Yesterday, we saddled up in the General's new Oz-import RWD V8 hotness, the 2008 Pontiac G8 GT, and went for a nice long spin skirting the Mexican border and up through the wildfire-scarred hills east of San Diego. Here's what you need to know: This is one dang fine automobile but it's not without its issues. But at just south of $30K, what are you gonna do? Be a whiny little punk all day long? Just stab it and steer baby.
Pontiac thoughtfully provided us with both the base V6 — a perfectly capable 3.6-liter number making 256 HP — and the alternately growlin' and purrin' V8, which is of course why we're all here. She's a 6.0-liter, 361 HP honey of an engine that Pontiac says will propel the G8 GT to 60mph in 5.3 seconds. All this sitting on top of GM's Zeta platform, otherwise referred to as the Holden Commodore in Australia, where the car was engineered, built and put on the big boat. But most of you already knew this. Most of you also already know that this new arrowheaded sedan represents the first in a coming wave of rear-wheel-drive hotness coming from the General's Aussie branch — with the Camaro next up to bat.
First, let's just strike any more talk about the V6, because really that's not why we're here. We all know the horsepower and hoonage potential of the big V8 is the real reason anyone should be looking at this car. The big 6.0-liter can do the 60 in 5.3, as a brief stretch of Interstate 8 just south of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park allowed us to assess the hoonage quotient, and yes, it is high. It's more than enough to appeal to the youthful redneck contingent that has done time with the screamin' eagle and other Pontiac-badged play-things of the past. Aggressive throttling can set the back end free. Acceleration compresses the abdomen. However, the Aussies, they are a strange people. On the one hand, grilled-flesh-loving criminal stock with an affection for the rugged outdoors and strong beer; on the other, the constructors of the Sydney Opera House, the creators of Penfolds Grange (a fine red wine that rivals collectible California Cabernet and French first growth Bordeaux), and guardians of a culture that gave us the magnificent art critic Robert Hughes.
What I'm saying is: The G8 GT is not some yee-haw backwoods ripper. It's meant to offer far superior value to a BMW 5-series sedan. The car sounds very muscular on the straightaway, but it's refined muscle. Cruising on the freeway, at typical SoCal velocities of approximately 80-90 mph, is comfortable. And there's torque all over the goddamn place, a plaything for your passing pleasure.
Handling? Well, this is where we have our first teensy objection, but truly, not much of one. On meandering, single-lane curves — scenic country road stuff — the G8 GT is simply a pleasure. Point and shoot, with no discernible slosh and plenty of precision in the steering. However, when things get all tight and hairpin-ish, especially headed downhill, we started to feel the nearly 4,000 lb. the car is packing. By and large, the GT doesn't drive as big as it actually is. And it is large — the back seat has ample room for any number of Kama Sutra positions and the front is roomy without making your rear end feel as if you might slip as sideways as you're sliding the G8 GT's rear end. Unless you're fighting gravity and narrow, swerving asphalt. A better driver than this tester would probably be able to manage, but it came across as an Achilles heel. But big whoop. Such circumstances were few and far between on our little adventure through the SoCal wilderness.
But let's talk design for a moment as it's admirably restrained while still hinting at the power within. We studied two color schemes, each telling their own tale:
Red = Screamin'
Black = Well...umm...jeez...sorta elegant. Sorta.
The horrifically beak-like Pontiac front fascia nonsense of previous models is gone — hopefully for good. In its place, a more discreet and tasteful look. Not really a head-turner, but sharp and far more restrained than the Charger. But there are a few issues. I'm not nuts about how far-forward the hood scoops are pushed — it makes the front end seem stubby and I truly dislike the itty-bitty rear taillights. And don't even get me started on the funny-looking trunk lid (though it does hide one big-ass American trunk). Overall, the shape is solid, wide and provocatively sleek — yet another example of the complete Audi-fication of the performance-sedan design field. The 18-inch aluminum wheels are pretty. Ideal customer might be an air-traffic controller from Huntington Beach with a girlfriend who likes shoes, the Angels, and premium vodka.
Not much to say about the interior. Graphite tones. Brushed metal. Leather. Pretty easy to negotiate the instruments. Tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. The Blaupunkt booms. There's a weird orange-red digital voltmeter and oil-pressure display atop the center console that on reflection we now like (it can't be turned off, FYI). OnStar with Turn-By-Turn nav more than makes up for no in-dash nav system and allows you to spend your energies focused on the road. The case for the owner's manual is a piece of floppy nylon shit.
Soooo, what more could we want? Six-speed manual, obviously although Pontiac claims they may offer one if they do a performance version. There's also the matter of the immense A and B pillars, something that we and our driving partner, the esteemed Jill Ciminillo of the Chicago Sun-Times, noticed as troublemakers during tight driving. Oh yeah, how about a sun-roof? Nice big one, please. Or T-tops. It is a Pontiac, after all, structural rigidity be damed.
Verdict? G'day, GT!