Full Test: 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Jul 17, 2003.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Lurking in the Shadows of the Imports

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    By Erin Riches
    Date posted: 07-08-2003

    As eagerly as we tout the virtues of cars like the Honda Accord, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima and Maxima, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat, we know that not every shopper wants a midsize sedan with an import label. Whether it has to do with loyalty to American products, distaste for import dealerships unwilling to offer big discounts or a desire to differentiate oneself from the droves of Accord and Camry owners, there are some who simply aren't going to buy one of the recommended picks. And that's fine — there are some domestic sedans that merit consideration even when the imports are still in the picture. The 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix is such a car.

    Most of our staff liked the previous-generation Grand Prix (1997-2003), which in GT and GTP form, offered brisk acceleration and a tight suspension for a relatively affordable price. But our fondness didn't blind us to this generation's raucous power delivery, harsh ride over rough surfaces, cheap interior, needlessly complex controls and hit-or-miss build quality. "It exhibits strong sex appeal and has moves that can lull you into submission," said one of our editors after driving a 1999 GTP, "but is otherwise harsh on most of the senses most of the time."

    Redesigned for '04, the Grand Prix benefits from stronger, more refined engines; fine-tuned ride and handling characteristics; and a new driver-oriented cockpit with large gauges and simple controls. Exterior styling is always subjective, but for the record, we like the smooth shape but could do without the car's ribbed hindquarters. Inside, the quality of the materials and craftsmanship are vastly improved but some details still leave question marks, which we'll get to later. Not a perfect car, the Grand Prix, but there's nothing wrong with it that a larger development budget wouldn't fix. And depending on your priorities, we think it's worth a test-drive.

    The 2004 model lineup consists of GT1, GT2 and GTP trim levels, and even the base GT1 comes with a 205-horsepower V6 good for 30 mpg on the highway, along with 16-inch wheels, a CD player and full power accessories. ABS, traction control and a power driver seat are optional on the base car; going with the GT2 gets you this stuff standard, while opening up options like full-length side curtain airbags, leather upholstery and a sunroof.

    For this test, though, we had the high-performance GTP model, which as before comes with a supercharged version of GM's 3.8-liter V6 (now called the 3800 Series III following the latest round of engineering refinements). The supercharged 3800 remains very competitive in today's world of 240-hp Accords and Altimas and 265-hp Maximas. Output in the GTP is rated at 260 horses (20 more than last year) at 5,200 rpm and 280 pound-feet of torque (unchanged from 2003) at 3,600 rpm. Paired with the Grand Prix's standard four-speed automatic transmission, the supercharged 3800 carries the GTP to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds. For comparison, we've timed an automatic Altima 3.5 SE at 6.8 seconds (a manual-shift Altima did it in 6.3), while an automatic Accord V6 came in at 7 even. Even with its high output, the GTP still achieves 28 mpg during highway travel.

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    Certainly the Grand Prix GTP has enough power to make everyday driving entertaining, as it pulls hard from a stop, making it easy to live with in congested areas where you've got to be quick on the draw to catch the breaks in traffic. Put the accelerator pedal to the floor, and the V6 revs heartily up the tach — the needle gets very close to the 6,000-rpm redline before the automatic transmission upshifts to the next gear. Passing on the highway is exceptionally easy in the GTP, as it is in the Accord, Altima and Maxima, and full-throttle maneuvers occur more often out of driver enthusiasm than necessity.

    Pontiac equipped the Grand Prix with electronic throttle control for 2004, which provides slower throttle response at low speeds when you're trying to finesse the car into a parking spot, and faster response at highway speeds when quick lane changes are required. In practice, the throttle calibration seemed to make the pedal a bit too stiff in the parking lot, and one editor found it difficult to avoid jerky inputs in delicate situations.

    In spite of its sporting personality, the GTP still doesn't have a manual transmission option. Fortunately, the automatic shifts smartly on its own and never leaves you waiting for downshifts; only real enthusiasts are apt to miss having control over shift points. You can get an automanual mode (with F1 style steering wheel-mounted shift paddles) by selecting the $1,395 Competition Group package on the options list. There are other reasons to go for the Comp G package, namely a more aggressive final drive ratio (3.29-to-1 versus the standard 2.93-to-1), firmer suspension tuning, stickier V-rated BF Goodrich tires, an enthusiast-oriented stability control system, upgraded steering that varies effort levels in response to cornering forces (in addition to vehicle speed), red brake calipers and, inside the cockpit, a heads-up display.

