2009 Pontiac G8 GXP car reviews

2009 Pontiac G8 GXP (Manual Transmission)

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Personality Modern muscle car
Why we’d buy it Great brute-force acceleration, large interior, big trunk, comfy seats
Why we wouldn’t Gas mileage, controls, that clutch and exhaust roar get tired after a while
Mileage EPA, 13/20 (expect better mileage)

The Pontiac G8 hails from Australia, where the natives know it as a Holden. If it reminds you of the Dodge Charger, it should; there are more similarities than one would expect, including the fact that both cars have a short-wheelbase, two-door retro version (Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger), and their specs and road test numbers come out to be nearly identical. It's almost as strange a coincidence as the PT Cruiser and HHR — and it makes one wonder why the Chevy SSR was so different from the Plymouth Prowler.

The G8 is very different from the Charger in some ways; the styling is replete with Pontiac cues, and the interior is very different, with a more techno feel, and controls in unusual locations.

When it comes to power, the G8 is fairly similar to the Charger Hemi; while the high-performance GXP version is very similar to the Charger SRT8. The main difference in specs is the availability of a six-speed manual transmission in the G8 GXP, whereas on the Dodge side, one must get a Challenger to get a manual shifter. The feel of both shifters is similar: heavy and with a tight engagement area. With 415 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque, that’s understandable.

The 6.2 liter V8, borrowed from the Corvette, provides instant torque; horsepower increases smoothly up to redline, and then drops slightly before hitting the rev limiter. The tight-ratio shifter is probably overkill given the engine’s power band, which lets you get away with loafing at just off idle. No matter what speed the car is going, there is ample power on tap — no need to wait, it’s there at just about any engine speed over idle. One pays for that in gas mileage, with ratings of 13 city, 20 highway. This is one car where you’re likely to exceed EPA estimates (at least, with the stick shift.)

The Challenger SRT8 stick, with its 14/22 EPA ratings, gets about the same mileage in the city, but can routinely exceed 25 mpg on the highway; at 70 mph, its engine is barely ticking over. The G8 GXP is geared very differently; you can drive in sixth gear at a mere 40 mph, and by 65, the engine will be humming nicely, to the detriment of gas mileage. The engine’s throaty roar starts making itself known at around 2,000 rpm and is in full fury by 3,000.

Pontiac G8 dashboard

Driving at low speeds was not a problem; gentle shifting was possible with some practice on the heavy clutch. The engine had endless low-end torque, which made it possible to keep the engine speed low without losing basic acceleration. Keeping the engine in the power band will suck down fuel and greatly increase the noise level, garnering the attention of anyone else on the road.

Automatic buyers will find an advantage with the G8 over the Charger; it has a smoother, six-speed automatic to the Charger’s Mercedes five-speed, and the G8 has a sport mode along with a better-designed driver override. Manual-transmission drivers are confronted in both cars with a fairly heavy clutch, as one would expect with the big V8s under the hood; G8 drivers get a large dead pedal and anti-skid chrome-plus-rubber pedals, along with a stick that made it easy to find the right gear (though a reverse lockout would be nice for peace of mind.)

As with the Challenger, there is a first-to-fourth feature, designed to increase mileage or something of the sort; unlike the Challenger, a light on the dashboard showed when it was active, which helps reduce the uncertainty of knowing whether you’re going straight into second or all the way up to fourth.

Braking is excellent, as one would hope from a vehicle with this much raw power. Cornering is also excellent, with no sloppiness or hesitation on emergency maneuvers. The G8 is point and shoot; while it can be thrown off kilter for a moment with injudicious use of the gas pedal around a corner (“power turn,”) the stability control will gently kick in and get it back under control. The stability control of the G8 was more subtle and seemed better-tuned than that of the Challenger or Charger SRT8, but in both cases, it should make itself seen fairly rarely. The suspensions of both cars are tuned for high performance without the need for electronic trickery.

The G8, like the Charger, feels heavy when driven; of course it is heavy, but the Challenger seemed to have a somewhat lighter feel.

There was a time when cornering of this caliber would have required a stiff, uncomfortable ride, but the G8 had strong damping, dealing with bumps and rough roads with aplomb; we found that poor road surfaces neither interfered with cornering nor appreciably hurt the ride. Small jiggles and bumps were filtered out, concrete was noiseless and nearly vibration free, and large potholes seemed to have little effect. Sound insulation was likewise admirable, with little wind noise and external noise pollution nearly eliminated. Again, score one for Pontiac over the Charger SRT8.

The exhaust was loud and, at highway speeds, constant; but it made the music loved by muscle fans when under heavy throttle — loud, brash, and unmistakeably muscle-V8.

