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Power pack: Pontiac pumps up the 2005 GTO

BY SAM MOSES June 19, 2005
Portland Tribune's Accelerate section​

I was surprised twice with the 2005 Pontiac GTO: first when I got in the car and drove it away; and again a couple of days later, when I picked up the pace on some back roads.

It’s hard not to put the bottom line of this car up front. It’s a 1960s muscle car, four decades later. You may hear that said about a number of cars today, but forget it: The GTO is the real deal. The real, crude deal.

But crude is not bad, if what you want is a ’60s muscle car in 2005.

There are two especially crude things about the GTO, but I’m going to throw one of them out early because a buyer can throw one out, too: the four-speed automatic transmission. Forget it.

Spend $695 for the optional terrific Tremec six-speed manual transmission, the same as in the Corvette. Not because shifting is fun, but because the automatic in the GTO doesn’t come close to being up to the task.

It might be OK if you don’t do anything with the car but stoplight drag race (until you end up in jail, where you would belong), which is to say never take it up a hill or around a corner. Otherwise, just get the six-speed. Please.

The other crude thing is the suspension. That’s what surprised me first. It’s so harsh around town - I didn’t think manufacturers were still letting cars out of the factory like this. Back in the old days, cars had to be stiff in order to get around corners without wallowing, but now they work both ways.

The GTO is built by the Australian company Holden, a division of General Motors, and those Aussies are tough, so maybe that explains it.

But I was surprised again when I got the GTO out on bumpy back roads. This car transforms itself. To quote my tape-recorded self: “Hoo, baby.”

It still isn’t a sophisticated suspension - MacPherson struts front and a modified link rear - but it comes into its own, over about 50 miles per hour, especially in the bumps.

Is it more fun to drive than a new Mustang GT (perhaps a close comparison car)? Yes.

That’s providing you’re oblivious to styling, and that you’re in love with brute force.

“It’s a hell of a muscle car. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt anything like this,” I said to myself in my tape recorder.

It uses the same 400-horsepower 6.0-liter engine as the new Corvette, which has a lot to do with it.

As in the Corvette, GM has taken out the 2004 5.7-liter LS1 and replaced it with the improved 6.0-liter LS2 engine. It’s clearly an improved engine, but I’m not so sure that something hasn’t been lost.

I’ve also recently tested the 2005 Cadillac CTS-V, which still uses the 5.7-liter engine, and I like it better because it feels like it has more torque. The numbers say otherwise, but I say seat-of-the-pants sometimes trumps the charts.

But forget the torque. This thing is a high-speed demon. It can get you arrested so fast it’ll make your head spin like the cop’s blue light.

The brakes are bigger than on the ’04, but they don’t feel terribly confidence-inspiring to me. Without a gearbox to slow down the heavy car by using engine compression, I wasn’t inclined to go charging through my hard-braking corners like I normally do.

But I liked the steering and turn-in in the GTO more than the Corvette, believe it or not, and definitely more than the Mustang GT. It’s unlikely that the GTO will win over any Mustang fans, but it should hang onto high-performance GM folks.

In a Ford-GM debate over the “muscle” in the ’05 muscle cars, give me the GTO and I’ll win. (I look forward to driving the new Dodge Charger, by the way.)

The engine is more sophisticated, but the throttle response in the GTO is not. The chip needs work. It felt like there was too much travel to the gas pedal, and then a bit of a lag, and then a bit of a jerk.

The solution is probably to keep it on the floor - and get about 2 miles per gallon.

Actually, fuel mileage is another reason to go for the six-speed. The lame four-speed automatic is saddled with a gas-guzzler tax of $1,300.

Even with the automatic and my foot on the floor a lot, I was surprised again, with my 17 mpg. The Environmental Protection Agency rates it at 16-21.

With a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $33,000 (with the six-speed), and a street price of less than that with GM incentives, if you know what the GTO is like, and you want it, it’s a lot of muscle for the money.
 

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I wonder what he was test driving the week before he did the GTO. After driving a Camaro Z-28 for 6 years, I found the GTO's suspension much less harsh and very compliant for a GT-type car.
 

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The GTO has a harsh ride??? I have $20 that sez the tires were still at shipping pressure and the spring spacers were not removed... That and somebody needs to show this guy that you can select a gear other than Drive with an Automatic.
 

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eldodroptop said:
I have $20 that sez the tires were still at shipping pressure and the spring spacers were not removed...
I forgot that is a common problem. I took a tire gauge with me when I picked up mine - sure enough it was at 50 psi!
 

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Xman said:
I forgot that is a common problem. I took a tire gauge with me when I picked up mine - sure enough it was at 50 psi!
Mine was at 60 PSI and I never knew it!! I had 2000 miles on mine before I checked the pressure. I was pi**ed at the dealer for not checking that when they prepped the car, and I let them know it when I had it in there the first time for service.
 

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Ride....

The GTO is shipped with blocks in the front coils to keep the suspension rigid during shipping. They are red in color and should have been removed during the PDI process at the dealer... Who knows... maybe someone forgot to remove them....

I find that this is a great riding, handling vehicle... Except for the lack of CHROME for wheels and such... it is one great car...
 

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Thanks for the heads up on the overinflate issue...2,300 mile '05 M6 and at 60 PSI too. I just figured the minor steering column jounce over bumps was due to chassis rigidity. Turn in also always felt a little strange but I came from a '04 TSX M6, which although obviously lacking in the lump department has excellent balance and steering for a FWD car and I figured it spoiled me a little. Unbelievable that the dealers aren't catching this. I like in Michigan, which has awful roads, and even commented to the salesman during the test drive that I was surprised at how stiffly it rode given its grand touring nature...no wonder!! They actually had me take the car overnight so I could drive it on roads less cratered than near the dealership, which is in the older retail district (read pot hole patches on pot hole patches). Love this car...had a '95 Firehawk 10 years ago and never though I would have a car again that makes me smile so much just holding a gear through a tunnel and overpass just hearing the exhaust note.
 
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