2006 Pontiac Vibe

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2005 Pontiac Vibe

This 2005 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2008.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.5

Bottom Line:

Cargo space and flexibility in a compact package, a ride height that's a bit higher than a normal car's, decent fuel economy, and assembly that's done at a plant with Toyota participation all make the Vibe a worthwhile small hatchback/wagon.
Pros:
  • Cargo space flexibility
  • Built at a joint factory with Toyota
  • Better fuel economy than nearly every SUV
Cons:
  • Priced higher than its twin, Toyota's Matrix
  • Distracting glare from shiny silver trim on gauges
  • Less-than-impressive look to plastic cargo floor

Even if you don't aspire to own a Pontiac, the Pontiac Vibe may be worth a look. Truth be told, the Vibe's practical character as a surprisingly versatile compact hatchback/wagon with near-SUV cargo volume, fuel economy that's better than most SUVs and available all-wheel drive probably doesn't excite traditional Pontiac fans too much.

In a Pontiac showroom, they're more likely to ogle the 400-horsepower Pontiac GTO, whose great-sounding V8 is pathetic on gas mileage, and the fun-loving-but-largely-impractical Pontiac Solstice convertible. But I remain intrigued by the Vibe.

Matrix twin
The Vibe is perhaps the most unusual of Pontiacs.

It's built at a California joint venture factory between Toyota and Pontiac's parent company, General Motors Corp.

The Vibe rides on a Toyota Corolla-based platform and was designed in conjunction with Toyota's Matrix. Both of the cars, which debuted in calendar 2002 as 2003 models, use four-cylinder engines that also come from Toyota. The two cars share virtually the same interior, which includes a wall-type power outlet that looks like the ones in your home.

Generally speaking, the Vibe and Matrix differ mainly in their outer styling, which for 2005 Pontiac has refined with a new grille and fascia on the Vibe. Other updates include leather seats and stability control offered for the first time, standard tire pressure monitors on GT and all-wheel-drive Vibes and new seat fabrics.

"Buy American," with a twist
So, the way I see it, the Vibe can solve one of the problems of car shoppers who want Toyota quality in their vehicle but feel a need to "buy domestic." The Pontiac badge plus U.S. assembly give the Vibe an "American" credibility, while Toyota's involvement in production at the Vibe plant can help ease some worries about reliability.

Indeed, a prominent consumer magazine listed the Vibe as its only recommended Pontiac in calendar 2004. Additionally, in its first 2 ½ years on the market, the Vibe had only one, small-scale safety recall.

Small SUV substitute
Another benefit of the Vibe, as well as the Matrix and other new-breed hatchbacks/wagons such as the Chrysler PT Cruiser, is they can, for some buyers, do away with the need for sport-utility vehicles.

Studies show most people don't go into rugged off-road terrain, so the Vibe's all-wheel-drive system, which doesn't require any driver input, is sufficient for dirt road travel and on-road traction.

Pontiac's Vibe also offers a maximum 54.1 cubic feet of cargo volume. This is 85 percent of the maximum cargo room found in a Saturn Vue SUV and 82 percent of the cargo space in a Ford Escape SUV. And fuel economy vis-à-vis any gasoline-only-powered SUV is better in the Vibe.

There are three Vibe models — a base car with 130-horsepower 1.8-liter four cylinder, an all-wheel-drive version with 123-horsepower 1.8-liter four cylinder, and a front-drive GT version with 170-horsepower 1.8-liter four with variable valve timing and lift control.

The base Vibe with the lower-power engine, manual transmission and two-wheel drive is rated at 29 miles a gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway for an average of 32.5 mpg.

But even the all-wheel-drive Vibe and GT rate higher in fuel economy — a combined 28.5 mpg — than any gasoline-only SUV. For example, the best rating for a front-wheel- drive gas-only Vue with four cylinder engine is a combined 26.5 mpg. The Vibe's fuel economy rating bests all but the gasoline-electric hybrid version of Ford's Escape.

About that cargo area
The Vibe's rear cargo space is covered with a light gray, hard plastic that looks cheaper than I liked. It can be wiped clean easily, but it also can show scratches.

