Factor in price and it is, essentially, in a class by itself. By Jim Hall • Photos by John Lamm June 2008 "This is a helluva lot of car for the money," said Editor-at-Large John Lamm as he tossed the keys to GM's latest Australia-via-Detroit offering on my desk, our resident road warrior perhaps a bit weary from the 400-plus miles he logged while on the one-day photo shoot less than 24 hours before. That "big-bang-for-the-buck" sentiment was echoed throughout the test car's notebook with every editor who spent a spell behind its leather-wrapped sport steering wheel: "Handsome styling, great motor with fine response, excellent 6-speed automatic transmission and a reasonable price make this a very entertaining sports sedan — I like it," wrote Editor-in-Chief Thos L. Bryant. "At around $30,000, the Pontiac G8 GT is a steal. Long live pushrod V-8s!" noted an enthused Editor, R&T Specials, Andrew Bornhop. The Pontiac G8 GT — which began life as a Holden Commodore Down Under — wears sheet metal that is simple and straightforward, but stylish nonetheless. Its look is like that of the last-generation Acura TL, but jacked up on steroids. Head on, the split upper and lower grille sections, dual hood vents and bulging front fender flares make for a mean, muscular stance. These same elements, along with the aggressively forward-sloping beltline, definitely give the car a "fast" look. And fast it is: At the test track, we posted a rapid 0–60-mph time of 5 seconds flat and blew past the quarter-mile mark in only 13.5 sec., numbers on a par with the V-10-powered, and more than twice as expensive, Audi S6. The 6.0-liter small-block V-8 engine responsible for the thunderous pace of this striking Adelaide, Australia-made 4-door not only makes an energetic 361 bhp but a hearty 385 lb.-ft. of torque. And while some reviewers may knock points off the GT G8's powerplant for opting to use old-school tech in the form of pushrods instead of overhead cams, we welcome the tarmac-biting torque that this arrangement brings: We recently chose another General Motors-derived means of motion — the Chevrolet Corvette's LS3 power unit — as our favorite V-8 engine. Through the use of GM's Active Fuel Management (AFM) — aka cylinder deactivation — the powerful V-8 engine and automatic transmission garner respectable EPA figures of 15 mpg city/24 highway, not far off the 256-bhp, V-6-equipped G8's 17/25 rating. Additionally, this system functions seamlessly; we never could tell when it was in V-4 mode. Slideshow >> The rear-wheel-drive car's weight distribution is an almost perfectly balanced 50/50 front/rear (our measurements, on a full tank, yielded 52/48), the result of tucking the engine down low and toward the back section of the engine cradle, mounting the battery in the trunk and placing the steering rack farther forward than normal, ahead of the front axle centerline. Pontiac says this last attribute helps give the G8 GT's steering a more direct feel; as a driver, I did get good feedback at all times from the front wheels. In normal or even fairly spirited driving, once again we had nothing but positive comments about the way the G8 GT's chassis performed, especially its silky, smooth ride with just the right touch of firmness. "The suspension is set up for an excellent balance of on-road comfort, smooth enough for pleasant daily driving yet firm enough for good grip in fast cornering," said Bryant. But while a solid handler up to around the 7/10ths mark, our experience during more aggressive track testing like the slalom and the skidpad tells a different tale. While the suspension eats up the relatively light loading on city streets and freeway onramps, harder loading gives all four corners compliance indigestion. The slalom and skidpad numbers are respectable at 64.3 mph and 0.85g, but they are not as good as we expected. Plus, we had to work the car pretty hard in these exercises to achieve these numbers. Another limiting factor may well have been our track test car's 18-in. wheels, but more about that later. On the accessory front, both the V-6-powered G8 and the higher-performance GT model come with a long list of standard features including power-adjustable front seats, OnStar and XM satellite radio, front and rear roof-rail side airbags, a clean-looking rear lip spoiler atop the trunk, stylish 18-in. alloy wheels, along with electronic traction and stability control. A limited-slip differential is also standard on the GT model, along with dual-zone climate control and polished stainless-steel quad-exhaust outlets. Beyond good looks and powertrain potency, another pleasant surprise with this Pontiac is the G8's interior. The design is smart but clean, with upscale plastics (the dash top and upper door panel sections are of a nice rubberized-to-the-touch "graphic" material, with many other surfaces of a BMW-like "pebbled" texture). A sweet-sounding 11-speaker, 230-watt Blaupunkt AM/FM/CD player sound system with MP3 auxiliary jack comes standard. And the front seats are very comfortable and supportive and feature good side bolstering — not too snug but you definitely know it's there. The G8's excellent packaging offers generous rear passenger space; occupants are treated to ample leg and knee room along with excellent head room and wide shoulder space. There's a center fold-down armrest for those in back or they can fold down the large trunk pass-through section for even more elbow-resting space. And speaking of the trunk, it is quite large at 17.5 cu. ft., greater than the storage volume of the popular Dodge Charger yet in a car 14 in. shorter than the Mopar model. Engineering Editor Dennis Simanaitis offered an interesting perspective after driving the G8 GT fresh from his participation in our high-performance V-8 luxury sports-sedan test elsewhere in this issue. "While those luxury sports sedans were generally more upmarket in feel, fit and finish and performance (and a lot more expensive), there is tremendous value here in the G8 GT's low-$30,000-ish price — with the Pontiac's spacious rear accommodations putting those pricey offerings to shame." Due to scheduling, we drove and photographed a GT with the sport and premium packages — which feature 19-in. wheels and leather trim — and later tested a standard GT with cloth seats and 18-in. wheels. The GT Sport stickers at $32,050 while our track test subject was just $29,995. Remarkable. In a surprising tech twist, the Pontiac G8 GT's navigation system has become my favorite OEM model in the automotive kingdom — especially amazing as the car doesn't have a nav system...in the traditional sense, anyway. Hit the OnStar button on the rearview mirror, an operator comes on loud and clear and asks if you need driving directions. Tell him where you'd like to go, and the driving directions get down-loaded to the car, with left/right/straight arrows and distance appearing on the small information center screen between the tachometer and speedometer, accompanied by equally clear audible directions. Plus side: Hands-free driving directions on the trot (no need to pull over and stop to access a touch screen); no time wasted fiddling with various levels on the navigation menus; savings of $2000-plus by not having to purchase a navigation system and/or an even more expensive luxury package. Minus: You must purchase the OnStar "Directions & Connections" subscription plan for $28.90/month or $299 annually (but $299 times several years is still less than $2000, isn't it?). Note to GM: Please try to incorporate this OnStar navigation with gauge cluster display in as many vehicles as possible. Areas of improvement? Not many, honestly — especially when factoring in vehicle price. Making the hard-driving handling capability better is the main one. "The balance is already there, ditto good tires; the G8 GT is only a different set of springs and shocks away from being outstanding in hard driving," says Assistant Road Test Editor Calvin Kim. The addition of a nicely functioning 6-speed manual is another (this will be addressed later this year with the launch of the GXP version). The 6-speed auto cog-switcher works smoothly enough, but in manual gear selection mode, there is a brief pause from the time the driver changes the gear and when the change actually starts to take place. A neat addition would be if the ECU were programmed so that when the transmission was in manual gear selection mode it would automatically blip the throttle when downshifting to further take advantage of the engine's very sporty character. These minor gripes aside, the new Pontiac G8 GT shines in many areas — outright speed, good fuel economy for its big V-8, easy-on-the-eyes inside and out, nice cabin materials and comfort, and that huge back seat. Factor in price and it is, essentially, in a class by itself. Nice.