2006 Pontiac G6 Expert Review:Autoblog
On a cold and windy winter day in Chicago the last feature you'd expect to be checking for is the sunroof. But here I am scoping out the new Sport Red Metallic Pontiac G6 GT that was recently dropped off and I'm a bit disappointed that it is sans the collapsible panoramic roof.
Don’t get me wrong there will be no day on this drive I open the regular sized sunroof the tester is equipped with, but I wanted to see the much talked about accordion style sucker in person. It’s never good to begin a test week disappointed but here I go.
Luckily the roof is pretty much the only thing I’m not impressed with during the first full day of driving. From the outside the G6 looks solid. I enjoy everything about the design from the macho stance, broad backside, narrowing side windows and even the chrome wheels are a good fit (I always prefer the brushed or dull look myself). The only feature I’m really not in love with are the headlights.
Is it just me or do they look way too big for the rest of the car? They seem to creep too far up on the hood and over the natural line created by the gap between the hood and front fender.
Inside the car is terrific looking. As always black plastic looks best in any car and in this model the two-tone with the tan fabrics and leather seats is a nice combination. Out of all the GM products I’ve tested the Pontiac division seems to be doing the best with whatever platform they’re given. The cockpit feels sporty and somewhat European. I can’t wait to find out if the car’s performance holds up to its looks.
The general, overall impression I'm getting from the G6 after extended driving is that this indeed is a car that can compete with the likes of the Mazda 6. The 6 was one of the first cars I "officially" tested and I was surprised at how fast the manual transmission "6 S" was and how well it handled for an import sedan. The Camry certainly isn't as fun and the Accord, while more powerful in V6 form, is just too ugly for me. But the 6, that was stylish and like the commercials say, fun to drive.
So here comes Pontiac to the game hoping to compete with all those same cars and for the most part it will top them in value with standard V6 for just over $20,000.
But my main complaint is the engine is nowhere near as well tuned, or powerful, as the Mazda 6 or Accord V6. While the manual mode is smooth shifting, especially for an American manufacturer, the standard automatic transmission has a hard time selecting gears when pushed.
On the way to work I was stuck behind a very old man behind the wheel of a very large Cadillac. In Chicago, most streets are two lane affairs with one lane each way with parking allowed on the curb. During rush hour people aren’t allowed to park in the higher traffic areas. That means there is room to pass someone, like my grey haired nemesis, but not by much. My opportunity to pass the guy arrives before parked cars start on the next block. I throw the G6 around to the right lane, punch the accelerator and…whiiiiir…the transmission can not find second gear or third as I floor it. The old guy is literally staring at me like “what is this whippersnapper doing?”
Due to this lackluster attempt I’m stuck at the next light on the stop bar next to this guy. So now I put it into the manual mode and easily fly away from the light and shift smoothly. What we’ve learned is Pontiac needs to work on their engine and transmission combination a bit for even the most average real world acceleration.
Otherwise the car rides great. The suspension is firm enough to feel sporty while absorbing bumpy roads. Turning could be a little tighter. The wheel requires about a half turn too far to get around parking spaces and the wheelbase is actually longer than the Buick LaCrosse I just got of. Go figure. I’m still digging the interior except for the faux wood (carmakers, stop doing this to $20,000 cars) and hard to grasp interior door handles.
Read about Day 1 in the Pontiac G6.
Usually the third day in a car is where I point out all the flaws it has. But yesterday I spent time talking about my one big hang-up with the acceleration and engine so I'm left with little to complain about.
Inside I just love the G6. It is very cool looking. The only plastic that fails to impress is on the door handle (both front and rear) and little things like the rear cup holders are very cheap (I’m talking Kia cheap). But those won’t get as much notice as the nice everyday stuff like the center stack, attractive gauge pod and surprisingly enough my favorite little cell phone cubby, pictured here, above the shifter. Positioned right next to the electric outlet it is the perfect size for cell phone, palm pilot, Sidekick etc. There’s another plug in the larger center storage compartment too if you have more than one electric gadget.
Parking is kind of a pain in the G6. The longer wheelbase than the Buick is annoying. I park in the same lot every day at work. It is a tight fit for any car. But the Buick definitely handled the sharp turns better even though it was a larger car. It’s not a make or break attribute but seems odd for the “sport sedan” in the family.
