2003 Pontiac Vibe
This 2003 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2008.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Combine Pontiac's sporty styling with the legendary reliability of Toyota and you get the new Pontiac Vibe crossover vehicle, which offers lots of versatility.
The 2003 four-door hatchback Vibe is made in California and was jointly developed by General Motors and Toyota, which sells a Canadian-built version called the Matrix.
These mechanically identical vehicles should benefit from Toyota's high quality because mechanical components are from that Japanese automaker.
However the Matrix looks rather conservative next to the Vibe, which has Pontiac's typically aggressive styling. For instance, the front appearance practically shouts "Pontiac!" Even the "Vibe" name is sportier.
It's just that some Toyota buyers wouldn't be caught dead in a Pontiac showroom, while many folks like Pontiac's sporty image and domestic vehicle status.
As with the Matrix, the Vibe essentially is a tall station wagon that, like most crossover vehicles, is versatile because it combines attributes of a car and a small sport-utility vehicle. For instance, this Pontiac has higher seating. And its rear seatbacks flip forward and sit flat to provide impressive cargo space. Even the front passenger seatback can be folded forward.
The base Vibe comes with front-wheel drive for $16,340 and also with all-wheel drive for $19,540. The hot rod GT version is priced at $19,340 and only has front-drive.
Fun to Drive
There is no hairshirt trim. Even the base front-drive Vibe is fairly well equipped with such standard items as air conditioning, AM/FM/CD player, tilt steering wheel and rear wiper for the tailgate's handy pop-up window.
The all-wheel-drive trim adds anti-lock brakes. Besides the strongest engine, the GT features disc brakes at all wheels (instead of front discs and rear drum brakes), a leather-wrapped steering wheel and racy alloy wheels.
However, despite its added power, the GT doesn't come with larger (17-inch) wheels and wider (50-series) tires unless a buyer pays an extra $400. On the other hand, fairly large 16-inch wheels and 55-series tires are standard for all Vibes.
Key Option Packages
The front-drive base trim has a 1.8-liter 130-horsepower 4-cylinder engine and can be had with either a 5-speed manual gearbox or 4-speed automatic transmission. The all-wheel-drive version has a 123-horsepower version of that engine and is available only with the responsive automatic transmission.
Hot GT Trim
All Vibe engines need lots of revs to deliver the best performance and are noisy when pushed. Performance is lively in town, but the GT engine does much better at highway speeds. However, a downshift to fourth gear in a test Vibe GT was necessary for a swift 65-75 mph passing time.
The heavier all-wheel-drive trim is slower than other Vibes, but a front-drive Vibe—especially the GT—has appreciable torque steer (front wheels dart slightly to the left and right) when accelerating quickly from a standing start on slippery roads. All-wheel drive would cure that problem.
High Fuel Economy
Fairly trim exterior dimensions, with little overhang, make the Vibe easy to park and maneuver.
The sporty looking interior has large climate system controls, but annoyingly small sound system controls can cause a driver to pay too much attention to them.
Odd Gauge Markings
That leaves, for example, the 80-mph speedometer mark where 60 mph would be on typical speedometers and the 5000 rpm mark about where the 3000 rpm mark would be on conventional tachometers.
Such a setup is fine for race tracks, where fast-moving drivers usually only glance at the top gauge markings, but it's not a good setup for street driving.
However, even the best of vehicles have flaws. The Vibe generally is a solid, versatile, attractive package.