Jalopnik Last-Drive - LS3 Pontiac G8 GXP

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, May 14, 2009.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    The 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP is, finally, the ultimate Pontiac — and ultimately, the final Pontiac.

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    By John Krewson, 12:00 PM on Tue May 12 2009

    It's nothing less than a triumph, really, that a company like GM could overcome their considerable shortcomings and come out with a reasonably priced world-beating sports sedan like the Pontiac G8 GXP. Whatever their recent successes, the company has history of taking careful aim at a performance target and hitting themselves squarely in the foot, so some skepticism is only natural. Yet there's no denying the monumentally good news: for a few weeks at least, Pontiac could deliver a daily-drivable four-door Corvette for not that much more than a fully-optioned minivan.

    But bad news is everywhere these days. Due to recent global events, Pontiac is dead, and the G8 GXP with it. And that, speaking strictly from my recent personal experience of driving the G8 GXP, is just not fair.

    I was trying to be upbeat about my time with the LS3-equipped GXP. After all, it's the most powerful Pontiac ever and the first to be fine-tuned on the Nürburgring. Unfortunately, instead of wringing the car out in the Hudson River Valley, I had to spend quite a lot of that time at a wedding in moderately distant Baltimore, meaning I would be droning along on the New Jersey Turnpike. Well, fair enough. Brian and Karen are very dear friends for whom I would sacrifice a lot, and were well worth the minor sacrifice of driving Pontiac's four-door Corvette the way most of its buyers probably would have, had it but lived. And in these times, we take our celebrations where we can get them.

    But seriously, I thought as I sized up the Lincoln Tunnel from GXP's driver's seat, it is-was? It's difficult to discuss the recently departed — the most powerful Pontiac ever. Nothing with a flaming chicken or a superfluous tachometer on its hood ever had the 415 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque this car gets out of its aluminum 6.2-liter small-block. It's almost certainly the best handling, as well, and with the very good Tremec 6-speed my car was blessed with, potentially quite a lot of fun. Certainly worth mulling over, because right away, you can't tell.

    The loud pedal isn't, really; there's a potentially magnificent eight-cylinder rumble in there, but it's less of a bang than a whisper and you have to be listening for it, especially around town. The styling is also quiet, if unspectacular; the GXP has a somewhat more aggressive nose, a small spoiler, 19-inch wheels and some understated badging to set it apart from the mere G8 GTs out there, and although both cars have the suggestive hood vents, neither one exactly screams world-shattering performance. And driving it in Manhattan traffic provided no immediate clues, because the ride is direct but supple, the steering is a bit light, the big Brembos only the slightest tad grabby, and the clutch perfectly manageable.

    All of this is actually very good manners for a sports sedan, and it speaks to a high degree of well-engineered tractability and civilized behavior in what is a very powerful car. If it was this good in its youth, I would have really enjoyed seeing what it was like when it grew up.

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    Unfortunately, inevitably, there are still growing pains in this stillborn enfant terrible, as I noticed when I became bored with stop-and-go traffic and began puttering around the cabin. Now, General Motors earns a lot of flak for its cheap interiors, so it should be pointed out that this one at least looks pretty okay. There are four very readable dials in front of you framing a red-on-black information panel. The steering wheel is thick and nicely padded, the shifter is in exactly the right place, decent leather seats are standard, and probably most importantly for soothing my traffic-fueled temper, the Blaupunkt stereo is a truly excellent conduit for your music player.

    But for the love of all that's holy, don't let anything but the steering wheel or the shifter come into contact with your skin. This cabin was designed by someone who had learned a basic sense of ergonomics and design, but the materials were evidently spec'd by someone born with no sense of touch. The dash doesn't feel so much like plastic as some sort of depressing plastic-maché. The shifter boot is made of some oily synthetic so horrendous that I had fun daring passengers to touch it. The sliding sunroof cover is obviously a piece of brittle old linoleum Kryloned flat black. Worst of all may be parking-brake lever, which wouldn't pass the quality check for a three-dollar umbrella handle. At times it was like riding in a car made of cheap bathroom tile and fungus.

    But most times it simply does not matter, because it was, and perhaps always will be, the most powerful Pontiac ever. Not just that-this car, had it but lived, would have been one of the great bargains of our time. The 6.2 liter LS3 engine under the hood is not just good but magnificent, a tame avalanche, a volcano in harness, the final argument of kings. And yes, we must get our superlatives in while we can. We may not have much time.

    Well, then. Simply put, anything that allows you to actually enjoy the New Jersey Turnpike, even for only a few scant minutes, is a triumph of human achievement. Rationally, the G8 GXP may be considered as only a perfectly adequate car wrapped around a Z51 drivetrain. But after driving it, it's hard to consider it rationally at all, because this car is Hell's own hammer in a brown paper bag. You can pass a semi before your passengers can read the writing on the trailer. You can make them motion-sick just by going in a straight line. You can cross New Jersey so quickly, as it turns out, that you don't have time to complain about being in New Jersey. Relativity may come into play.

