2006 Pontiac Grand Prix
This 2006 review is representative of model years 2004 to 2008.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Faster, more refined foreign sedans have largely overshadowed the Pontiac Grand Prix, which once was one of the most flamboyant American cars. Pontiac thus has made the "Prix" sexier by providing the late 2005 Grand Prix GXP high-performance model with the first Grand Prix V8 in nearly two decades.
A Grand Prix without a V8 never was accepted by fans of the car. Its top engine was a potent supercharged V6, but buyers of fast American cars felt a Grand Prix V6 was lacking two cylinders. No V8? Well then, no cigar.
The last Grand Prix V8 was offered in 1987, but had only 150 horsepower because high-horsepower engines only began appearing in significant numbers in the 1990s.
Pontiac was once General Motors' high-performance car division and was well aware of the fascination with V8s. That's why it gave its rather sporty large Bonneville an optional 4.6-liter 275-horsepower version of Cadillac's Northstar V8 late in the 2004 model year. To nobody's surprise, that V8 accounts for a fairly high percentage of Bonneville engine installations.
The 5.3-liter V8 in the $28,735 GXP has 303 horsepower—or the same rating as in the first now-classic 1962 Grand Prix, which had rear-wheel drive. This is the first use of a General Motors "small block" (350-cubic-inch displacement) V8 in a front-wheel-drive car such as the midsize Grand Prix. The engine is engineered specially for front-wheel-drive layouts, which is why it has a shorter length so it can be positioned sideways.
Still offered in 2005, the $26,730 Grand Prix GTP is powered by a pretty hot supercharged 3.8-liter V6 with 260 horsepower. The base $23,060 and $24,960 GT versions of the Grand Prix have a 3.8-liter 200-horsepower V6, which delivers decent performance for routine driving.
The GXP I drove is a throwback to the 1962-64 Grand Pix models, which had V8s developing up to 370 horsepower. The GXP is a surprise because it has become available in April, with the current model year nearly gone.
As with the Bonneville V8, the GXP V8 should help Pontiac sales. The Grand Prix has been the second best-selling Pontiac so far this year and was the No. 2 Pontiac last year after being revised. The smaller, cheaper, rather sporty Grand Am—replaced for 2005 by the more refined G6—was No. 1, which was a position it held at Pontiac for many years.
Cylinder Deactivation System
It may surprise some that the Grand Prix V8 also has a cylinder deactivation system. The GXP is the first Pontiac to have GM's Displacement on Demand (DOD) technology, which arrived in 2005 GM midsize sporty-utility vehicles with the 5.3-liter V8.
The DOD system increases fuel economy up to a claimed 12 percent. The GXP V8 provides an estimated 18 mpg in the city and 27 on highways. Those are solid numbers for a fairly large, heavy, equipment-loaded sedan that scampers to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. The 260-horsepower V6 provides 19 city and 28 highway. The base V6 delivers 20 and 30.
Power and Looks of a V8
The GXP V8 works with a responsive high-performance 4-speed automatic transmission, although most it really needs a more modern 5-speed unit to be more competitive. All Grand Prix versions have a 4-speed automatic, although some automakers already have switched to 6-speed automatics.
The GXP automatic comes with a regular shifter or steering-wheel paddles for manual shifting. But the paddles are nearly impossible to use when the wheel is being turned a lot, and that pretty much confines paddle shifting to when the car is moving in a straight line or just turning slightly.
Besides its V8, the racier-looking GXP has a different front fascia with revised chrome-ringed grille inserts and lower air inlets. The distinctive rear fascia gives the car a more "tightly wrapped" look and has large exhaust outlets in the best American muscle car tradition. Rocker panel extensions provide a more aerodynamic appearance, and there is "GXP" badging. The ride height is lowered for an aggressive, hunkered-down look.
All Bonnevilles have a quiet interior, and the GXP's cockpit's appointments include unique gauge faces with red, retro-style pointers, GXP-specific door sill plates and embroidered floor mats. There also are available suede inserts for the supportive leather-covered seats and brushed aluminum trim accents for the GXP.
But the GXP instrument panel seems cluttered with too many controls, and interior materials of all Bonnevilles don't match Toyota or Honda materials.
The GXP has large, polished 18-inch forged aluminum wheels and performance tires that improve this version's athletic handling, which is enhanced by a sport suspension with gas-charged struts and higher rate springs. Still, a nose-heavy front-wheel-drive car such as the Grand Prix lacks the balance of rear-wheel-drive autos.
As with other Bonnevilles, the GXP has a smooth ride, and its steering is nicely geared. The GXP has all the performance goodies as standard, including a high-performance all-disc brake system with aluminum calipers and vented and cross-drilled rotors that provides short stops.
Stability and traction control system are standard for the GXP, but an anti-skid system and upgraded variable assist power steering are optional for the GTP. Anti-lock brakes and traction control are optional for the base Grand Prix.
There's plenty of room up front and all doors open very widely. Three tall occupants fit in back, but won't be as comfortable as those in front because, for one thing, the rear seat isn't as comfortable.
The trunk is large, with a low, wide opening. Split-folding rear seatbacks enlarge the cargo area.
Head-protecting side-curtain airbags for all but the base model cost $395. Torso side airbags aren't offered.
The GXP is a solid, logical addition to the Grand Prix line, but one wonders why it came so late.