I disliked how items laying on top of this plastic floor can rattle around if they're not fixed into place. Pontiac does include a track system in the plastic floor and tie-downs and so there are many ways to fix items into place, though, if you take the time to do so.

Rear seatbacks split 50-50 and fold down to provide the maximum cargo room. Note the Vibe's cargo room isn't quite as large as the 64.2 cubic feet found in the back of the PT Cruiser. But to get the maximum room in the PT Cruiser, you must remove the rear seats.

Decent performance from GT
I was pleasantly surprised to see how much spunk the top-level Vibe GT exhibited. It was sporty in a sporty-car way, not sport-utility fashion.

The GT's 170-horsepower engine, mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, powered the 2,800-pound, front-wheel-drive test car well. Torque is a maximum 127 lb-ft at 4400 rpm. It doesn't sound like much, but the Vibe GT launched itself respectably from a standstill and eagerly rushed forward, if I stayed in lower gears, on hilly roads.

I did need to work the gears, though, even on city streets, to find a comfortable spot in the gears to keep power at the ready.

And the base car, especially with all-wheel drive which adds some 200 pounds over a base car with automatic transmission, will feel less sporty. All-wheel-drive Vibes come only with 4-speed automatic trannies, while the GT comes only with the 6-speed manual.

Other performance items
While driving the Vibe, I heard some buzziness from the four-cylinder engine and some wind noise on the highways.

But the real disappointment was the manual gearshifter in the GT that didn't feel as sporty as I had hoped. Shift throws aren't as close as they could be, and going from gear to gear, there was a notchiness in the shifter.

Engines and transmissions are the same in the Matrix. Note that the PT Cruiser, which weighs more than the Vibe, has two larger, higher-powered, four-cylinder engines. One of them is a 180-horsepower 2.4-liter turbocharged four cylinder that puts out 210 lb-ft of torque.

Also be aware that premium fuel is recommended to get the stated performance for the Vibe GT, while regular unleaded is OK for the base engine.

Tall wagon look
The Vibe doesn't look like an SUV and it doesn't ride like one. When in the driver seat, for example, I couldn't look over or beyond trucks and SUVs on the road in front of me.

But the Vibe does provide a higher seating position than a car has. This makes it convenient to get in and out of the front and back seats. It also gives passengers the sense they're not dragging along the pavement — a sensation that some other low-priced cars can convey.

The Vibe's taller roofline — it's 62.2 inches tall — gives the interior an airy feel and provides an impressive 40.6 inches of headroom in the front seats and 39.8 inches in back. This is more than the 39.2 inches and 39.5 inches in the front and rear seats, respectively, in the PT Cruiser.

I could put the Vibe driver seat up quite high and see easily over the car's cowl. I also had a decent view out, seeing through and around other cars. The Vibe's legroom of 41.8 inches in the front seat compares with 40.6 inches in the PT Cruiser. But the PT Cruiser has 4.6 additional inches of rear-seat legroom.

With MacPherson struts at the front and torsion beam with trailing link rear suspension, the Vibe provides a compliant ride. It's not harsh or cheap-feeling and seems to feel better the more weight — from either passengers or cargo — is in the car.

The 2005 Vibe rides on standard 16-inch tires that are bigger than the 15-inchers found on the base PT Cruiser. Seventeen-inch tires are available for the Vibe, too.

Final points
I liked how the shifter is positioned at the base of the center stack of the Vibe dashboard. I'm 5 feet 4, and the shifter was conveniently located for me.

I also appreciated the round vents that can be adjusted easily to direct air flow where you want it.

The subtle styling changes for '05 take away some of the Pontiac Aztek cues that the original Vibe had. Keep going, Pontiac! But will someone look at the shiny silver trim that surrounds the dashboard gauges? On sunny days, I was distracted at times by these trim pieces reflecting up onto the windshield.

Since introduction, the Vibe has trailed its Matrix twin in annual sales. A prime reason: Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price for a base, front-wheel-drive Vibe with manual transmission is around $17,000 for a 2005 model, while the 2005 Toyota Matrix starts around $15,000.

The Vibe also is more expensive in all-wheel-drive dress: Some $3,000 more than the $17,000-plus starting MSRP for a 2005 all-wheel-drive Matrix.

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BB06 - 8/28/2014 8:15:35 PM