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Little GTO tachin’ up now
By Jason Stein

Auto Critic​


PHOENIX– There’s a reason the 71-year-old Bob Bondurant looks about half his age on a cool fall morning in the place the locals call “The Valley of the Sun.”

“These GTOs,” says Bondurant, the legendary Formula 1 race car driver, as he surveys a parking lot full of new Pontiacs that are washed, prepped and ready to roll off his asphalt. “When it comes to horsepower-per-dollar, there simply isn’t a better bargain on the road today. They are a blast!”

When it comes to the road, Bondurant is king.

For more than 20 years, he has operated the legendary Bob Bondurant School of Driving, a high-octane, high-performance driver’s ed located just outside of Phoenix where Bondurant still personally teaches homemakers, NASCAR guys and CEOs how to drive the highways better.

These days, Bondurant has a new prize in the test fleet he can brag about.

So does Pontiac. The newer rear-wheel-drive GTO is quickly – and we mean quickly – turning into a better ride.

The 1960s icon was reintroduced in 2004 to so-so reviews. Basically sold as an Americanized Holden Monaro, GM’s Australian car division, critics complained the styling was too dull. Some said it wasn’t true to the GTO’s heritage.

Although the 2005 version makes only minor tweaks to the exterior – hood scoops have been added, as well as new dual exhaust and fender badges – no one can quibble with what the GTO can now deliver under the hood. Bondurant is right. Besides the Chevrolet Corvette, there isn’t a better bargain in the business. This year the GTO returns with a new LS2 6-liter V-8 engine that replaces the LS1 5.7-liter engine.

That means 400 horsepower (up from 350) and 400 pounds-feet of torque (up from 365). Or, in even simpler terms: How about the most powerful production GTO ever built – more powerful than last year’s Corvette and a 0-to-60 mph time in 4.6 seconds?

Not a bad deal for a car that still offers seating for four (although getting two adults in the back is a little tight) and decent fuel mileage (16 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway).

The new GTO comes in at $32,995, which includes destination and freight charges of $700. An optional six-speed close-ratio manual transmission remains the only “extra” cost option at $695. A four-speed automatic is standard. But there’s a hitch there. Take the automatic, and you’ll be hit with a $1,300 gas guzzler tax.

My advice: Go with the manual, save $600 and have a great time.

With larger brake rotors, calipers and pads, the braking is significantly improved this year. With a fully independent suspension, specially tuned struts and springs, cornering is sharp – no floating through the turns – and the ride is firm.

Inside, the GTO feels like a very different Pontiac. Using that Australian Monaro design, the radio gauges are on the opposite side of what we’re used to in North America (the volume button, for example, is on the right of the radio). But there’s also an appearance of high-quality materials. Leather seating, stainless steel and metallic trim are abundant.

There are the things you would expect at a price level north of $30,000: a 200-watt audio system and 10 speakers, eight-way power adjustable driver and front passenger seats, tilt and telescopic steering wheel and a driver information center. But, to be honest, it’s all about the driving. It’s about attacking corners and pushing the GTO down the straightaways.

Yes, there are bad blind spots in this car. Yes, getting to the back seat is a challenge for someone taller than 5-foot-7. And, yes, there are only two cup holders. My advice, and Bondurant’s advice, “Drive it,” he says. “It’s hard to describe how much fun it is.”


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2005 Pontiac GTO

Vehicle type: Rear-wheel-drive, two-door, four-passenger sports coupe

Key competition: Mazda RX-8, Ford Mustang, Infiniti G35

Base engine: 400 horsepower 6-liter V-8

Transmission: Four-speed automatic or six-speed manual

Standard safety equipment: Four-wheel ABS; dual front air bags; traction control

MPG rating: 16 city/25 highway (manual)

Manufactured: Australia

Warranty: Basic warranty is three years/36,000 miles

Base price: $32,995

Price as tested (including destination and delivery): $32,995
 

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It's great to hear that reviews of the 05 ls2 GTO are better than the 04, but does 50 hp and a few ticks better in 0 to 60 constitute the difference between a "disappointing" verdict for the 04 and "blast" for the 05. I guess I'll have to test drive the 05, but I think my 04 kicks @ss anyway!
 
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