    Our test vehicle wasn't a Comp G, and although we would have enjoyed having StabiliTrak Sport as a safety net, not to mention a better set of tires, the Grand Prix handles quite capably in stock form When pushed around corners, our test car felt larger than most of its competitors — and it is almost five inches longer than the Maxima, 13 inches longer than a Passat — but still tight and very tossable The large-diameter steering wheel has progressive weighting and a fair amount of communication with the tires

    If there is a weak link in the stock GTP's handling package, it's surely the 225/55HR17 Michelin Energy tires A lot of midsize cars in this price range wear Michelin Energys, and while these tires don't detract from a quiet and comfortable highway ride, they howl early and often during aggressive, or even slightly aggressive, maneuvering. And they tended to give up on grip long before the Grand Prix's four-wheel independent suspension had reached its limits Were we shopping for a GTP, we'd probably go with the Comp G package or buy ourselves a better set of tires.

    For the remaining 80 percent of driving, the Grand Prix offers a smooth, comfortable ride suitable for commutes and road trips If you're used to the softer ride of a Camry or Passat, you may find the suspension tuning a little on the firm side over bumps and ruts. "The ride quality has a certain level of refinement that I think is beyond anything Pontiac has ever done before," Road Test Editor Brian Moody observed. "It's no Lexus, but just below the surface, the GTP exhibits a solidity I find reassuring."While not exceptionally quiet, the cabin is reasonably well insulated from wind and road noise. Meanwhilethe brakes are more than up to the task of bringing this 3,500-pounder to a stop.

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    Inside, Pontiac has succeeded in creating a snug cockpit for the driver —the bolstered sport seats offer a pleasant blend of soft cushioning and support, and the center stack is angled toward the driver such that it's obvious who has the final say on stereo and climate settings. Large side mirrors help rearward visibility. The broad, flat door tops are well padded, providing an ideal respite for elbows during commutes. Everyone liked the large analog gauge cluster, which uses an attractive square font and lights up in a fiery red at night. Although a gear display for the automatic transmission is strangely absent.

    Almost all of the controls are easy to use, the three-dial manual climate control setup certainly presents no ergonomic problems, but when a car stickers at almost $29 grand, you'd expect an automatic system — and indeed the previous GTP came with an automatic dual-zone setup to keep both the driver and front passenger happy. This odd omission can likely be written off as a cost-saving measure.

    While the performance of the optional Monsoon sound system and the layout of the head unit leave much to be desired, according to our stereo expert, we found it remarkably easy to switch between CDs and XM satellite radio, simply by relying on the steering wheel audio buttons. Not only are the buttons perfectly shaped and placed on the steering wheel spokes, they're quite comprehensive, even allowing the driver to switch between CDs loaded in the in-dash changer.

    At first glance, the Grand Prix seemed like it might be a success story amidst other General Motors products that suffer from below-average materials quality. Soft-touch material on the dash and upper door panels seemed promising. As did the woven cloth headliner (as in the Passat and Mazda 6) and coordinating plastic pillar trim. As did the satin nickel trim used on the steering wheel spokes and shifter bezel. If only Pontiac had used more of this trim on the center stack and door panels to brighten up the cockpit, we thought.

    We weren't all that impressed by the quality of the optional leather upholstery (Really, what do you expect for less than 700 bucks?), but more distressing was the widespread substitution of vinyl in the backseat — on the actual seating surfaces. For the sake of comfort alone, we can't recommend paying extra for the leather over the standard cloth. Add to these issues the low-grade pebble-grain plastic trim used on the console and the lower portions of the dash and door panels, and it should be obvious why we consider the Grand Prix a mediocre example of craftsmanship in this price bracket.

    Even putting aside the excessive use of vinyl in the backseat of our test car, the accommodations are not ideal for anyone who has a steady succession of rear passengers. By numbers alone, the Grand Prix's backseat compares favorably to the Accord's and Maxima's, except in shoulder room. When you actually get into it (not too difficult thanks to rear doors that open up to 90 degrees), though, it's plain that numbers don't tell the whole story. The bench is much too low to the floor, requiring most adults to adopt a splayed-leg seating position — which is inevitably fatiguing on long trips. Legroom is adequate, but there is almost no room to slide your feet under the front chairs. Headrests are nonadjustable. In sum, the Grand Prix's backseat would be fine for children but unpleasant for anyone well into the 5-foot range.

