Pontiac Grand Prix GTP

Review Notes: Pontiac Grand Prix GTP
Personality Like a boxer wearing a well-padded glove: powerful but not rough
Quirks Cruise control, tiny key
Unusual features Great power at every speed, very responsive automatic, oil life indicator
Gas mileage (EPA) 18 city, 28 highway, premium gas (supercharged 3.8 engine)
20 city, 30 highway, regular gas (3.1, 3.8 engines)
Above Average: Acceleration - instant, smooth, and at any speed
Needs Work In: Traction, cruise control

The 2002 Grand Prix GTP shows that you can mix luxury and power, and still have a reasonable price. While base models start at about $22,000, our loaded GTP cost $30,000 - that's more than a Chrysler 300M or Chevrolet Impala. For that price, you get a supercharged 240 horsepower engine with gobs of torque (and a thirst for premium fuel), a very responsive automatic transmission, four doors for maximum convenience, a heads-up display that comes in handy for seeing how many times the speed limit you're going, and goodies such as a trip computer and separate heat controls for the driver and passenger.

The strong point of the GTP is of course the supercharged engine. No matter how fast you're going, from a standing start to excessive highway speeds, simply mashing down the pedal results in instant thrust, without complaint. The silky-smooth transmission downshifts readily but quietly, the perfect combination of comfort and performance. This is one nice drivetrain, but you'd better put aside some cash for speeding tickets.

Most drivers will find the standard 3.8 engine to be quite sufficient. With 200 horsepower, it runs on regular gas and gets a couple of extra miles per gallon. It's less thrilling but still quite competitive, and is easier to keep reigned in. The 3.8 engine is well-tested and very reliable, and the Grand Prix GT is considerably cheaper than the supercharged version.

On the highway, the Grand Prix does well on most curves, easily holding up to what the average driver would put it through. There's no torque steer to speak of at highway speeds, though jackrabbit starts can easily result in squealing tires. However, this is more of a cruiser than a sports car, and swinging it around turns as though it was a Camaro or Jetta will not have the desired results. To be fair, the Grand Prix gives lots of warning as the driver's control lessens, and it's easy to learn the limits.

The ride is relatively comfortable, with strong cushioning of major bumps but still good road feel. The GTP's suspension is moderately stiff, but certainly not punishing.

Visibility is good, and most controls are lit at night, admittedly in bright red - not our favorite scheme, but it's used by Volkswagen and Pontiac across the line. During the day, the instrument panel is somewhat more restrained and clearly readable, with real numbers on the temperature gauge. (When will someone put real numbers on the fuel gauge, too?)

The heads-up display reflects bright green LEDs in a small patch of windshield, making it easier for the driver to check the speed without dropping their eyes. Turn signals are also shown in the display, along with brief radio information when a CD changes tracks or when you change radio stations. The trip computer is conveniently in the dashboard, and has few buttons for easier use; you can see your gas mileage, fuel used, miles to go, and oil life. (Since most people change their oil about three times as often as they need to, the oil life indicator can save you a pretty good stack of change.) There is also a moderately useless boost gauge on supercharged models.

The radio is very easy to operate, on our test vehicle including sliders for bass and treble and knobs for other key functions - the best way to do it, since it's easier and faster to adjust knobs and sliders than to hold your finger down on a button, or press one button to get into audio mode and then move another to adjust bass. There are radio controls on the steering wheel. The climate control, though a bit old-fashioned, is easy to use, with dual zone temperature sliders and a powerful, quiet fan. We appreciate the separate A/C button.

The center console has two pullout cupholders, and a removable change holder, with slots for cassettes and CDs. A padded cubby is under the center stack, and both front doors have small map pockets. The large mirror held a temperature display, compass, and OnStar, GM's wonderful emergency/concierge service.

The minivan-style gas mileage is explained when you visit the rear seat. The coupe version is, as all are, less convenient than the four-door version, since you have to shove the seat belt out of the way (partly by removing it from the front seat loops). The sedan has good rear seat access, though a slightly taller door might help those dealing with taller car seats.

The Grand Prix's most worthy competitors are, in our opinion, the comfortable but poor-handling Toyota Avalon; the better-handling but not as quick (at least, not as quick as the supercharged version) Chrysler 300M and Dodge Intrepid; the Nissan Maxima; and GM's own under-rated Chevrolet Impala, which provides solid competition for the unblown Grand Prix line. Low-end Grand Prix models compete with the solid, brand-new Toyota Camry, as well as the popular Honda Accord. The Grand Prix, it is worth noting, is made in Kansas by a truly American company, unlike most of its competitors.

We thoroughly enjoyed the Grand Prix GTP, despite its thirst for premium fuel, and the coupe's heavy doors. We think you should give it - and the Chevy Impala - a try.