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2008 Pontiac G8: Style and Substance

As you’ve no doubt heard, the Pontiac G8 is but one example of GM’s growing global strategy, built in Australia by GM’s Holden division. Only fully approved in November 2006, production began in November 2007 and the first cars landed on U.S. shores and were being shipped to dealers this week. After seeing the car’s introduction at the 2007 Chicago auto show, we were thrilled to get a chance behind the wheel.

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One of Pontiac’s successes with this project we heard before we even got behind the wheel: The base price is only $27,595; moving to the G8 GT and its V8 engine means you have to shell out $29,995. Fully optioned, the car is less than $33,000. These prices make the G8 an exceptional deal, coming in with a lower MSRP its closest competitor, the Dodge Charger SXT and R/T.
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Don’t let this lineup fool you, Pontiac does offer the G8 in colors other than black or red.

We started the driving day with base G8 and its 256HP 3.6L V6 and five-speed automatic transmission. The V6 gives you usable power, whether merging onto the highway or passing an aged pickup truck on some California two-lane. It is responsive and strong, though a heavy right foot was sometimes necessary to keep the pressure on. The five-speed holds gears to high rpm under heavy throttle, enabling access to all 256HP when you want it, even in Drive. But both versions offer a sport shift. Manumatics aren’t my cup of tea, but GM calibrated these to allow driver-controlled upshifts all the way to redline. Whether five gears of the G8 or six of the G8 GT, the transmissions allow you to pull all you can out of both very willing engines. Along with enough power for entertaining driving, the V6 delivers satisfying exhaust and engine notes.
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But the V6 doesn’t sound as good as the V8-equipped GT, in which we spent the final 100 miles of our drive. The 361HP V8 is incredibly responsive, with power delivery strong and smooth. A blip on the throttle and you’re on your way, but you’re never quite thrown back in your seat. It can be deceptive, as you’ll find yourself at speed quicker than you think. In a Motor Trend Charger R/T versus G8 GT test, the G8 GT comfortably beat the Dodge at every measure. Though Charger is the tougher-looking of the two rear-drive sedans, the G8 feels more solid on the road and offers a bit nicer interior environment.

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Both the V6 and V8 models take the same suspension setup, and in this case it’s the right setup. The car is responsive and firm, but not abusive. Choosing not to offer a harsher option, as with many other packaging/option decisions, was driven in part by the need to keep order complexity down. These cars have a long boat ride before they even get to our shores, much less your dealership. Keeping the ordering options simple will help Pontiac bring the cars in as quickly as possible. Brakes were also strong without being grabby, and could be relied on even after hard driving.
Looks Are Deceiving
The G8 is a more responsive driver’s car than it looks. Despite the (nonfunctional) hood scoops and exceptionally deep front grille, it does not look as aggressive as it is. The car gets nice detail pieces that dress it up, like the side-marker turn indicators and the chrome detailing around the V8’s body-color door handles. The V6 wheels are better looking than those on the V8, though not everyone agrees on that point, and we felt the red taillights of the base car are more attractive than the clear lens of the GT.
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Inside are sporty, supportive, and grippy seats and a nicely laid out interior. The base car gets cloth, with leather an option. But even the base trim and standard steering wheel look and feel substantial and smooth. We’re also happy to report that the tinny, rattle heard when closing the doors on auto show display models has been addressed. These doors closed with a satisfying clunk. Moving up to leather gets leather door inserts, but the base car has a durable, attractive cloth instead of cheap-feeling plastic.
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Pontiac is adding a solid, rewarding car to its range. I was impressed with the car’s stability and willingness to play, but it didn’t quite grab my enthusiast heartstrings. I could be happy with a G8 and enjoyed our little romp, but it didn’t inspire me to start saving pennies. Though not at all unattractive and wearing some very nice details, it does not look as aggressive as it is. Pontiac did the same thing with the GTO, though they are constrained to some degree by using the Holden Commodore as a base car.
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1 Comment

  • Ron| March 5, 2008 at 4:44 pm Reply

    Some people prefer the smoother, streamlined look instead of faux plastic tack-ons. I think the reviewer will be more satisfied with the forthcoming GXP, which will no doubt be visually more aggressive, and likely push him clear through his seat.
    To achieve similar performance and handling to BMW 5 series (E39), which the Australian version of the G8 has done, for half the price, is testimony to Holden’s racing heritage.

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