Yesterday, lamenting its death, we extolled the virtues of Pontiac's ten best vehicles. Today we face reality — Pontiac's been building terrible cars for years. These seven stinkers drove the nails into the coffin.
For every GTO or G8 GXP, there were half a dozen Pontiac Phoenix or '88 Pontiac LeMans to make you want to throw up in your mouth. As much as we loved the idea of the Pontiac brand, it just hasn't delivered for too long. Here are the seven cars from recent history which poisoned the well at Pontiac, forcing it to the grave.
The Pontiac G6 was leaps and bounds ahead of the Grand Am it replaced, but all that shows is just how far behind Pontiac was in the mid-size segment. It's headline feature — the trick-sliding sky-view sunroof was pretty neat, but way too expensive and it made the car something of a one-trick pony. In base, four-cylinder form, it clogs the lots of airport rental companies and never really had the stuff to go head-to-head with competitors. And don't even get us started on the interior.
The ninth generation Pontiac Bonneville debuted to universal shoulder shrugs, it did little to justify its higher price over the better packaged Grand Prix, which it borrowed too much styling from. A series of refreshes made the car sportier but it never really caught on with buyers. Funny how indifferent styling, high price and strong competition will do that.
When Pontiac added the SUV-inspired "Montana" package to the newly designed Transport minivan, soccer moms went ape for the vehicle. You couldn't chuck a rock at a little league game without hitting one. That ended when GM half-assed the redesign and stuck a long goofy nose onto a slightly restyled van in order to meet crash requirements. The horrendous result was a massive failure in the marketplace, as it should have been.
GM's former Vice Chairman of Global Product Development Bob Lutz stood on the New York Auto Show stage and noted Pontiac had long been known for the tag-line "We build excitement" even though they'd been delivering it with front wheel drive cars covered in stuck-on plastic. He claimed now they were going to change, introducing two vehicles — the Pontiac G8 ST and the Pontiac Solstice GXP Coupe, the former is now dead, and the latter is selling like candied dog poop. Half a year after Lutz made those statements, gas was $4.30 a gallon and Pontiac dealers were flipping out for an economy car on their floors. GM bowed to the pressure and green-lit the Pontiac G3 for US distribution. The stark contrast in message signaled a floundering purpose for the brand, and definitely not one which would interest enthusiasts.
There are a great many people who've owned Grand Ams, they're a cheap source of transportation, and while there are a few which made it a couple hundred thousand miles, they're by and large terrible, terrible cars. Unless you got the GT models, styling was yawn-inducing, the interiors were committee designed with Fisher-Price grade materials, and the awful suspensions and automatic transmissions sucked the entertainment value out of even the most enjoyable roads.
It's pretty rare for a nameplate to suck so hard for its entire existence, if something is bad, it usually gets killed, but the Sunfire got at least three refreshes. The Pontiac Sunfire was an impossibly ugly reskin of the Chevy Cavalier, and while the Cavalier was a perfectly good cheap beater, the Sunfire got the crushingly bad interior baubles that was tossed at all Pontiacs at the time. Chintzy materials, poorly engineered HVAC system, and rotten colors made it a terrible place to spend time.
No matter how long Pontiac would have survived, the commercial disaster of the Pontiac Aztek would have always hung around its neck. It was incredibly functional, but the chintzy interior materials were only outmatched by the laughably bad styling and equally chintzy-looking exterior plastic cladding. Projected sales were placed at 50,000 to 70,000, but only ever topped 27,000 a year. It got a quickie refresh which saw sportier wheels and painted body cladding, but the damage was done.