Beat this: the year was 2002, sink or swim time for old Pontiac. They needed something, anything, to bolster their "excitement" branding because for the past ten years the division had done little but crap out plastic-clad rentals. Why not a sporty little wagon? Sure, the kids will love it, families on a budget will love it and people who have to haul a lot of lightweight junk around (like my friend Peter the photographer) would be all over it. Obviously, this calls for a clean sheet design, right? No, Pontiac is part of GM, the largest car maker the world
has had ever known. Therefor Vibe was (and still is) nothing more than a re-skinned and re-badged Toyota Matrix. And what's a Toyota Matrix? Glad you asked. Like a Lexus R330 is actually a Camry, the Matrix is nothing more than a boxy, jacked up Corolla. To recap, GM's youth-oriented "Excitement" division hangs a new nose off a fat Japanese economy box that delivers Novocaine instead of thrills and almost mendaciously names it, "Vibe." But, that's not why I'm so sad.
In 2002, GM happened to own a 20% stake in Fuji Heavy Industries, the parent of Subaru. In 2001, Subaru introduced a car Stateside to mondo acclaim. Automobile named it their Car of the Year. Car & Driver stuck it on their 10 Best List. Consumer Reports named it a Best Buy. I bought one. Yup folks, we're talking 'bout the Subaru WRX. Now pretend you're a Pontiac brand manager for a moment. Your car czar has called your division, "Damaged." You are aware that Pontiac occupies a chamber of every true pistonhead's heart because you invented the muscle car. Wouldn't you at least raise your hand during a marketing meeting and make a case for building the Vibe off the WRX chassis? Yes, $25,000 is a lot of scratch for a small wagon. But exactly like sibling Saab did when they got the WRX platform and badged it as a 9-2X, why not sell both a normally aspirated version? The less-powerful guy can sticker for around $17,000 (essentially what the Vibe costs) and the more expensive a turbo iteration is for the enthusiasts. Makes sense, right?
Saab's 9-2X, of course, was an utter flop and discontinued after just three years. And why not? Did the the 9-2X offer a single meaningful improvement over the WRX upon which it was based? No. Did it make any sense whatsoever as a Saab? Of course not. Put it this way, when a friend's 9-2X lease was up (they were practically giving 'em away) he bought a WRX, not a Saab. Oh, and the wizards at GM decided to slide the Saabaru's base price up by $2,500. And that was for the turbo-charged Aero model. The non-turbo Linear 9-2x sold for a whopping $5,500 over the Imprezza wagon. Which was simply, fatally insane. The irony is that GM sold a large chuck of its shares in Fuji Heavy Industries to none other than Toyota.
Out grabbing coffee today I saw a baby-blue Vibe and hung my head in shame. Could you imagine what a sales success a WRX-based Pontiac turbo AWD wagon would a have been? Especially compared to the duller than dirt Vibe? Oh, my friend Peter the photographer I mentioned above, bought a Matrix instead of the Vibe because he thought the Pontiac looked like the Aztek, the Toyota cost less and, in his words, "It's a Toyota." Sigh... You?