08/09/05 — Grand Prix gets V-8 muscle

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Grand Prix gets V-8 muscle

Pontiac Grand Prix GXP (2005)

Pontiac and eight-cylinder engines were synonymous for decades from Pontiac’s earliest days in the 1930s through the muscle-car period of the ’60s. But over the past 20 years the big powerplants have been mostly absent from the “excitement” division of General Motors.

Excitement in the form of eight cylinders is finally returning to Pontiac.

Pontiac calls its new-found exuberance GXP. Last year it introduced the Bonneville GXP with a 4.6-liter Northstar V-8 rated at 275 horsepower. Since its launch, the GXP has accounted for 30 percent of Bonneville sales.

Pontiac Grand Prix GXP, 2005

This spring, the Grand Prix GXP joined the lineup with a 5.3-liter 303-horsepower V-8. The beefy V-8 is the first for the Grand Prix since 1987 and it gives the mid-sized Pontiac real muscle.

The all-aluminum engine is a smaller version of the 6.0-liter powerplant found in the 2005 Corvette. It comes with cylinder deactivation that is designed to boost fuel economy as much as 12 percent by running just four cylinders in cruising and coasting situations. Gas mileage is rated at 17 miles per gallon city and 27 highway, not bad for an engine that in active mode is a beast.

When all eight cylinders are operative, the 5-3-liter has the capability of propelling the Grand Prix from 0 to 60 in 5.9 seconds, according to statistics provided by Pontiac. Anything around the 6-second mark provides automotive excitement for us.

The problem with the Grand Prix V-8 is that the large amount of torque (323 pound-feet) and the ample horsepower are put to the ground through the front wheels. Torque steer — the tendency of the front drive wheels to pull right or left under full throttle — is prevalent in the GXP. In fact, the wheels have a tendency to pull both left and right when the pedal is mashed to the floor.

But we can overlook the torque steer problem because for most people it will be only a minor irritant at most. The daily driver wants that surge of power on the on-ramp, for passing a slow mover and for occasionally getting a jump at the light. In those instances, whether the Pontiac is driven by the front or rear wheels is not an issue.

The issue is having that satisfying rush of power when it’s needed. And the Grand Prix GXP delivers as no four-door Pontiac has delivered in decades.

While the V-8 is the big news for 2005, the Grand Prix can also be purchased with a very potent supercharged version of its 3.8-liter V-6 generating 260 horsepower. This sedan is no slouch with a measured 0 to 60 time of 6.6 seconds and a quarter mile time of 15 seconds at 93 miles per hour.

In both cars the power is directed through a 4-speed automatic that shifts smoothly and effectively. But we can’t help but wish for a 5-speed shifter in a car with this kind of grunt. In the GXP, the transmission can be placed in a manual mode and shifted on the steering wheel with devices Pontiac calls TAPshift paddles.

Straight-ahead scoot is the biggest performance attribute of the GXP, but Magnasteer II, a variable-boost power-steering system that determines both speed and lateral force, gives the Pontiac good on-center feel. And Stabilitrak stability control keeps the sedan under control if it gets out of line.

The price difference between the supercharged V-6 and the V-8 is about $3,200 with the GXP starting at $29,995.

In addition to two extra cylinders, the GXP is unique with 18-inch wheels, a more aggressive rear spoiler and special trim.

The Base and GT trim levels, starting at $23,720, come with a 200 horsepower 3.8-liter V-6.

The Grand Prix, completely restyled for the 2004 model year, was cleansed of all the exterior plastic that became a trademark of the Pontiac division through the ’90s.

The roofline, like so many sedans these days, curves sharply into a raised rear deck lid to give the four-door more of a coupe appearance. The Grand Prix has an aggressive look, something that suits it well with 18-inch alloy wheels and the V-8 under hood.

The sharply sloping roof from front to back is an excellent example of form over function. Heads have to be ducked to safely enter either front or back seats without mussing hair. Getting in and out of the back is made easier with doors that swing out exceptionally wide.

The sloping ceiling also cuts rear-seat head room, although we of shorter stature found no head-scraping problem.

The dashboard fits our eyes with three giant gauge enclosures. We like the center console canted toward the driver, a trademark look in many Pontiacs.

The switchgear is generally user friendly and intuitive. The stereo, which came with optional XM Satellite radio in our test car, features an old-fashioned tuning knob. That’s still the best way to dial stations. But the small readout for XM is disappointing. The radio in a car designed as an all-new model just two years ago, should have included a larger readout for satellite radio, which features a stream of information such as song and artist.

The center stack odometer readout, which also imparts other information such as outside temperature, gas mileage statistics and servicing information, washes out in bright sunlight.

Perhaps the best readout in many GM products is the head-up display. It features a digital speedometer, outside temperature and radio station setting projected onto the windshield.

The front seats are built for wide bodies with good thigh support. That works for us.

Cargo space is good thanks to a 16-cubic-foot trunk, fold-down rear seats and a fold-flat front passenger seat.

Perhaps the biggest question for prospective buyers, is the GXP worth the $30,000 base price? That question might get an easy affirmative answer with the discounts that are now being heaped on GM cars.

Some of the standard stuff not mentioned above that comes with the GXP includes performance-tuned suspension, tire-inflation monitor, dual-chromed stainless steel exhaust tips and driver information center.

Our test car had a handful of options including leather package, power sunroof and dual-zone climate control. Bottom line was $32,600.

For those people who want a good-looking mid-sized sedan with a solid American-made V-8 that will leave the Japanese sedans gasping for breath trying to keep up, the Grand Prix GXP just might be the ticket.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on August 9, 2005 3:22 PM