2008 Pontiac G8 Review
On February 28, I flew into San Diego to attend GM’s press preview of their new Pontiac G8, their new rear-wheel-drive performance sedan by way of Holden, GM’s Australian subsidiary. I was eager to see the car that Pontiac has fashioned from the Holden Commodore sedan, a popular car in Australia and one that is sold elsewhere in the world under a variety of names. I have been hearing wonderful things about the car from Holden for many years – I was keen to see just what it is all about in the metal.
The press event for journalists was held at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego, a gleaming contemporary hotel that was no doubt selected in part because of GM’s desire to reinforce the idea that they are pretty much dialed into what hipsters of all ages wanted out of life. My awful (and unyielding) journalistic cynicism aside, it was a first-class hotel, the food and accommodations were fantastic, and as usual, the people from GM’s media relations and their product people put on a first-class event. Did I also mention that the hotel is in San Diego and it is still damn cold outside in a lot of the United States? If not, I certainly should have – the weather, of course, was fantastic in San Diego.
The auto journalists had dinner with the folks from GM on the evening of the 28th, there was some drinking of adult beverages, stories were told, opinions were expressed, and then, on the morning of the 29th, we got right to it. After a very early breakfast and a quick walk-around of the new G8, we split up into pairs, got into a car in the basement of the hotel, got our route directions, and wheeled out of the garage into the Pacific Coast morning fog of San Diego.
Pontiac brought both the regular G8 with a 256 HP (190kW) 3.6 liter V6 engine and the G8 GT with a 361 HP (268kW) 6.0 liter V8 engine to the event, and we drew a G8 GT first. There is very little visual difference between the V6 and the V8 models; you would have to know the small differences and be somewhat sharp-eyed to ascertain which model you were looking at if one passed you on the road.
Holden Commodore with the other front treatment
Let’s talk about those looks for a moment. Personally, I love the way the G8 looks, except for the hood scoops. As mentioned before, the car that is the Pontiac G8 is sold in other places under different names without the hood scoops and with a somewhat different front fascia, and to my eyes, it is a cleaner, crisper exterior design. A more tailored look, if you will, and definitely a bit more posh – not so much street ruffian. The G8 is a handsome car as is, but I would rather have nuance instead of flash. And yes, I know all about the debacle of the recent Pontiac GTO (another import form Holden) and the GTO fans not wanting the cars without the hood scoops, but that was a coupe that had to live up to the rosy collective memory of a muscle car from the Sixties that had hood scoops, not a brand new performance sedan. At the very least, Pontiac could make the smooth hood and the different fascia that goes with it an option, but from my discussions with the product people, I don’t think that will happen anytime soon. I guess there is always the aftermarket.
The interior is well done, nicely appointed, with a plethora of comfort and convenience options. It’s not as nice as the Cadillac CTS, the BMW 5-Series or the A6, but, c’mon, the price point is so much lower and besides, there is nothing hateful about the interior at all. I know people will complain about the lack of a navigation system (especially since the Blaupunkt unit looks like it should have one) and Pontiac says that will come soon enough, but that statement is of little comfort to those who want to buy a G8 now, and want a navigation system. GM’s public statement regarding this issue is that OnStar is more than good enough, but many people don’t go for that rationale. You can get either red gauges or black-on-white, and I’m not digging the red at all, but that is a matter of personal preference in terms of what is more appealing to you from an aesthetic standpoint. The G8 is a big car, and so is the interior – it’s a very nice place to spend some time in and I doubt many people would find it lacking in terms of their expectations. It is a true five-seater, not a poseur that will seat five people if three of those people are small children. The trunk is huge.
And, man, does this car feel solid. In the recent past, some of GM’s big cars were big, but flabby, and you could really feel it. This is the opposite. Pontiac is proud of this platform, and they should be. Here’s their point of view:
“The G8 has an exceptionally strong unitized chassis/body structure, including the use of advanced-strength steel in more than 80 percent of its construction. This strong foundation enables several factors that benefit the G8’s driving experience, including smoother, more solid ride characteristics and more precise suspension tuning, as the stiffer structure allows engineers to tune the suspension without having to account for chassis flex. Torsion and bending modes on the chassis are 55 hertz.
The stiff structure also enhances safety, as it helps absorb crash energy through a multiple load path strategy that includes optimized front-end and rear-end deformation zones.”
Okay, yes, they’re proud parents bragging about their kid, but in this case, its justified.
My driving partner for this press event was picked at random, and given that randomness, was happy to see that it was Philippe Daix from TopSpeed. In a happy coincidence, Philippe had been my driving partner at the last GM drive event when we were in the 2008 Malibu together. He is good company, makes discerning observations, and more importantly, drives both fast and well.
Our route wound through the foothills and canyons around San Diego, which gave us ample opportunity to sample the suspension, brakes and manual modes of the transmissions. We drove both the 5-speed automatic V6 model and the 6-speed automatic V8 (GT) model. Unfortunately for Philippe, he went first with the GT in the morning and his part of the route did not have a lot of places to make the big sedan work very hard. I got the juicy part of that trip a little later, traveling through decreasing radius hairpin turns at tail-wagging speeds with huge drops into the canyons below right on the edge of the pavement. No guard rails, of course. Lots of corners, short straight-aways where you could blast past 100 MPH, and a lot of it done at over 3000 feet altitude. We retraced the route going back and Philippe made up for the lost opportunity previously in the V6-model G8, wringing out the car over those same roads, but working harder than I had to because he was down 105 HP. It was a wonderful day of driving, really.
What did I learn about the G8 that day? Let me tell you:
The V8 is a wonderful thing, pulls like a train in the low end, and is smooth as silk. Brakes are great and so is the suspension. The car never put a foot down wrong all day and this in a day of spirited driving. The steering has a slight bit of play off-center, and then is very nicely weighted as you progress to lock. The little bit of play off-center is disconcerting at first, though. I also couldn’t seem to find the right place to put my hands on the steering wheel when making quick steering inputs, which is not a problem I usually have. The V6 is a nice engine and will suit 90% of everyone 90% of the time, but suffered in comparison to the V8, and when pushed really hard, sounded flat and buzzy. It does, however, enjoy a better front-to-rear weight ratio than the GT with the V8. Neither transmission gives you the shifts you want very quickly when you’re using the manual shift mode.
Here’s the summing up – the Pontiac G8 is a sports sedan that I would recommend to anyone looking in that segment. I had a 1997 BMW 540i for awhile that I loved and I couldn’t help thinking how much the G8 GT was like the previous-generation V8 5-Series. It’s really that good. Now, obviously, that’s not as good as the current 5-Series, but jeez-louise, look at the MSRP on this thing, guys! For around $33,000 USD, you get a G8 GT (remember, that’s the V8 model) with just about every single option. My 540i was a lot more than that and that was ten years ago. Is the G8 a sports car? No, but then, neither was my BMW 540i, despite what its fans may say. It was a sports sedan, a fabulous GT car that was a delight to drive fast on curves and straight-aways for many hours in a row. It was perfect for both long drives and short commutes and could carry four adults in comfort and style. The Pontiac G8 GT is that kind of car.
I think Pontiac has a winner on its hands.
Go here for more photos of the 2008 Pontiac G8
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