2002 Pontiac Grand Prix
    MSRP
    $26,070
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    2002 Pontiac Grand Prix Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

    Turning 40 with style.

    Introduction

    Pontiac Grand Prix is the extrovert in GM's mid-size family, a sinewy body in a sleeveless T-shirt, flaunting a style inspired by NASCAR. The Grand Prix name may refer to European road racing, but the Pontiac Grand Prix is as American as a hot dog at the speedway on Saturday night. 

    Fortunately, the Grand Prix can back its styling braggadocio with plenty of driving excitement, thanks to a thoroughly modern platform, powerful engines, great brakes and excellent handling. The GTP version, in particular, puts enough horsepower through the front wheels to keep drivers interested and alert. Yet its price is impressively modest, compared to an imported sport sedan. 

    For 2002, Grand Prix turns 40 in fine style, with a special 40th Anniversary Edition offered on both two and four-door models in GT or GTP trim. The package includes a unique rear spoiler, hood heat extractors, dual exhausts, NASCAR-style roof fences, unique wheels, and special Dark Cherry Metallic paint. Two-tone leather seats in Ruby Red and Graphite complement the interior. 

    Lineup

    The Grand Prix line includes a four-door sedan in SE ($20,965), GT ($23,085), and GTP ($25,805) trim, plus a coupe at the GT ($22,935) and GTP ($25,625) levels. Three different V6 engines are available, along with two automatic transmissions. 

    SE comes standard with GM's trusty 3.1-liter aluminum-head V6. It's good for 175 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of torque. 

    GT models are equipped with an iron-head, 3.8-liter V6 that produces 200 horsepower and 225 foot-pounds of torque. The GTP adds a civilized supercharger that boosts horsepower to 240 and torque to 280. 

    For 2002, GT models boast more standard equipment including a six-way power driver's seat, steering-wheel audio controls, a cargo net, and a security system. Also for 2002, SE models offer more value, with cruise control and a remote trunk release. 

    Walkaround

    Grand Prix's styling is bold and stunning. It drew magazine and industry awards when it was launched for 1997. In an era when Asian, European and American shapes flow toward neutrality, the Grand Prix is the most American of cars. Its lines are modern, yet evoke memories of the muscle cars of the '60s. 

    Our GTP sedan test car came in a shiny graphite shade. Striking and classy, this paint does much for the car's lines. But nothing does as much as the low, sleek coupe-like roofline. Remember how, just a few years ago, four doors meant a square-edged roof? Other eye-catching elements include the twin-post aerodynamic sideview mirrors, the mini-megaphone twin exhaust tips, and low-profile tires mounted on chromed wheels that reveal beefy disc brakes and calipers. 

    The Grand Prix's wide track accentuates its overall shape, which really is impossible to fault. Its wide, sculptured hood flows down toward Pontiac's trademark split grille, smooth fender flares bulge just the right amount, reflector optic headlamps form sharp clear eyes, and big muscular hips make it look ready to pounce. But it's clearly a Pontiac with fat rocker panel fascia, deep recesses for the foglights, horizontal black bars in the taillamps, a rear deck spoiler and definition grooves in its wraparound bumpers. 

    Interior

    Our test car was equipped with leather seating surfaces ($520) and a power glass sunroof ($795). 

    The graphite gray leather seats were great. Four-way lumbar support for the driver is standard on GTP, and electric heat a $100 option. The mounting track of the driver's seat is wide, to allow more foot room in the back. (Unfortunately, the passenger side has none of this.) The console is comfortable when nudged by the driver's right leg, and there are perfect padded armrests for driving with both elbows parked. The cabin is very friendly for long drives. 

    And speaking of long drives, the Grand Prix offers an eight-speaker Bose sound system ($345 on GTP), with no less than nine adjustments. It's all that you might expect in sound quality and volume. With selector controls on the steering wheel, and CD and radio data alongside mph in the windshield's head-up display, it's clear that tunes are a high priority among Grand Prix buyers. The self-dimming rearview mirror, standard on GTP, is nice. Over-the-shoulder visibility is restricted, however. 