    It had certainly came into play by the time we arrived in Baltimore, where I must admit I made my passengers ill by rodding about the city streets in a not altogether sedate fashion. It wasn't a twisty back road, but since Baltimore is one of those Eastern cities apparently laid out by generations of morons, it was just curvy enough to demonstrate how good the GXP's chassis is. Nürburgring or no, this car is so neutral, predictable, and downright pleasant-handling that in less dire circumstances it would give me great hope for the American auto industry.

    And what do you know? It still does. It may have been an Australian platform with a Mexican drivetrain, a German stereo, and a lowly 4% domestic-parts content, but a solid V8 sedan is as American as it is anything. And an American company at least thought to build one. That was a good start. So maybe the GXP, as a product, is dead and gone before it could do any good, and that may turn out to be as tragic and shortsighted as taking Old Yeller out behind the barn and shooting him when he was still a puppy-Who knows? It might just have grown up to save GM from the bear market. But more importantly, the idea of the GXP, as a set of blueprints, as a testament to what the company could do when it wanted and may with a little luck do again, can't die. It was, and is, a damn fine automobile that provided a little bit of hope and a hell of a lot of fun. Long live the GXP.

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    Exterior Design: ***
    A tougher call than one might think, because the shape is hardly bad. To make the GXP, Pontiac took the ‘Strine Commodore Calais, gave it their nostril treatment plus two little scoops and a bit more front fascia, fitted a small rear wing and some tasteful 19-inch wheels, and then went off to work on the important stuff. It's an honest, clean, hunkered-down shape with athletic proportions, and it thankfully avoids frippery like those weakly-contoured side strakes that once made certain Pontiacs look like Tupperware accordions. Well done to those involved for leaving well enough alone. But while the understated look will certainly grow on a devoted owner, there's just no one angle or feature that really grabs the eye or the gut.

    Interior Design: **
    While just driving or sitting in the GXP, you're fine. The seats are firm and done in perfectly adequate leather and the passengers in back have a surprising amount of room given the car's compact proportions. The steering wheel is a nice piece, as is the shifter, and the pedals are good. The instrument panel is perfectly legible and the switches and knobs are almost all in the logical places-with the glaring exception of placing the traction-control button between those for the left and right heated seats, which on one cold, drizzly morning caused me to accidentally select exactly the wrong sort of tail-happiness. Mostly, though, like the exterior, this car's interior would be perfectly acceptable if unremarkable. But the materials range from unpleasant to just flat-out bad, and so is some of the execution. The very worst components, such as the creaky parking-brake lever, the groaning sunroof and the wobbly glovebox, don't feel as if they'd last a year.

    Acceleration: *****
    From a dead stop, at highway passing speeds and on beyond what's really practical, from idle on up to the 6200-rpm power peak, the GXP will definitely and unmistakably accelerate. Empirically, it will accelerate to 60mph in 4.7 seconds and run the quarter in just over 13. Anecdotally, I found that when I got tired of leaning forward in my seat and fetching my music player from its perch atop the dash, I was able to drop down two gears, nail the throttle, and pluck my trusty iPod out of the air as it shot past my shoulder. Please note that this somehow fails to impress women.

    Braking: ****
    The big, robust Brembos on all four corners don't quite communicate like a true sports car's would, and they're annoyingly grabby at low speeds, but twitchiness and fade are never going to be problems. I never did get the antilock system to intrude; nice, that.

    Ride: ****
    It's worth mentioning that the chassis designers not only got the comfort/handling balance right, they apparently pulled off the rare trick of making the ride smoother and more supple as the car fills up with passengers and luggage. Still not a featherbed by any means, but certainly better than expected.

    Handling: *****
    Very balanced, very neutral, very predictable, with the only nitpick being the rather light steering. Nitpick indeed, because this doesn't in any way feel like a two-ton five-passenger car. Unlike most modern performance cars, and muscle cars in particular, the GXP doesn't mistake grip for handling. Where many cars would settle for merely clinging to the road as hard as they can, the GXP also changes direction quickly, communicates where the limits of grip lie at any given moment, and allows a driver to go confidently and safely up to those limits and beyond whenever they please. That's good, because with this engine, you'll want to try beyond a few times. Believe it.

    Gearbox: ****
    Our car had two options, the lousy $900 sunroof and the admirable and mandatory $695 Tremec six-speed. This box has good positive feel, great ratios, and nice short throws. Points off for the GM Skip-Shift, which for reasons of fuel economy forces you to go from first gear directly to fourth at part-throttle and which makes many drivers, including me, furious enough to pulp week-old puppies in my clenched fists when I'm just trying to drive in a civilized fashion and suddenly second gear is just not there anymore. And I'm a dog person.

    Audio: *****
    Now this is a pleasant surprise. Right or wrong, I associate GM with Bose audio, which many seem to think is perfectly fine but I think is treble-heavy with too much muddy, booming, overdriven subwoofing. The 230-watt 11-speaker Blaupunkt system in the GXP was clear and defined throughout the scale, and good rich balanced bass seemed to come from everywhere at once. I really only used the aux-in jack, but XM radio and a six-disc changer with a color info screen are right there.

