A brash American with attitude - and V-6 power.
by Bob Storck
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - You can only imagine the trepidation of a design team when faced with replacing the car that has led Pontiac's sales for the better part of two decades. With the Grand Am, stylists not only had to make sure prior owners would come back in droves, but that its shape would be sleek enough to run around with the likes of Toyota's Camry and Honda's Accord as well.
Sizewise, the Grand Am fits in just below those midsize cars that dominate passenger sedan sales, but with a roomy interior and a solid V-6 engine, it just barely overlaps the Camry, Accord and the Taurus too.
Saleswise, the Grand Am can stand tall against those mega-sellers as well. It has sold in quantities of over 200,000 units each year since the last overhaul, and it occasionally has been the best-selling GM car. That is a remarkable accomplishment when you consider that it competes with the big names as well as such solid vehicles as Nissan's Altima, Chevy's Cavalier, the Dodge Stratus, Hyundai Sonata and others.
Many folks think it's the styling that draws in bargain seekers. For a vehicle comfortably in the mid-teen range, the Grand Am offers edgy styling that you simply won't get from Japan or Korea. The Grand Am's decolletage, all the ribs and strakes on its otherwise lean body, are immediately noticeable - proof that you don't have to spend a lot to get a standout car. Detractors could reasonably argue the Grand Am as overdone, but clearly it's hitting a sweet spot in the me-too compact class.
Underneath the compulsive attention-grabbing sheetmetal, designers managed to extend the wheelbase almost four inches and still make the Grand Am slightly shorter than before. This has dual purpose of increasing rear seat room and softening the ride. The combination of the most rigid frame in the segment and a fully independent suspension makes the small Pontiac handle nearly as well as the styling might imply.
Ironically for a company that emphasizes their wide-track virtues, and even with a 3.3-in wider stance than before, it is not the widest in that among its competitors. Since it is 32-percent stiffer than its predecessor, and has isolation bushings on the front and rear cradles to which the suspension is mounted, the new Grand Am is almost soundless as it navigates the roads.
Unfortunately the benefits of a larger rear trunk are somewhat offset by the high liftover height created by the large rear bumper. The Grand Am has the best-looking spoiler I've seen lately, though: its mountings accent the rear wing, instead of trying to make themselves invisible.
Styling attitude standard
Pontiac claims that the Grand Am's standard equipment package is the most generous in its class. Standard features include one of GM's excellent four-speed automatic transmissions (you can get a Getrag five-speed in the four-cylinder models if you wish), air conditioning, rear defogger, tilting steering wheel, anti-lock brakes and variable speed windshield wipers.
Other standard items not often found in this class include programmable door locks, a traction-control system, battery rundown protection, electric remote trunk release and an oil life sensor. The latter not only relies on the interval between changes, but also responds to driving conditions and temperature. Thus the owner is warned to change oil more frequently if the Grand Am is driven in hot traffic compared to one that spends its life on temperate highways.
The interior is decorated with rounded buttons and knobs plus red-lit instruments that have become a Pontiac tradition. In keeping with its performance image, a tachometer is standard. A welcome feature is the adjustable lumbar support in the supportive seats. Not only are there dual cupholders in front, but each rear passenger also has one.
An upgraded V-6 with more displacement and horsepower than before is also in line with Pontiac values, but I personally would opt for the four-cylinder. Balance shafts make the smaller engine almost vibration free, and even in the situations that I wanted to squirt into traffic, it combined with the excellent four-speed automatic to remove any tension from the effort. Most importantly, the torque curve is almost flat across the full rev range for both engines, thus providing an ample reserve of confident power at any speed.
The Grand Am is produced at the same Lansing, Mich., plant where its sister Olds Alero is built. Even though these cars share many components, they are completely different in styling and tuning, with the Oldsmobile aimed more at the European touring car feel. For brash in-your-face American attitude, Pontiac's the one to pick.
2000 PONTIAC GRAND AM
Base Price: $16,650 (GT Coupe)
Engine: 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder, 150 hp; 3.4-liter V-6, 170 hp
Transmission: five-speed manual (four-cylinder only); four-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 107.0 in
Length: 186.3 in
Width: 70.4 in
Height: 55.1 in
Weight: 3066/3116 lb (coupe/sedan)
Fuel economy: 22 city/ 30 hwy (four-cylinder, five-speed; 22/31 four-cylinder, four-speed; 20/32 six-cylinder, four-speed)
Major standard equipment:
Dual front airbags
Rear window defogger
Daytime running lights
AM/FM stereo with cassette
© 2000 The Car Connection