One of the first things to understand about the Pontiac G6 is its lineage – basically it shares its platform with the Saab 9-3 and Chevrolet Malibu. The importance of this is that it brings a rock-solid foundation to the car, one that allows the rest of it to function as intended. It also means the G6, which rides on a long 2,853-mm wheelbase and wide track, has a purposeful stance and generous interior room – having a 120-plus millimetres longer wheelbase than most of its mid-sized competitors (notably the Honda Accord, Mazda6 and Toyota Camry) means there’s some much needed rear seat space. Even with a taller driver up front, the person behind still has enough knee/legroom.
This strong platform also gives the sport-tuned suspension – MacPherson struts up front and a four-link system in back – a decent place to hang its hat. As a result, body roll is controlled, understeer is benign and the feedback the car delivers to the driver says predictable and reassuring. The GT also benefits from its larger 17-inch wheels and 225/50 tires. With the suspension hunkered down in a hard corner the G6 puts its best wheel forward, as the tires deliver plenty of predictable grip.
Ditto the feedback through the electrically-assisted power steering. Normally, I am not a fan of electric assist, as it tends to feel wooden and vague – the G6’s straight ahead position is readily discernable and the weighting nicely progressive as you turn off centre. The brakes follow this lead, as the four-wheel discs deliver strong fade-free stops. The larger tires also help matters, as the elevated grip means the anti-lock system is less predisposed to needless intervention. Likewise, the all-speed traction control only steps in when absolutely needed.
Where the G6 disappoints is in its powertrain – the overhead valve (OHV) engine is as antiquated and grumpy as any of the characters in Grumpy Old Men and the transmission is one gear shy of a box full.
The G6’s engine is a derivative of the V6 that has powered many Pontiacs over the years. In its latest guise, this two-valve per cylinder lump displaces 3.5 litres and produces 200 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque at a respectable 3,200 rpm. The complaint is not so much with the performance it churns out. In a 1,554-kilogram automobile the torque brings good off-the-line hop and mid-range performance, a run to 100 km/h of 8.6 seconds and a passing time (80-120 km/h) of 6.9 seconds. The problem is the way it complains whenever worked.
As is true of many OHV engines, it gets noisy and runs out of breath at the top end of the rev range. As a result, the G6 takes a back seat to all of its key competition excepting its corporate cousins. Obviously fewer parts and less complexity makes it more affordable. Unfortunately it also lends a cheap feel to an otherwise decent car.
Thankfully, a slick-shifting four-speed automatic supports the engine’s low-end work ethic nicely – it is true to GM’s other trannies and so it does not come much better in terms of shift quality. Again, having another gear (many now feature five-speed automatic transmissions) would help mask the engine’s short comings. On the plus side, the GT includes a manual mode, which adds a sporting touch to the drive. But, as with the rest of the powertrain, there is a drawback – the gate has a weird feel. After releasing the shifter from drive it springs rearward and then to the side. This action makes it feel loose and rubbery when used as intended.
Inside, the G6 is nattily attired and speaks to the sportier side of the car’s personality. The front seats are boldly bolstered, the dash is canted back towards the driver giving a cockpit-like feel and the switchgear has a uniform, tactile feel – the latter is a marked improvement. It also comes with plenty of equipment, although to get the GT up to a loaded condition means adding a lot of options. For example, adding a 6-disc CD player to the up-level Monsoon audio package pulls $435 from your wallet, the driver’s group (a leather-wrapped wheel and shifter along with steering wheel-mounted audio controls) another $285. If you want side, seat-mounted airbags and drop-down side curtains, well, dig out another $950.
Flying in the face of recent anti-idling legislation is the G6’s remote starter. The irony is that GM has only just begun offering this standard feature … just in time to get it banned.
An option I did enjoy is the panoramic sunroof. This thing has a flip up wind deflector and three panels that slide rearward and stack up against each other at the far end. The result is a sun portal that fills about two-thirds of the roof. While not quite the equivalent of a convertible, it makes for a light airy ride. Mind you, at $2,175 it does not come cheap.
According to the G6’s brochure “The starting point for the new 2005 Pontiac G6 wasn’t a chassis, or an engine, or a panel of sheet metal. It was an idea – unencumbered by assumptions or preconceptions. Unfortunately, there are certain assumptions and preconceptions about a car that shouts its sporting aspirations to the world. On the plus side the G6 has a rock-solid chassis, decent road manners, plenty of comfort and an aggressive look. However, the engine, minus the sophistication of overhead cams, variable valve timing and 50 horsepower, leaves the package lacking. Sadly, GM has the engine in its portfolio – a 3.6LV6 that has all the right ingredients.
Engine: 3.5L, OHV V6
Power: 200 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 220 lb-ft of torque @ 3,200 rpm
Transmission: Four-speed manumatic
Base price/as tested: $27,715/$31,560
Destination charge: $1,000
Fuel economy, L/100 km: city, hwy.