    Toys: ***
    There's nothing really cool and unusual here, but all the stuff you'd expect is standard with the exception of a nav system. Apparently the Australian nav is illegal here by some quirk of screen angle. Instead, there's OnStar and its turn-by-turn navigation, which is frankly brilliant as it saves weight and lets you deal with actual real live people when you're lost in Baltimore, a city where at one point 40th and 41st street not only cross but eventually converge to become one and the same street for a couple miles. Staring at that on a dashboard screen would not have helped, but being talked down by an actual human voice does.

    Value: ****
    Not only does it make the fabled mid-90s Impala SS look like a half-hearted hot-rod taxi, it provides the performance of an M3 sedan or an Audi RS4, and then some, for two-thirds the price. Or, if you like, half the price of an M5. A small deduction must be made for the disappointing interior and because at least one quality issue (flimsy handbrake) seems like a potentially serious problem in the making.

    Overall: *****
    Yes, indeed, five stars for a car with some definite problems. Yes, the fabrics, plastics, and miscellaneous materials of the cabin are such that when I gave a ride to a textile designer (no, really) she couldn't believe I could actually like the car. And yes, my head was thoroughly turned by the GXP's excellent engine and suspension and by the sheer competence with which it went down any road I cared to take. But I believe that's how this is supposed to work. A good car is greater than the sum of its parts, yet all equivocating aside, as a driver's car it's so very good that it's a little hard to believe. You could probably own and enjoy the GXP, flaws and all, for the rest of your life. So be warned: Pontiac may be dead, but if you have the opportunity to acquire one of these now and you let it go, you'll take that with you to your grave.

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    You probably won't still be able to buy a 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP, but today we'll try to think of a single reason why you shouldn't.

    Why you should buy the Pontiac G8 GXP:

    You like the idea of a four-door Corvette with a gigantic backseat and a capacious trunk. Power and capability are more important to you than plush surroundings, plus when cut you bleed red, white and blue all over your pleated polyester Sansabelt slacks. You think a combination of power and practicality will attract the opposite sex and you like that the power part can at least be hidden from them if necessary. You have an eye for a performance bargain and are good-natured when it comes to living with a few little imperfections.

    Why you shouldn't buy this car:

    You prefer the idea of a two-door Corvette and don't mind spending several extra grand to get one. You wouldn't know power if it kicked you in the ass or handling if it failed to roll over on you in a tightening hairpin, but you can tell split-grain from full-grain leather at a glance and you know the thread count of your sheets by heart. You think that either much more expensive cars or much less threatening cars impress the opposite sex. You believe fast four-doors should be made by stoic sausage-gnashing umlaut junkies and no one can convince you otherwise.

    Suitability Parameters:
    Speed Merchants: Yes
    Fashion Victims: No
    Treehuggers: No
    Mack Daddies: Yes
    Tuner Crowd: No
    Hairdressers: No
    Penny Pinchers: No
    Euro Snobs: No
    Working Stiffs: No
    Technogeeks: No
    Poseurs: No
    Soccer Moms: No
    Nascar Dads: Yes
    Golfing Grandparents: No
    Very Serious Businessmen: Yes
    Sheiklets: No

    Also Consider:
    • BMW E39 M5
    • Lotus Carlton
    • Mercedes W124 AMG Hammer
    • 2009 Cadillac CTS-V
    • 1964 Pontiac GTO

    Vitals:
    • Manufacturer: Pontiac
    • Model: G8 GXP
    • Model year: 2009
    • Base Price: $37,610
    • Price as Tested: $40,905
    • Engine type: 6.2-liter V8
    • Horsepower: 415 HP @ 5900 rpm
    • Torque: 415 Lb-Ft @4600 rpm
    • Transmission: 6-speed manual
    • Curb Weight: 4100 lbs
    • LxWxH: 196.1" x 74.8" x 57.7"
    • Wheelbase: 114.8"
    • Tires: 245/40R-19 94W
    • 0 - 60 mph: 4.7 seconds
    • Top Speed: 155 MPH (electronically limited)
    • EPA Fuel economy city/highway: 13/20 MPG
    • NHTSA crash test rating: N/A

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  2. Smelly-Kitten

    Smelly-Kitten Dept. of Redundancy Department *Side Pipes

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    Not suitable for tuners? You can put the blower i have on this car
     
  3. PanzerAce

    PanzerAce Active Member

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  4. vudoodoodoo

    vudoodoodoo New Member

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    Pontiac finally gets a good car and this happens. :hs:
    Can't they like rebadge it? :o
     
  5. BlazinBlazer Guy

    BlazinBlazer Guy Witness to The De-Evolution of Mankind.

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    If they were smart, they'd release it as a Chevrolet Impala SS... but they won't do it :wtcd:
     

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