    There's less head room in the back seat than in front, but it feels like more because rear-seat passengers' heads ride aft of the headliner. Two cupholders are contained in a wide shared armrest, which folds down and steals the space for a third passenger, while allowing limited access to the trunk. There's a pocket on the back of the front seats, but no storage in the rear doors, which have a reflector but no light to warn traffic of an open door at night. (The front doors have lights). There's a grab handle over each rear door, but unless your passengers' shoulders are double-jointed, they'll be grabbing the front-seat headrests to exit. 

    Fresh-air lovers will appreciate the big sunroof and rear windows that open all the way. The layout and visibility of the analog gauges is very good, and the heads-up digital display of speed in the bottom of the windshield is not a gimmick, it's an excellent technical innovation and a safety feature that hasn't caught on. As for the orange-red instrument lighting, opinions have long been strongly subjective. A standard driver-information center offers useful data along with some gimmicky stuff. There's even a combination compass/outside air temperature display on the optional electrochromic mirror. 

    The information center indicated a 22.4-mpg average after an 820-mile trip; one that included quite a few floorboard shots just to feel that supercharger rush. That's good mileage for 240 horsepower, and one virtue of supercharging. The bad news is that 92-octane fuel is required. 

    Driving Impression

    This car has muscle. The supercharged V6 is always there for you. Its whiz is restrained, its boost linear. The engine and transmission don't lunge, they surge. The transmission, in performance mode, downshifts under acceleration remarkably smoothly, although it probably should have been programmed to downshift earlier when accelerating hard at lower rpm. With the standard traction control turned off, you can burn rubber just like the old days. Except it's the front wheels laying down the black strips. 

    Powerful engines and front-wheel drive mean torque steer. Most front-wheel-drive cars will abruptly yank on the steering wheel when the throttle is floored, and then it's over; but the GTP's supercharger puts out smooth, linear torque, holding its impressive 280 foot-pounds over a flat curve from about 2500 rpm to nearly 5000. The effect is a gentle, steady tug from the steering wheel that may lead to wandering if you don't stay on top of it (which only adds to the fun). But be careful: When passing quickly with a stretched-out swerve on a two-lane, for example, almost all of your steering is done under the influence of supercharged torque steer. The GTP employs variable-effort electromagnetic power steering, which, frankly, we didn't feel. This is good, because it means the tuning is spot-on. Steering at speed is tight. 

    Handling is responsive with quick, solid turn-in. The chassis, thanks to the wide track and rigid body construction, is wonderfully flat and steady when pushed through smooth curves. The P225/60R16 Goodyear Eagle tires squeal under aggressive cornering, but the GTP handles rapid changes of direction with confident, road-hugging equanimity. 

    The suspension dampens quick little chatter-inducing bumps well, although it clearly announces its softness when the twisties get uneven. But that's a reasonable compromise for the comfortable ride, which is firm but not harsh, with very little vibration transmitted through the seat of your pants. The four-wheel independent suspension uses MacPherson struts and anti-roll bars (30 mm front, 18 mm rear); the suspension tuning allows a significant amount of jounce at the corners, which you feel in your shoulders. Sometimes it feels as if the suspension wants to keep on working, after the bumps are crossed. But overall, the Grand Prix is well sprung. 

    The Grand Prix's strong brakes are one of its best features, with a very solid pedal feel. The 11-inch four-wheel discs are vented in front, and don't get hot when being overused down steep hills. The brakes inspire confidence when slowing dramatically from high speeds, and the ABS is noisy but dead true under panic stops from 65 mph. 

    Summary

    Pontiac has taken a lot of unfair raps for limited engineering refinement. But the Grand Prix doesn't pretend to be a BMW. The GTP, especially, is a very good effort: fast but not too fast, sporty but not too sporty, with excellent handling within limits, and great brakes. Despite some body gimmicks it's wonderfully sculpted and sleek, yet roomy inside. 

    Model Lineup

    SE Sedan $20,965; GT Sedan $23,085; GT Coupe $22,935; GTP Coupe $25,625; GTP Sedan $25,805. 

    Assembled In

    Kansas City, Kansas. 

    Options As Tested

    leather seating surfaces ($520), power glass sunroof ($795). 

    Model Tested

    GTP Sedan ($25,805). 

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