The trunk isn’t huge but for those shopping this segment it is acceptable. I like the deep storage wells on the sides with cargo netting. They could actually fit a few bags of groceries easily unlike many “cargo” areas which seem like you could slip a loaf of bread in them and that’s about it. You can see a bunch of dry cleaning, my messenger bag and assorted other shopping bags fit easily with much more room behind them to flip-down seats. Before I get the question after last week’s Old Navy comments, these pictures are not product placements. I just shop at Old Navy and DSW and am recycling the bags for dry cleaning. And pictures of a full trunk are better, in my opinion, then an empty one. Comments about my discount shopping habits and recycling bags can be posted below.
I'm not sure if I should just wrap up the G6 today or add more tomorrow. Basically the car has gone back to wherever test cars go when I'm done with them and I'm left with just my images and memories…awww. Seriously though the G6 does deliver that American sport sedan that Pontiac promised. Could it do a better job? Definitely. Is it worth the $21-$23,000 sticker price. Sure.
In the end I think Pontiac fans can now buy a new model without the guilt that they’re throwing their money away on an outdated looking vehicle. There’s no excess to the design and the interior is, again, very nice. Here are pics of the rear door handles that I thought felt so cheap. The door handles all around were really the only disappointment inside.
The stereo has a decent sound quality but I’m alarmed that so much travel information is stored in the stereo display. What if I want an aftermarket unit? Luckily the controls are handy once you learn what they all do, and there are a lot of them. Maybe just a round of new speakers and an amp would suffice the audiophiles out there. Steering wheel controls aren’t so easily laid out and I didn’t adjust the stereo volume much using them. And like all Chevy and Pontiac products of late the wheel itself is the dopey four-pronged affair. Check out the new Corvette and ask yourself what it’s doing there as well.
In the performance arena I would’ve liked a little tighter steering and a shorter wheelbase. I’m sure this is the length it needed to be to push the wheels to the edge of the bumpers as far as they can go to placate the design mavens. But should they if it effects the way the car performs? Add that to the transmission problems I’ve already mentioned and that could turn some people off.
When you put the G6 side by side with the Mazda 6 it’s a tough call. Depending on your taste in looks you could go either way. But because of the engine and other performance issues I would lean towards the 6 myself. Although I sure wouldn’t turn my nose down at a friend that bought the G6 either. Not in the same way I do whenever I see a new Grand Am on the street.
And to answer my own question I’ll probably do a gallery roundup tomorrow.
New Car Test Drive
New coupe and hardtop convertible join the sedan.
The Pontiac G6 lineup has been expanded for 2006. A sleek two-door coupe and a dramatic folding hardtop convertible join the attractive four-door sedan that was launched as an all-new nameplate for 2005.
The mission of the G6 is to beat the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Mazda6 on value, a proposition bolstered by GM's lower prices for 2006. While the G6 doesn't offer the refinement or attention to detail of its Japanese rivals, it's an alternative worth considering for shoppers in the mid-size car market. (The G6 replaces the Grand Am, which has been discontinued.)
The G6 sedan line has been expanded for 2006 as well, with multiple engine and trim levels available. Engine choices for 2006 include a 2.4-liter four cylinder for the base model, the 3.5-liter V6 that comes on the GT, and a 3.9-liter V6 with variable valve timing for the new GTP models. Transmission choices include four-speed automatics for all three engine choices and a six-speed manual for the high-performance 3.9-liter GTP.
We've driven a G6 GT sedan and a GTP Coupe. We found the G6 has good road manners even when driven hard, benefits of its long wheelbase and European-designed architecture. The sedan is roomy and plush with excellent overall function and its price point has made it a popular choice as a mid-size sedan. The coupe is comfortable and sporty.
The G6 offers some interesting features. The car can be started remotely from the comfort of your home by pressing a button on the key fob, a luxury on bitter cold winter mornings or sweltering summer afternoons. A Panoramic roof is available on sedans, with panels that slide rearward creating a sunroof large enough for the back seat riders to enjoy an open-air experience. For a real open-top experience, the new convertible features one of the longest retractable hardtop roofs in production.
The 2006 Pontiac G6 sedan comes standard with a four-cylinder engine ($17,865), but is also available with the V6 ($19,065). (All prices are MSRP and do not include the $625 destination charge).
The sportier GT model is available in sedan ($21,365), coupe ($21,165), and convertible ($27,865) body styles. The GT models come standard with the V6, ABS, and 17-inch wheels and tires. They're upgraded with a four-way seat with power height adjustment and a 200-watt Monsoon premium sound system.
