Pontiac GTO again flexes its muscles
May 2, 2005
BY DAN JEDLICKA AUTO WRITER
May 2, 2005
BY DAN JEDLICKA AUTO WRITER
Critics of last year's reborn Pontiac GTO coupe disliked the car because it didn't look rakish, as did most versions of the iconic 1960s GTO muscle car. But the 2005 GTO looks sportier, with such things as new hood scoops, and its more potent 400-horsepower V-8 makes it the fastest GTO ever.
No wonder GTO sales in the first quarter of this year were up 81 percent over the same year-ago period, with 3,261 units sold. Pontiac spokesman Jim Hopson said the GTO is "red hot in Southern California, which isn't exactly one of our biggest markets. Los Angeles is our No. 2 market for the GTO, and it's been a long time since we've been able to say that about any Pontiac.''
The rear-wheel-drive GTO is true to the original 1960s muscle car formula of putting a big engine in a brawny mid-size rear-drive coupe. However, the new GTO is put together in Australia and has a definite foreign-car feel.
My red test GTO looked slick and fast. Giving it a handsome retro-style 1960s GTO body would have caused excessive wind noise and fuel-robbing aerodynamic drag. Many have forgotten that the first GTO was a boxy 1964 Tempest coupe with a GTO option package containing a muscular V-8, sport suspension and special tires and trim. A distinct GTO model didn't arrived until 1965.
Sleeker, more powerful GTOs were sold between the 1964 and 1971 models. Stiff insurance premiums and safety and emissions laws led the last GTO to be a boxy, low-powered 1974 Pontiac Ventura.
Last year's GTO had a modified Chevrolet Corvette 350-horsepower V-8 and blended speed with exceptional handling. Classic GTOs mainly were known for straight-line acceleration; they didn't handle or brake well by today's higher standards. Features such as the 2005 GTO's traction control system and anti-lock brakes simply didn't exist. Even race cars lacked tires comparable to the superwide 45-series tires on the current GTO.
The GTO had lukewarm 2004 sales of 13,569 units -- about 5,000 short of projected sales. Many of the growing number of fast-car buyers were waiting for the $24,600 300-horsepower 2005 Ford Mustang GT V-8 coupe or got the rakish Chrysler 300C sedan with a 325-horsepower Hemi V-8. The 300C costs $800 more than the $32,295 GTO.
Things are picking up for the 2005 GTO. Sales through March this year aren't close to those of the GT or 300C, but totaled 3,261 cars -- up from 1,801 in the same 2004 period. The GTO is a bargain if only because it has a 400-horsepower modified V-8 from the new Corvette, which starts at $43,710.
The neck-snapping GTO hits 60 mph in 4.7 seconds with the optional $695 six-speed manual gearbox and 4.6 with the standard four-speed automatic transmission. Car and Driver magazine found it does 0-100 mph in 11.7 seconds.
Torque is a massive 400 pound-feet, which means the manual gearbox isn't needed for startling performance. The automatic transmission is expected to be chosen by approximately half of GTO buyers, which was the case with last year's model.
Estimated fuel economy with the manual gearbox is 16 mpg in the city -- but 25 on highways because the V-8 loafs in top overdrive gear. Figures with the automatic are 16 and 21, partly because the automatic isn't a five- or six-speed unit.
The GTO has lots of comfort and convenience equipment, including air conditioning, leather upholstery, power accessories and a 200-watt, 10-speaker sound system. The only option other than the manual transmission is a hood without the scoops, and it's a "no-cost delete option.''
No sunroof, heated seats, navigation system or side airbags are offered. That's partly because the GTO was brought to market quickly and is an Americanized version of the Monaro model from General Motors' Australian Holden branch. Sunroofs and heated seats aren't popular in Australia, and Pontiac thought there would be little demand for the navigation system here.
GM used a Monaro because it had no rear-drive American car it could modify to create a new GTO. Behind the car is GM product czar Bob Lutz, who thought there had been too long a wait for the return of the fabled GTO.
The GTO has no frills, except for a few small "GTO'' fender badges and a discreet "6.0 liter'' badge on the trunk that signifies that it has the new V-8, which has "GTO'' lettering on its valve covers. The revised rear fascia has a bumper that better separates two large exhaust outlets in the new split exhaust system, which has polished exhaust outlet tips. As with exotics such as Ferrari, front brake calipers are painted red (with the GTO logo on them) to make them stand out behind the large 17-inch spoked alloy wheels. A new driver foot rest is a handy item on long trips.
The quiet, refined GTO is comfortable, but a kick to drive. The car stops as well as it goes, with larger new brakes and a linear-action pedal for smooth stops. The variable ratio power steering is quick, although a little heavy. The supple all-independent suspension results in a smooth, nicely controlled ride. Handling is impressive, helped by the traction control and a limited-slip differential.
Long doors are a problem in tight spots, but otherwise make it easy to get in and out of the front. There's good front room in supportive bucket seats, and the seats power forward to allow easier entry to the spacious rear area, which also has twin bucket seats. However, front seats move slowly and rear entry/exit is tight. Fixed back windows don't lower.
The leather-covered tilt-telescopic steering wheel is nicely sized, but gauge numbers are small and it's hard to read the odometer and fuel range numbers in sunlight.
Power-window controls are on the console, instead of being more conveniently placed on the doors, which have pockets that don't hold much. The console also has a small, but deep, covered storage bin and large twin cupholders.
Although nicely shaped, the trunk is small for this fairly large 190-inch-long car because the fuel tank had to be repositioned behind the back-seat bulkhead to meet U.S. crash rules. Rear seatbacks don't fold forward to enlarge the cargo area.
The trunk lid has old-style hinges, but the hood moves up and down smoothly on twin hydraulic struts. The engine compartment has easily reached fluid filler areas, and a thick transverse race-car-style bar at the rear of the compartment helps show why the GTO has solidity that helps provide precise handling.
The GTO is a strong player for the money in the high-performance market because few under-$33,000 cars provide its driving excitement.
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