2004 Pontiac Grand Prix
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
The revised Pontiac Grand Prix has arrived as an early 2004 model that is sleeker and more powerful than its predecessor with sharper handling and a nicer interior.
The new "Prix" begins Pontiac's drive to become a serious General Motors high-performance division again. While Pontiac long has been billed as GM's "excitement division," its last true high-performance model was the Firebird Trans Am, dropped for 2003 because it had become too old.
Pontiac's high-performance reputation began long ago, with the flashy, limited-production 1957 Bonneville convertible. That reputation was enhanced in the anything-goes 1960s with the addition of the Grand Prix, a higher-volume Bonneville, Firebird and legendary GTO, which kicked off the mass muscle car market in 1964.
"Until it dropped the Trans Am, Pontiac always had at least one or two cars that helped it retain a sporty image," said analyst Jim Wangers, who was the marketing guru behind the 1960s GTO and is a GM consultant on the new GTO.
In Good Company
Moreover, a redone Bonneville with a 275-horsepower modified Cadillac V8 debuts early next year as a 2004 model. A revamped Grand Am will arrive for 2005 with crisper styling and a more potent V6.
Sleek But Practical
For example, rear doors open nearly 90 degrees, a sight that almost makes one think they're falling off their hinges—but allows one to easily put a television set or air conditioner in the back seat.
Also, rear seatbacks flip forward to significantly increase the cargo area. Even the right front seatback folds forward on most trim levels to allow objects such as a 9-foot ladder or a kayak to be hauled with the trunk lid closed.
The large trunk has a low, wide opening. However, its length will cause even tall persons to stretch to reach objects at its far end. The inside of the lid has a rough look with no covering and no interior grip to help close it, but it raises smoothly on struts well out of the way.
Various Trim Levels
The 200-horsepower version does 0-60 mph in a respectable 8.5 seconds, while the GTP only takes 6.6 seconds—or 6.5 seconds with the $1,395 Competition Group (Comp G) option, which has a revised final drive ratio for faster acceleration.
Besides its more potent engine, the GTP adds items including GM's OnStar assistance system, traction control and wider tires on larger 17-inch (vs. 16-inch) wheels.
Side-curtain airbags for head protection in accidents for outboard occupants are optional for the GT2 and GTP, but aren't available for the GT1.
Options for the GT2 include a $665 leather trim package with heated front seats, a $695 premium audio system with an in-dash 6-disc CD changer, a $795 power sunroof and a $325 XM satellite radio.
About 10 percent of GTP buyers are expected to order the Comp G option, which makes the Grand Prix comparable to some higher-priced foreign sports sedans—not that the GTP without that option isn't fairly comparable as well.
Only a 4-speed automatic transmission is offered, instead of a more modern 5-speed unit, because the new Grand Prix carries over a fair amount of items from the 2003 model; however, the transmission upshifts seamlessly and downshifts quickly.
High Open-Road Economy
The Grand Prix weighs approximately 3,500 pounds. It lacks the precise feel of the much costlier rear-wheel-drive BMW 5-Series sports sedan, partly because the Pontiac's front-wheel-drive design causes it to carry 62 percent of its weight up front.
The latest Grand Prix is slightly longer and smoother looking than its predecessor. Four tall adults—or five on short trips—easily fit in a cockpit that is quiet, except for some tire noise with the GTP's more aggressive tires. However, shorter occupants may find that the rear seat is too low.
A nifty touch is a rubber pad near the dashboard ignition switch to prevent keys on a ring from making noise when hitting the dash. Most controls can be easily reached, and they're large and conveniently angled toward the driver.
Speedometer and tachometer gauge numbers are large, but they'd be easier to read if their stylish needles weren't so painfully thin. Automakers such as BMW, Mercedes and Lexus wouldn't make that mistake.
There are nicely placed cupholders and a decent amount of storage areas. Rear windows lower all the way for easier access to food and beverages in drive-thorough lanes at fast-food outlets.
With the new Grand Prix and those upcoming cars, Pontiac again should be a strong GM high-performance division.