2009 Pontiac Vibe: A Vibe for Every Lifestyle
Pontiac‘s Vibe Slam event was webcast at www.pontiacunderground.com, introducing the 2009 Pontiac Vibe to the media and a Pontiac fan base all at the same time. Pontiac chose Detroit-area artists, vocalists, and poets to help, showcasing talent that they felt personified Pontiac energy and style. Before we heard from the marketing, design, engineering, and development guys, three vocalists dramatized the distinct personalities of three Vibe models (base, AWD, and GT). Each described their lifestyle in automotive terms tailored toward each Vibe model (Vibe, Vibe AWD, and Vibe GT).
Despite talented performers with smart and clever lines, the event’s vibe didn’t drive the excitement Pontiac was looking for in the sparse live audience, most of whom might have been a little past the target age bracket. The point of these presentations is showing off the image, improvements, and benefits of a new car, but this one tried too hard.
Poets aside, Pontiac brings an evolutionary Vibe to its showrooms next spring. The Vibe is versatile, the right size for many, and has the attributes to fill the image Pontiac wants. The AWD model is set to evoke an SUV look while the GT addresses those looking for a speed-racer mindset with manual transmission, bodykit, and rear spoiler. The base car looks competent but not cheap. But buyers are always the ones who determine the cool factor, and we were fed adjectives over information. (Click to see the presentation yourself, or for a short YouTube interview with the three vocalists.)
GT And AWD Models Revived
An expanded engine lineup allows Pontiac to get creative and offer more than just the base model.
With a new 2.4L I4, Pontiac brings back both GT and AWD models. The 132HP 1.8L DOHC 16v I4 is new and used for the base Vibe; there is a 6HP horsepower increase with no significant fuel-economy penalty. Choosing GT or AWD models gets a 158HP 2.4L I4; going AWD carries a notable fuel-economy penalty of estimated 19/25, compared with the 26/32 of the base engine. A five-speed manual transmission is standard for base and GT models; a four-speed automatic is optional for base car and standard for the AWD model. The GT or AWD models can be ordered with a five-speed autobox.
Vibe Versus Matrix
The Pontiac Vibe is the result of a joint-venture project with Toyota. Out of this project also comes Toyota’s Matrix, introduced only days before the Vibe at the 2007 SEMA show. This is the second generation of both, and they go on sale in early 2008. Under the sheetmetal, Vibe and Matrix share most basic systems, with fine-tuning done independently for each. At heart a Toyota Corolla-family platform, Pontiac was closely involved with development. According to Pontiac, they development requirements and gave them to Toyota to solve. Vibe is built at the NUMMI Toyota-GM plant in California; Matrix is built at Toyota’s plant in Ontario.
Where the two differ most, next to exterior sheetmetal, is in suspension tuning and engine control software. We haven’t driven either, so it’s too soon to comment on driving characteristics.
Distant Cousins on the Outside Look Like Twins on the Inside
Though Vibe and Matrix don’t share sheetmetal, they shopped in the same interior parts bin.
Once you get in the driver’s seat, it is tougher to tell these two apart. Pontiac says they directed interior styling decisions, but it doesn’t change that much switchgear looks from Toyota’s parts bin and is used on both cars. There are small differences in the center stack and dashboard layout between the two, but nothing significant. Steering wheels (excepting the center badge), instrument panels, HVAC vents and controls, gear selector and position, and most other switchgear is identical. Both get the split-fold rear seat, the Pontiac offers a cargo-area divider to help stop stuff from rolling around.
Pontiac offers different audio and navigation systems than Matrix. Pontiac understands its buyers care about music, and the Vibe gets a better uplevel audio system, with optional seven-speaker Monsoon sound. Vibe gets GM’s OnStar system standard while Toyota offers optional full-screen navigation. GM describes OnStar as standard, but it is more like getting a free cell phone. The hardware and first-year basic service is standard, but the package that includes Turn-by-Turn navigation is an extra cost. Beyond the first year, OnStar requires a subscription.
OnStar allows GM to check the box for offering navigation in price-sensitive markets, but any navigation system without a map is compromised. There are times that you get what you pay for; OnStar’s Turn-by-Turn system is one.
Vibe is Pontiac Design of the Future
This approach of offering “clean, purposeful shapes” is a wonderful improvement over the overdone cladding of the not-too-distant Pontiac past. There is also more going on with this car’s lines and stance up close and personal than comes through in the videos or photos. The studio photography isn’t flattering, as the car looks too shiny and soft. But when you get next to it, the lines offer more definition and the car looks both tougher and more refined. The Vibe looks better in person than in photos, but it will garner criticism for reduced cargo capacity numbers thanks to a faster rear roofline.
Details prevent even the base model from looking cheap, with chrome accents around the base car’s foglamps and upper grille, the horizontal elements filling the lower front fascia of the base and AWD models, and detailing in headlamps and taillamps. Standard wheels and tires are sixteens for base and AWD, eighteen for the GT, and even the base car gets decent-looking wheels.
AWD models sport standard roof racks and large rally fog lamps while the GT gets a specific lower front fascia, rear spoiler, and mesh in the lower front grille. The base car looks the cleanest, no-nonsense, and ready to do its job without affectation.