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G8 aims to win hearts where GTO broke them

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G8 aims to win hearts where GTO broke them
The Australian by Jim Mateja, March 29, 2008

FOOL me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Pontiac G8 GT marks the return of a rear-wheel drive performance sedan at Pontiac after an absence of 20 or so years

Pontiac vowed to revive its performance heritage with the GTO in 2004, but the "Goat" lasted only two model years and notched up just 50,000 sales. The rear-wheel drive, V8-powered coupe, which started life as the Monaro in Australia, came up short in looks and performance.

Now comes the 2008 Pontiac G8 with even greater fanfare. The G8 marks the return of a rear-wheel drive performance sedan at Pontiac after an absence of 20 or so years.

More important, it's built on a global platform to be shared by the Chevrolet Camaro coupe and convertible, targeted as a 100,000-unit-a-year duo when they show up for 2010.

So it's not just the G8 riding on this.

Like the GTO, the G8 was created with General Motors' Holden subsidiary in Australia. The G8 will be imported from Australia, but the Camaro will be built in Canada, prompting speculation that the G8 could be built in North America. Pontiac won't say.

The G8 is offered in base form with a 3.6-litre, 190kW V6 and a five-speed automatic with manual mode and a 17 miles (27km) per gallon (3.8 litres) city/25 mpg highway rating, and as a GT with a 6.0-litre V8 and six-speed automatic with manual mode and a 15/25 fuel economy rating.

The V8's active fuel management shuts off four cylinders to conserve fuel, but the economy figures mean it could do better.

We drove the GT, an opening act that serves as evidence that Camaro should be a show stopper - not to mention the GXP performance version (with a 6.2-litre, 300kW Corvette V8) arriving later this year and the two-seat ute (another Chevrolet El Camino?) coming next autumn.

The GT sprints from zero to 60mph in 5.3 seconds - it launches like a rocket. With rear-wheel drive rather than front-wheel drive, there's no torque steer - that sudden lunge to one side - in a power take-off. Acceleration is straight and sure without jiggle, very reassuring when the speedometer tops 90mph before, with apologies to tree huggers and the constabulary, we ease off the pedal. Yes, we tried that more than once.

Since the GT accelerates quickly without the typical performance commotion, you can adjust a chime to sound if you exceed your personal speed limit.

As for road manners, the sports suspension and 18-inch all-season radials are designed for aggressive motoring. Unlike with rear-wheel drive of old, traction control prevents slipping at take-off and stability control ensures no dancing in corners - at high or low speeds.

Handling is very good. We suspect, however, that the optional 19-inch summer performance tyres would sit flatter and tighter in corners. But you don't hazard out in snow on summer treads. No plans for the optimum dry or wet-road performance of all-wheel drive.

The G8 is a premium mid-size sedan with the Pontiac twin honeycomb-shaped grilles, honeycomb air dam, twin hood scoops, wheel flares, spoiler and chrome quad exhaust tips.

The cabin is spacious, and the perforated leather seats are well-cushioned. The generous side bolsters help the seat keep you in place when driving aggressively.

The rear seat holds three in a pinch, two in comfort. The centre seat back folds into a huge table top with cup holders. The boot is massive.

At first glance, the power mirror, window and door lock controls seem out of place in the centre console rather than on the driver's door, but Pontiac says the placement works in right-hand or left-hand drive versions. Global, remember?

But battery and oil gauges are way out of place in a large screen in the top centre of the dash. Pontiac is getting lots of flak about those gauges, so expect them to move.

Nice touches include a boot-release button in the glovebox; 12-volt power plugs in the centre console and centre armrest; a palm-size emergency brake handle in the console that's easy to use without snagging sleeves; and stowage in the doors and behind front seat backs.

Then there's the name. GTO had cachet. Ditto Camaro, Mustang, Firebird and Trans Am. Not G8, which will have to build some.

Pontiac expects to sell 30,000 G8s annually. The ute and GXP will represent niche sales.

The G8 V6 starts at $27,595, the GT at $29,995. Since an import from Australia takes time to arrive in the US, options are limited to basically a $1250 premium package with heated leather power driver/passenger seats and an $800 power sunroof. No satnav.
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