The high-performance GTP is available as a sedan ($23,065), coupe ($22,865), or convertible ($29,365). The GTP features its own special 3.9-liter V6 engine and higher-capacity 4T65-E four-speed automatic transaxle. A manual six-speed wide-ratio transaxle is optional on GTP sedan and coupe models.
Options include XM Satellite Radio ($325), a standard-sized sunroof ($800), remote starting ($190), and chrome-finish 17-inch wheels ($700). Various options packages are available, including a Leather Package for the GT and GTP ($1,365). The Panoramic roof ($1500) is available for GT and GTP sedans.
Safety features that come on all models include driver and passenger front airbags (the passenger side airbag features occupant detection) and seatbelts with pretentioners. (Make sure you wear them.) Optional are side-impact air bags and head curtain airbags ($690) and anti-lock brakes packaged with traction control. What kind of traction control you get depends on the trim level. Basic traction assist is available on the base model, full-spectrum traction control on the GT, and traction control with the GM/Delphi Stabilitrak chassis control system will be available on the GTP. OnStar ($695) is an excellent safety feature for its ability to summon help. We recommend opting for all this stuff. Stabilitrak can help you avoid a wreck. Side-impact airbags are designed to protect your torso while curtain airbags are designed to provide head protection in a side impact. Head injuries are the leading cause of fatalities in side impacts.
When the G6 was introduced, Pontiac was quick to point out that all of its future cars would incorporate cues from the G6, that it was the living expression of what all future Pontiacs will look like and act like. So far, this has been true, with new Pontiacs like the Torrent reflecting the G6's clean, uncluttered styling.
Gone are the massive side-cladding panels and standoff rear spoiler associated with Pontiac. Instead, there is a single spear running down the sides of the G6 with an optional delicately integrated spoiler lip on the trailing edge of the decklid. GTP models look similar to the GT, but with a standard spoiler chrome exhaust tips. The base version has almost no decoration at all, and is even a bit soulless in style when compared to the previous high-energy, hot-looking Grand Am, even duller than the Honda Accord.
The new 2006 coupe and convertible inject a little more excitement into the styling. The two share the same sleek profile, although the roof on the coupe looks much better integrated (for obvious reasons). The frameless windows are indexed, meaning that they automatically open 0.25 inch when the doors are opened, and close again when the door is closed for a tight seal. From the rear, both cars feature narrow taillights and a sloping decklid that looks similar to the Toyota Solara coupe and convertible. We think it's an improvement over the blander styling of the sedan.
The Pontiac G6 is built in Michigan on GM's international Epsilon platform, from parts and ideas used on the Saab 9-3, Opel Vectra, Chevrolet Malibu sedan and Malibu Maxx wagonette, all introduced over the past two years.
All G6 models use the long wheelbase version of the Epsilon platform (like the Malibu Maxx), which gives them ride and handling finesse, with a structural stiffness that helps the G6 achieve a 27.3 Hz bending frequency, a big number that ranks with most luxury cars. Pontiac says the car is designed with three major torque rings that add stiffness and strength without taking up too much space or adding weight. In addition to the torque rings, the G6 structure also uses high-strength steel for about 60 percent of underbody components and central tunnel. Rather than just a single layer of sheet steel, the tunnel has an extra piece of steel welded between it and the floor pan. The stiff body uses fully isolated front and rear subframes to carry the heavy stuff, and the front one is hydroformed for strength and light weight. These measures can be experienced in the smooth ride and sharp handling of the G6.
The G6 interior is altogether different from the somewhat excitable, frenetic soft-plastic, fat-knob theme of the old Grand Ams. It is much darker, more modern, more European.
The sporty front bucket seats are made for body comfort and body retention in high-speed maneuvers, and they are very comfortable and thickly padded.
Rear-seat space benefits from the relatively long wheelbase of 112.3 inches. In the sedan, a 6-foot, 4-inch passenger can sit behind a 6-foot, 4-inch driver with plenty of room. Those with tall friends or family may want to remember that the Panoramic sunroof is powered by a motor that takes up a big chunk of headroom at the trailing edge of the sedan's headliner. The coupe's rear seating is a little tighter, and the convertible's tighter still, especially in shoulder and hip room.
