2004 Pontiac Grand Prix
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
If you love Pontiac styling, character and supercharged power, you'll find much to enjoy in the redesigned-for-2004 Grand Prix.
Styling on the new Grand Prix remains unmistakably Pontiac, though substantially cleaned up because body-side cladding is gone.
The interior has a driver cockpit feel, like the previous Grand Prix; however, the effect now is less busy and some materials, especially the ceiling liner, look and feel richer.
Horsepower in the uplevel supercharged V6 is improved, too, and a new optional feature on the Grand Prix adds shift paddles to the steering wheel a la Formula One cars.
Best of all, the starting manufacturer's suggested retail price remains unchanged at less than $22,000 at the early introduction of the '04 model. This is despite the fact that the smaller V6—a 3.1-liter engine—has been dropped.
Redesigned, but …
Despite the redesign, Pontiac didn't change the Grand Prix platform. Indeed, the basic suspension geometry remains with front MacPherson struts and rear independent tri-link.
Adjustments in anti-roll bars and larger diameter tires—16- and 17-inchers now—do wonders for the chassis, making the car feel impressively sturdy and stiff.
In fact, while the ride in the test Grand Prix GTP model with optional competition package that added performance-tuned suspension and those 17-inch wheels and tires was a bit harsh at times on rough urban pavement, I never hesitated to make emergency maneuvers.
Why? Because the Grand Prix, a substantial-sized car at 16.5 feet long, could swerve around objects and get back in line with a predictability that inspired confidence.
The competition package adds a stability control system called StabiliTrak Sport that's tailored to allow a bit of sporty driving during cornering.
The package also upgrades the rack-and-pinion steering in the Grand Prix to General Motors Corp.'s Magnasteer II, which varies steering effort needed with lateral acceleration changes as well as with vehicle speed.
There are only two engines now, both 3.8-liter V6s.
The base is a naturally aspirated Series III version V6 that's capable of the same 200 horses and 225 foot-pounds at 4000 rpm that came from the Series II version of this engine last year.
The uplevel supercharged, 3.8-liter Series III V6 has 20 more horsepower, going from 240 to 260.
Torque remains at 280 lb-ft at 3600 rpm and provides ready grunt to get this 3,500-pound four door moving quickly. Gosh, I can't recall the number of times I squealed the tires without trying.
In comparison, the competing Nissan Altima with naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 puts out 245 horsepower and 246 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm.
Highlighted in television ads for the new Grand Prix is an optional TAPshift—for Touch Activated Power—feature that adds a bit of fun to the usual manumatic, shift-it-yourself automatic transmission.
TAPshift puts round paddles at the steering wheel so a quick push of a finger moves the transmission from gear to gear, and there's no clutch pedal to depress.
The problem is, though, the Grand Prix retains just a 4-speed transmission, so the fun isn't as great as it could be with more gears, and the mechanism seems a bit gimmicky because it doesn't seem to make the shifts any quicker or smoother.
Pontiac also includes an annoying chime to alert a driver when he or she tries to shift when the engine might be compromised or damaged. That chime isn't exactly the kind of thing expected in a sporty car such as this.
Meantime, the Altima with V6 is offered with a 5-speed manual for authentic shift-it-yourself driving.
Note that premium gasoline is the recommended fuel for the supercharged V6 in the Grand Prix, and fuel economy isn't great.
I managed 18.2 miles a gallon in combined city and highway travel, which isn't much better than some sport utilities get.
Seating for five
The leather-trimmed separate seats in front provided some support and had power adjustments so I could position myself for a decent view out over the hood.
In back, though, I sat low on a bench seat cushion that just seemed to sag under my weight.
Legroom back there was an acceptable 36.2 inches—just 0.2 inch less than in the Altima but nearly 2 inches less than the 38.1 inches in the back seat of the Chrysler Sebring sedan.
I sat so low the Grand Prix's sheet metal swooped past my face at cheek level, making the rear door window seem small.
Odds and ends
Pontiac added extra sound insulation and thicker window glass in the new Grand Prix for a quieter ride than before.
The sporty tires still conveyed a lot of road noise on certain road surfaces.
I couldn't help but feel the strange sheet metal ripples at the back of the car, by the taillights, hadn't been finished well in its design.
I liked that all the knobs and controls were within easy reach for me, and the premium audio with Monsoon stereo put out strong, clear sounds.
Even better, the test car had the optional XM satellite radio with 100 special stations offering everything from children's fare to NASCAR programming.