    Storage space may be a problem for some buyers. The center console container is a decent size, and there's a nice rubber-lined shelf in the center console for a cell phone, but the glovebox is small; the door bins are hard to access; and the only storage in the backseat is a map pocket on the front-passenger seat back. There are two cupholders in the front, and strangely, no cupholders in the backseat. There is, however, plenty of trunk capacity — the Grand Prix's hold measures 16 cubic feet. For the occasional larger hauling job, the 60/40-split rear seats and the front-passenger seat fold flat.

    You can probably tell that the Grand Prix wouldn't be our first choice for a family car — the backseat is cramped and there's just no place to put juice boxes or toys. While it would be nice if it offered this versatility, this isn't grounds for dismissal. After all, we know plenty of people who just want a powerful midsize sedan that's comfortable enough to drive to work during the week and roomy enough to take out a friend or two on the weekend. Better yet, the Grand Prix is an excellent handler, relishing workouts on twisty two-lane blacktops. If you can put up with inconsistent build and materials quality, give the GTP a try.

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    Ups: Powerful supercharged V6, excellent handling, attractive gauges, intuitive controls, big trunk, fold-flat front-passenger seat versatility.

    Downs: Material quality still needs some work, tight backseat, not enough storage space and cupholders, no automatic climate control.

    The Bottom Line: Fast and fun to drive, the Grand Prix is worth a test-drive when shopping for a midsize sedan.

    MSRP of Test Vehicle: $28,975

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  2. I'd take a maxima :sad2:
     
  3. daNattyFatty

    daNattyFatty New Member

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    i didn't read the whole thing, but is it FWD?
     
  4. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    GPs look awful in silver, yet every critic insists on testing a silver model.

    The black, crimson red and fusion orange GPs with upgraded wheels look very cool.

    And yes, it is FWD.
     
  5. Sonic

    Sonic Live every day to the fullest, for yesterday is go

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    Though this is a great car.
     
  6. BLoG

    BLoG Scented Meat

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    I'm still upset about the front end.

    And yes, EVERY car looks like ass in that cheap silver paint. I have no clue why it is so popular (except that it looks the same dirty as clean)
     
  7. SenenCito

    SenenCito OT Supporter

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    I so wanted even a base model..but they weren't going to give me 0% financing on it
     
  8. Ben

    Ben Guest

    Nice car, I wouldn't say great though. I'm a little disappointed by the price though (it's in the range with a loaded Altima, and depreciation is going to be a killer).
     
  9. PsychoDeli

    PsychoDeli Day of the Baphomets

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    I'm still waiting to see a Graystone Metallic one in person. :big grin:

    Good Review.. Edmunds is usually harsh in their reviews.
     
  10. LEGbEND

    LEGbEND .

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    how hard is it for pontiac/gm/chevy to design a decent looking exhaust on a car? i guess its ugliness matches the rest of the car.
     
  11. slim_slacker

    slim_slacker pro-crastinator

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  12. PsychoDeli

    PsychoDeli Day of the Baphomets

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    :rolleyes:

    Theres optonal tips that looks nicer.. I think the stock one is ok tho...

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  13. L7

    L7 Mr Negativity

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    Ooglay
     
  14. SenenCito

    SenenCito OT Supporter

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    now dats what im talking about!
     
  15. LeGenDz

    LeGenDz American Desi Moderator

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    Current GTP > that :ugh: :hs:
     
  16. LeGenDz

    LeGenDz American Desi Moderator

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    Styling wise at least :o
     
  17. Melo 15

    Melo 15 Guest

    I like it. You guys also have to factor in you can easily get 3-5 grand off MSRP. :hs:
     
  18. lawnboy

    lawnboy Robert DeNigro

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    they look tight in orange :cool:


    still would take the max though :sad2:
     
  19. DI2009

    DI2009 New Member

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  20. McClane

    McClane Who Killed Marilyn?

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    cool car, but over priced.
     
  21. Melo 15

    Melo 15 Guest

    See what kind of discount a Nissan dealer offers you, and then report back. :rolleyes:
     
  22. Sonic

    Sonic Live every day to the fullest, for yesterday is go

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    That should tell you something, huh?
     
  23. ImpalaSS

    ImpalaSS Guest

    Bleh. I only like the front end...that's it. It looks like they borrowed the Impala's front doors, minus the grey trim. (cheap plastic crap).
     
  24. Short Bus

    Short Bus Beep beep!

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    Y'know.... if I could get that car in a manual transmission I'd take that over a new Maxima or a new Accord.

    Looks good, has power, interior looks nice, no cheesy plastic shit on the side. It appears that Pontiac finally hit the mark.
     
  25. Short Bus

    Short Bus Beep beep!

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    I like that. :cool:
     

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