The dash is done in four major sections including a stark, ungrained plastic center stack that holds two vents, the sound system, heater controls, and a 12-volt power outlet. Instruments and controls are presented in white on black (red at night). Every single knob and escutcheon has a chrome ring around it. Very tastful, and nicely presented, with small, conservative graphics on the faces and labels. The center stack has a red-LED readout and control panel that allows every owner to use the sound system's features, and to customize the locking, lighting, and other functions, with a trip computer and driver information system that's easy, intuitive, and fun to use.
This G6 offers a remote starting system for those cold winter mornings, power adjustable pedals, and OnStar and XM Satellite Radio, which use a single integrated antenna for 2006.
The Panoramic roof available for the four-door sedan comes open in four stacking segments, front to rear, and has about twice as much open area as the conventional sunroof, which is also offered. It's remarkable how easily it works, and keeps conversation possible even at very high road speeds. It's an interesting feature and we recommend it.
The two-door convertible's top was engineered with Karmann, which specializes in convertibles. The big top opens and closes within 30 seconds, storing under the truck lid and a hard tonneau cover when open.
The trunk is still accessible when the top is down, but space is reduced from a tiny 5.8 cubic feet to a grocery-bag sized 1.8 cubic feet. By comparison, the coupe offers 11 cubic feet of trunk space, while the sedan offers 14 cubic feet. Obviously, that can limit your use of the convertible's top-down mode on long trips.
The Pontiac G6 is fun to drive and quite pleasant for cruising around. We found the sedan and coupe reasonably quiet around town. A few powertrain and road noises slipped in here and there, and there was some wind noise from the sharp-cornered mirror bodies. The ride is comfortable and smooth and the car tracks well. The electric power steering is nicely weighted in terms effort at the steering wheel rim, but a little vague in fast transitions.
The 3.5-liter V6 is quiet and smooth, with a 0-60 mph time that's just enough to keep you out of trouble, but not enough to make your heart beat faster. The more powerful GTP delivers more sprightly performance. The GM EcoTec 2.4-liter is from the same double overhead-cam engine family used in the Saab 9-3, Opel Vectra, and Chevrolet Malibu. The four-cylinder engine is restricted to the base model, and the big HO V6 is available only on the GTP models.
The 3.5-liter V6 produces 201 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. The 3.9-liter engine that comes in the GTP is rated at 240 horsepower, 240 pound-feet of torque (227 hp and 235 lb-ft in the convertible). The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is rated 167 horsepower, 162 pound-feet of torque.
While the G6's V6 engines are updated significantly, they are overhead-valve engines (GM calls them cam in block), low-tech to be sure, but GM has refined this design and they are relatively smooth and quiet and get decent fuel economy, with an EPA City/Highway rating of 21/29 miles per gallon for the 3.5-liter. The 3.9-liter features variable valve timing, which alters when the intake and exhaust valves open and close as the engine revs for more power and efficiency. Some torque steer was evident, a mild tug on the steering wheel on full-throttle starts and low-speed kickdowns.
The automatic transmission worked flawlessly. The four-speed automatic is matched well to the engine's power and torque bands, though it's one gear short of many of the G6's competitors, and performance and fuel economy are consequently affected. Most of the time, we simply put it in Drive and drove. However, it features a neat, simple manual-control mechanism that allows the driver to shift manually. When the manual mode is selected, it will not automatically upshift for you at redline, it goes right up against the rev limiter, a strategy that enthusiasts prefer. An indicator light in the instrument panel helps remind you to shift.
We did a number of 90-0 mph ABS panic stops with the car on a deserted country road, and it stopped straight and true every time with no fade. The brakes have a nice, progressive power application through the pedal.
The Pontiac G6 is a roomy car that offers good road manners and excellent overall function, especially at initial prices. It does its job well and sales numbers will surely increase now that the line has been fleshed out with coupes, convertibles, high-performance and a low-price leader.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed the report on the sedan from the Detroit area; with Mitch McCullough reporting on the coupe from Los Angeles.
Pontiac G6 sedan 4-cylinder ($17,865); base V6 ($19,065); GT V6 sedan ($21,365); coupe ($21,165); ($27,865); GTP V6 sedan ($23,065); coupe ($22,865); convertible ($29,365).
Orion Township, Michigan.
Options As Tested
front side-impact and head curtain airbags ($690); sunroof ($800); OnStar ($695); XM Satellite Radio ($325); power adjustable pedals ($125); rear spoiler ($225).
Pontiac G6 GT sedan ($21,365).
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