Just When They Got It Right…
The Pontiac G8
Pontiac should’ve built the G8 20 years before it arrived at dealerships in 2009. Instead, it lasted two whole model years and was axed along with the entire brand.
The GM marque’s cars’ bark was always worse than their bite. Notorious for ages for being festooned with sporty-looking plastic side cladding, amped-up interior trimmings and yet being decidedly lackluster to drive, Pontiacs arguably represented all that was wrong about GM’s approach to performance cars. Sure, they may have had big engines and moved respectably well in a straight line, but the automaker’s lineup—cars like the Grand Am and later G6, Bonneville and Grand Prix—were all built on FWD platforms shared with cars from other GM divisions. In addition to wrong-wheel-drive, conspicuous in their absence were the option of a stickshift paired with the cars’ higher-end engine choices as well as any semblance of being fun to drive.
A truly easy formula to master, after years of trying to convince the buying public, with varying degrees of success, that what matters vis-a-vis performance is the appearance of it, in the G8, Pontiac finally, finally had its first true sports sedan. And then killed it.
A rebadged version of the Holden Commodore (a front-engined, RWD sports sedan produced for years by GM’s Australian arm), the top-of-the-line G8 GXP was available with a 6-speed manual gearbox bolted to a 415-hp iteration of the Corvette’s LS3 6.2l pushrod V8. The car’s 4.6-second sprint to 60 and excellent road manners belied its 3,950-lb weight. After years of trying to compete with the likes of BMW and Audi on a superficial level, Pontiac finally had a sedan with the engine, driveline and chassis chops to take them on. Was it really that hard?
Even the interior is well laid-out and largely fluff-free. Coupled with the handsome, tailored, linebacker-ish exterior, the G8 was nothing less than the realization, in the flesh, of 30+ years of Pontiac marketing promises.
As for its demise, who’s to blame? GM has a history of misguided and shortsighted product development decisions, so it could well have been the penny-pinchers in upper management deciding that the perfect car for Pontiac really wasn’t worth it from a cost/benefit perspective. The more likely explanation is simply the fact that the G8 came out in 2009 in the throes of the recent economic downturn, when the Big 3 were holding their respective fire sales and axing anything and everything they could in order to remain solvent. Thus when Pontiac was selected for the block, the G8 was simply collateral damage. Shame.
Who knows; perhaps lightning does strike twice and GM will “get it” once more… But at the moment that’s too much to hope for.
Image credits: cars.about.com, netcarshow.com, autoevolution.com, neonista.blogspot.com