Visibility was less than ideal, particularly in the rear quarters — par for the course. At night, decently focused headlights kept the road nicely lit. The backlighting was white for the most part, avoiding the lurid Pontiac scarlet; the trip computer and stereo were scarlet. Interior lighting was fairly dim. The center rear-view mirror was the manual variety, which was helpful, as it damped headlights better at night than auto-dimming mirrors; but the constant orange warning about the passenger-side seat belt was annoying at best.


Controls tended to the unexpected. Window switches were in the center console; so was the power door lock control, and it seemed backwards to an American-bred driver. The door locks pushed in the opposite way from similar locks we’ve encountered before, but sooner or later we'd figure that out; and get used to the idea that the driver's lock pops back open again when you try to use the electric locks with the driver's door open. The real issues were in the stereo and climate control.

The stereo is one of those purpose-built units that uses an integrated, large screen display, shared with the climate control; GM Europe (Opel) seems to like that type of system, too. It limits the buyer’s ability to put in an aftermarket stereo somewhat, but few people seem to be doing that now, since factory stereos have improved so much. (The G8 comes with a good, powerful stereo, complete with a six-disc changer, auxiliary input jack, 230 watt amplifier, subwoofers, and 11 speakers; it would cost a lot to improve on that). The main problem is that the driver is expected to pay full attention to the screen for long periods of time.

The on-off switch is logically placed, if you’re Australian or British or Japanese and spend your driving time on the right side of the vehicle; it’s on the far side from the driver if you’re North (or South) American. Just pressing the volume knob, which maintains its traditional place, mutes the system but doesn't shut it down or start it up. Likewise, one normally assumes the right-hand knob to be a tuner, but on this stereo, it isn't; the tuning is done from a right-left button-set marked Track. Not Track/Tune, but Track. (Well, Track is Seek. Disc will move you one frequency up or down.)

stereoThe system has numerous clever features, including built in equalizers for different types of audio (including a much welcomed Vocal mode) and automatic volume control to compensate for road noise; but while the displays are graphically pleasing, they are also better adapted to a home system than a car, where one should be able to do just about anything without taking eyes off the road.

Pressing the right-hand button, which by convention should bring up bass, treble, balance, and fade, instead brings up a text menu which lets you set many more options than a normal car stereo. These really should only be touched while parked.

The list of ergonomic “don’ts” continues for quite some time, but let it suffice to say that any setup of this system should be done with the car off, and spending some training time wouldn't hurt, either. With this much power under the hood, distractions should be kept to a bare minimum.

The climate control system is somewhat less strange but still tends to require more attention than it should. Turning one of two knobs changes the thermostat, but the thermostat setting is on the top of the radio display, as is the a/c on/off indicator. The fan is again done with an up/down control, in the middle of the others. The system again places on/off close to the Australian or British or Japanese driver — on the right. Switching between vents is done by up/down switches, an irksome method if there ever was one. The status display for the climate control is in the stereo window, at the very top of the screen. The nice feature of this system is a fan with 20 different settings — though that also means more presses (or a longer press) when moving through settings. In addition, because the G8 is set up as a near-luxury vehicle, there is a delay between pressing the fan button and the fan moving to that speed.

Moving on to the next absurd system, we have the sunroof. On the face of it, the sunroof has a logical control we have applauded in the past; you turn a dial, and the sunroof moves to the position you indicated. It's a fast, easy way to get the sunroof half open, or a third open, etc. In the G8, though, you need to keep pressing on the dial while it slowly moves to the desired location. Again, in a driver’s car like this, one would expect more attention to be paid to the guy propelled by that huge engine.

As in any General Motors vehicle of recent vintage, no matter where it was designed, the G8 flashes a warning lamp on the instrument panel whenever you do not have your headlights on. The car has daytime running lights, using the headlamps; they can be turned off by twisting the headlight knob to the left (it’ll spring back to automatic by itself), or by putting on the parking lights.

The cruise control stalk is somewhat awkwardly placed on the left hand side of the wheel, and activates with a press of the end-button. Moving a switch on the stalk down sets the speed or lowers the speed, and moving it up raises or resumes; that part, at least, is conventional.

The styling of the interior itself is fairly plain, relying on black plastics wth various texture imprints; the expanses of black plastic are interrupted by well placed dull silver accents, including speaker rings. Most of the surfaces are soft-touch, though the two storage ledges are not, which can lead to rattles. The trim pieces seemed to fit together nicely, avoiding those gaps that some people equate with poor quality.

