We had just driven an engineering prototype of the coming Pontiac G8 sedan, the four-door, far more practical version of the coming Camaro, the Camaro convertible and gawd knows what else General Motors plans. We had just taken it up Mount Palomar, east of San Diego, over a twisting, dropping, lunging ribbon of two-lane asphalt favored by sport bikers and kamikaze supercars on the weekends. We were on it midweek and so had it all to ourselves, and since no one, including the Page Ranking guy, had said we were supposed to drive slowly or delicately, we were flat-out and flinging it the whole way. The G8 never faltered.
You can tell a lot about a car when you really start pushing it through corners, especially if you're making little mistakes the whole way, such as lifting off the gas just a little too suddenly and cranking the wheel with less than sublime smoothness around tightened-up corners. In such situations, little flaws that hid themselves well when you were stopping and going in city rush-hour traffic suddenly become big, gaping, inexcusable flaws. But as we pushed the rear-wheel-drive G8 harder and harder up the mountain, no massive shortcomings came out.
As we cranked the wheel over, the weight shifted dutifully from one side to the next, easing over in one movement to rest on the outer hull and start carving, instead of chopping, wallowing and lunging back and forth in a panicked weight transfer that even Dr. Phil couldn't help with. When we eased on the gas, the weight settled nicely over the rear wheels, which spun mightily in cadence and thrust the car up and out of the corner.
Granted, it wasn't quite as smooth in its mountain-carving demeanor at the ragged edge as, say, a BMW 5 Series or even a Mercedes-Benz E-Class or an Audi A6, but it was so much better than anything ever made with four doors and a Pontiac badge that we made plans to buy one should we ever find ourselves on the GM employee-discount plan and in need of a conservative people hauler.
And power? Hoo, man. The first G8 we drove that day had a big 6.0-liter, 362-hp, 391-lb-ft, L76 V8 underhood. It has to haul around only 3995 pounds of Pontiac, by the way, giving it a power-to-weight ratio comparable to the best V8-powered four-doors in the class. It's better in power-to-weight than the Audi A6 4.2 and within a hiccup of the BMW 550i. The Mercedes E550 is a little better, and the '07 Cadillac CTS-V is a little bit better than that. Still, it's nice company.
Aft of the V8 was GM's Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic with an easy sport-shifting mode that we used all the way up one side of Mount Palomar and down the other. It was just about flawless. A TR6060 six-speed manual will be offered in other countries but not in ours. Too bad. We think Pontiac ought to do it, if for no other reason than the flagship-sedan status.
When it was time to head down, we did so at a considerably slower pace because of both the 3.6-liter V6 under the hood of the second G8 we drove that day and the steadily complaining Page Ranking guy who was now in the back seat of our car. ("People have been killed in various cars in certain places in the world! Killed!")
While the V8 is an aluminum pushrod small-block with cast-in iron cylinder liners, the all-aluminum V6 has dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and continuously variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust cams. It makes 261 hp at 6300 rpm and 250 lb-ft of torque at 3200. That's for a slightly lower curb weight of 3885 pounds. (Both engines take regular unleaded, another plus for American sedans.)
However, we noticed that the biggest difference between V6 and V8 G8s was not in horsepower but in suspensions.
The V6 model, called the S, as opposed to the V8-powered SS, is scheduled to come standard with GM's FE1 suspension. The FE1 allows more vertical motion at a much greater rate than the SS model's FE2 setup. We asked chief engineer Doug Houlihan if the FE2 couldn't be made available in the V6 model, too. He appeared at least to consider the idea, if not immediately to launch a manufacturing change order for it.
There was no mention of the coming Cadillac CTS' FE3 setup on this car.
Both FE1 and FE2 offer Mac struts in the front with stabilizer bars, progressive-rate coil springs and fully adjustable caster, camber and toe. The rear ends had four-link independent suspensions, also with progressive-rate coil springs over shocks, a stabilizer bar and fully adjustable camber and toe.
Tires on our prototype drive were Bridgestone Potenza RE050A 245/40R-19s. Production G8s will get Goodyear Eagle RSA 245/45R-18s. You will be able to get 19s as an option.
Steering is rack-and-pinion with variable rate. Brakes are four-wheel discs with ABS, ventilated front and rear, with twin-piston calipers. We never felt any fade, despite the horrific abuse we were doling out, something we couldn't say about earlier GM sedans. Several years ago, we actually saw the brakes of GM sedans catch fire after braking at the drag strip. No fires here.
The new car rides on the latest version of the Holden rear-wheel-drive platform, developed in Australia. That platform started with the VT name 10 years ago, it was improved to the VX, and then we saw it as the VZ under the last generation of the GTO. The latest version we drove here was the VE, which carries this all-new G8. The VE is about 50 percent stiffer in bending and torsional resistance than the VZ.
The interior was full of nice touches, too. It had one of the most comfortable rear seats of any sedan, with reclined seatbacks, as well as plenty of headroom for those much more than six feet tall. Our engineering prototypes were trimmed for the Mideast market, complete with Arabic script on the warning labels. That meant they had a more blacked-out finish inside, which looked mighty stealth. Americans are supposed to like slightly brighter, busier interiors, so we will get some chrome strips throughout.
The trunk was typically American huge, with a ski pass-through for trips to Boyne.
Pricing is very competitive for such a competitive sedan. G8s are expected to start at $26,000 for a V6 S and $30,000 or $31,000 for a V8 SS.
It'll be a good thrill ride when it gets here. Just be careful whom you take along.
6.0-liter, 362-hp, 391-lb-ft V8; rwd, six-speed automatic
By MARK VAUGHN
PONTIAC G8: A car so fast the PR guy sweats - AutoWeek Magazine