2009 Pontiac G8 GXP: The Last Chief Closes the Line in Style
By Mike Blake, Carlisle Events
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
As an automotive journalist, I have always held Pontiac with reverence. For me, it all began with a 1958 Pontiac Chieftain, my first car, and the same model hall-of-fame drag racer Arnie Beswick, an honored guest lecturer at past Carlisle All-GM Nationals events, used to blaze down the dragstrips of America in ’58 and ’59. Mine was 10 years old, white with a red “cove”, weighed two tons and was powered by a muscular 370ci engine that produced about 270 horsepower. I later drove the streets and highways of Southern California – down the road from GM’s Van Nuys, California assembly plant, in my all-time favorite, personally owned vehicle, a 1977 “Smokey and the Bandit” Firebird TransAm T-Top; it was black, with the gold “Screaming Chicken” decal on the hood and it throatily hummed out 200hp from its 6.6-liter 400 ci (actually, an Oldsmobile-built 403-ci) engine.
Upon hearing of General Motors’ decision to abandon the badge with its new lean-and-green approach to 21st century car-making, I was saddened – I always felt that if GM brought back a dynamic, nostalgic Camaro for 2010, then it should follow suit with a retro T-Top TransAm. I also wondered what my final drive would be in a new Pontiac. I got my answer when GM set me up with my final new Pontiac ride for review … the 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP.
Melding together the things that made old-school Pontiacs successful, the G8 GXP combines muscle, speed, good looks and interior space in a mid-size package.
Built in Elizabeth, Adelaide, Australia with a Mexican engine and transmission – so much for “American” muscle – the GXP weighs in at a solid and confident 3885 lbs.
Clean lines, body-colored bumper, hood scoops and non-functional front fender vents, a low-profile rear lip spoiler, twin polished stainless steel exhausts with beveled chrome tips, athletic wheels-at-the-corner stance and signature Pontiac dual-port honeycomb grille pay homage to past successes while embracing exciting 21st century design cues. This stylish application is presented on a vehicle the measures 196.1 inches long, 74.8 inches wide and 57.7 inches high on a 114.8-inch wheelbase.
My Sport Red Metallic test GXP also featured 19-inch polished aluminum wheels, fog lamps, projector-beam headlamps housed in crystal-clear lenses and an antenna mounted at the rear of the roof.
Under the hood is brawn that doubles what I had in my “Smokey” TransAm. The GXP is powered by a 6.2-liter V-8 engine that growls out 402 horses and 402 lbs.-ft. of torque. The factory says that the LS3 small-block set-up will blast off the GXP from zero to 60mph in 4.7 seconds and cover a quarter-mile in13-flat. My tests, in a vehicle that was tuned just as one you would drive off the car lot, thrusted me to times of 4.9 and 13.2. Those are awesome times for a mid-size sedan and they blow away the times I achieved in my old ’77 T/A, which only got me to 60 in about 8.5 seconds.
With an EPA rating of 13/20 mpg on premium fuel, the GXP is not an econocar. My week of mixed-use car tests with highway driving making up about 75 percent of my time on the road, I averaged about 18mpg.
Opting for performance over gas savings, I allowed the horsepower and torque to run wild, and that it did, in true Pontiac muscle car tradition, as I got excellent acceleration in all ranges. The Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic was attentive and quick-reacting and the ride was responsive as well, with a low center of gravity, good feel for the road and road hugging on the turns. The GXP’s ride and handling was fine-tuned on racetracks and highways around the world, including the famed Nurburgring racing circuit and the rear-wheel-drive GXP does handle highways and roads with as much refinement as any vehicle I have tested this year in its class. Four-wheel independent suspension, traction control and StabiliTrak electronic stability control system smooth out turns and quick moves, and a Brembo braking system, four-wheel vented disc brakes with ABS provides stopping power.
The cabin is designed with good fit and finish and is comfortably roomy, measuring 38.7 inches of front headroom with 38 inches in row two, leg room of 42.2 and 39.4 and shoulder room of 59.1 in both rows.
Interior niceties include heated leather front seats, Bluetooth, XM Satellite radio, dual-zone air conditioning, a driver-oriented instrument cluster, direct line of sight; an electronic driver information center, rich-looking satin, chrome trim and grained textures throughout and good sightlines with the exception of the rear pillars.
Safety is attended to with a sturdy, crash-absorbing body structure and state-of-the-art passenger protection technology. GXP is outfitted with an energy-dissipating front and a strong occupant safety cage, six standard air bags, including dual-stage frontal air bags, side thorax air bags for front-seat passengers and roof rail-mounted head curtain air bags for both seating rows, multiple air bag sensors and OnStar.
Pontiac GXP is base priced at $37,610, and only the gas guzzler tax of $1700 and destination charges of $685 were added to bring the bottom line to $39,995.
With the 2009 GXP, Pontiac is going out in style.
Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.
Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.
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