To round out criticism of the interior before moving on to the high points, the long center console, which includes the window buttons, door locks (an awkward place for them), mirror switches, seat heater buttons, and stability control shutoff, has a single dual cupholder of dubious merit and a small, hard storage bin placed too far back from the driver to be useful. Finally, there is no spare tire, just tire sealant and an inflator kit — though the trunk does come with a handy cargo net.

reviewThere are many bright points of the G8 to go along with the ergonomic nightmares. The seats are comfortable, vented (on bottom), and hold driver and passengers in place; while the passenger seat has an awkward wheel control for tilt, the driver gets full power controls with an unusually long degree of movement. The doors open wide, making entry and exit relatively easy. The G8 can easily be pressed into service as a family car, with generous legroom and headroom in the back and a feeling of stability that extends to the back-seat passengers. The trunk is large, and while the rear seats don’t fold down, there is a large square fold-down panel that allows for transportation of long objects; there is also a fold-down armrest between the rear seats, and a fold-out set of cupholders. The climate control also extends to the rear, with large separate vents.

The instrument panel itself is plain and simple, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The absurd 180 mph speedometer is large and clear enough to show drivers on actual roads how fast they’re going; an “overspeed” indicator can be set to chime at whatever speed the driver wants, whether that’s 35 or 75 or 115 mph (a nice feature for highway driving or those who have just gotten a ticket or warning)

While at times the controls and displays required far too much effort and focus diversion, the compass in the mirror was unobtrusive but easy to read, and the trip computer displayed the usual set of useful information: distance to empty, average gas mileage (resettable at any time), average speed, etc. It also provided an easy way to set various auto options, such as lock and headlight behavior; the G8 allows for automatic door unlocking even with the stick-shift.

Storage space is eccentric in nature, with oddly shaped map pockets on every door, a convenient map pocket on the back of the front seats, a massive glove compartment with a stub of a shelf that should prove useless while driving, and two shallow, small bins in the center stack that, likewise, are next to useless; though an EZPass can almost fit into one of them. The twin cupholders can be used to hold sunglasses.

The Pontiac G8 (in its last year with this styling and name) is a trip back in time to the days when you could get high-end muscle cars with all the frills; it brings up memories of the Plymouth GTX and big-engined Buicks and Caddies. Under the hood is raw power of the type most people in the muscle-car era could only dream of; power to match the faved 429, 454, and Hemis of GTO-Camaro-442-Road Runner times. But now, all that power is under control, with cornering that no mass producer in the 1960s could match.

As far as stick-shift four-door sedans go, there’s really no competition for the G8. It stands alone among the domestics, and is an impossible package to match for the price or personality among the Europeans. Automatic buyers will now have a tough choice, though, unless they’re dedicated to or against GM or Chrysler, because the Dodge Charger SRT8 is an almost perfect match for the G8 in every detail but the transmission. The GM has more features, but they are poorly arranged; it also has a better transmission. The styling, inside and out, is a matter of taste. Both are fairly plain inside; the money is under the hood and the chassis. For buyers who can deal with two doors, the Challenger and Camaro make a decision much more complicated.

pontiacThe base price of the Pontiac G8 GXP is $39,995, including the gas guzzler charge and destination, but before any rebates. That’s very reasonable for the level of performance, in a vehicle of this size; indeed, one can spend as much and get a standard-performance full-sized sedan. The G8 did without luxury looks inside, but it did have numerous luxury features, including one year of OnStar (safety level with optional turn-by-turn navigation), side airbags on both rows, trip computer, remote start, power everything (except passenger seat), wireless phone support, automatic dual zone climate control, heated front leather seats, cruise, leather-covered tilt/telescope steering wheel with audio controls, six-disc CD stereo with auxiliary jack, satellite radio, 230 watt amp with subwoofers, floor mats, cargo nets, fog lights, rear defogger, and dual exhaust with chrome tips.

Performance and safety equipment included the 6.2 liter V8, six-speed automatic with transmission cooler, sport mode, and driver override, limited-slip rear differential, big Brembo front calipers, four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic assistance, stability control, and traction control.

Our test car ran to $41,590. The big addition was the $900 sunroof; the six-speed manual transmission not only added $695 to the price, but also meant the loss of the remote starter. The car was made in Australia, with 46% local parts, 4% American parts, and 26% Mexican parts, including both the engine and transmission. The warranty is good for five years or 100,000 miles on powertrain parts.

There may be some very good deals on the G8 now, because it is an orphan. There should be no serious fears about service parts; the Camaro continues, with the same basic chassis and powertrain, and a replacement for the G8 is bound to arrive in 2011 or so, either as a Cadillac or as a Chevrolet. The G8 GXP may even be a collectors item, due to the small number produced. If nothing else, it may well be a car nobody on the block has seen — or can keep up with.