest

    :rebadgedholden:
     
  21. mucky

    mucky .

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    That's a good thing. :bigthumb:
     
  22. Dr. Woo

    Dr. Woo Guns don't kill people

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    I had a dream the other day that I rode with TriShield to the Pontiac dealer to get his GTO...:ugh:

    TS, your obsession over this car is obviously very apparent.
     
  23. mucky

    mucky .

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    You seriously need to self ban yourself for a few days. :ugh2:









    :mamoru:
     
  24. Pursuit

    Pursuit Guest

    no really, this car is just a stop gap measure to produce something not as shitty as the rest of the pontiac lineup. in typical GM fashion, they take a car, put a different label on it, and sell it as something else
     
  25. jinushaun

    jinushaun New Member

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    :werd: It's not a Pontiac.
     

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