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Another GTO Hatchet Job In The Press

[email protected] Yeah, I'm a wee bit biased, but, come on, what a hatchet job. Comparing sales figures for a 400 hp GTO to the Mustang -- 80% of which are 6 bangers? Ladies and gentlemen, Matt's e-mail box needs to be stuffed with your rebuttals to this baloney.


Added power not enough to cure GTO's ills

By Matt Nauman
San Jose Mercury News Mercury News


An upgraded motor has started to nudge sales of the Pontiac GTO in the right direction.

Sales of the two-door, V-8 coupe with the classic muscle-car name were up 65 percent in April compared with the same month in 2004. And through the first third of the year, GTO sales are up 78 percent.

Despite the seeming good news, the actual numbers remain small. And after a week of living with a GTO, I felt disappointed. It's too big, yet getting into the back seat remains a hugely annoying task. The things that came with it from Australia -- the Monaro from General Motors' down-under Holden affiliate served as the platform for this new-age GTO -- remain irksome.

Plus, many things that you'd expect on a $30,000-plus car, and found on many others, are missing here.

But most striking -- and most noticeable in our test car that was painted a yellow usually seen inside a jar of French's mustard -- it's just not a good-looking car. There's nothing classic about it. The wheels don't look right. The rear spoiler is thick and cumbersome. It resembles a Grand Am that bought a one-year membership at a gym but stopped going after two or three visits.

Still, I can't deny the engine is mighty appealing, and that's why sales are up. Under the hood -- now with twin air scoops as an option -- is GM's LS2, a 400-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8. Other changes -- and the fact that they were made so quickly, reflect that GM knows this car is in trouble -- include split exhaust pipes with polished tips and larger brake rotors and calipers.

The 2004 GTO arrived in December 2003 with a 350-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 that was used in the previous-generation Corvette. I thought the car's enthusiastic engine with its great exhaust note plus the revival of its great name -- unused since 1974 -- and its $32,000 base price would make it a winner.

I was wrong.

Blame the styling, which seemed bland, generic -- even ugly. It looks nice enough in photos -- not a muscle car, certainly, but with a touch of elegance perhaps. But, in person, it's just not appealing.

Now, after a year and a half on the market and with the benefit of seeing what and how well Ford did with the recreation of the Mustang, the GTO is lost in the shuffle.

Pontiac dealers sold 1,111 of them in April, and 4,372 so far in 2005. In contrast, Ford dealers sold 19,559 Mustangs in April -- the best April for the pony car since 1980. Year-to-date sales are 61,820, up 19 percent over January-April 2004.

Our test GTO came with the optional six-speed Tremec manual shifter. It was one of those big, heavy transmissions that seem well-suited to a big (189.8 inches long), heavy car. And this one is fun to drive once it gets going, and seems bolted together pretty well.

I certainly can't argue with the level of standard equipment on this car.

It includes a Blaupunkt stereo with 10 speakers and a six-CD changer, air conditioning, cruise control, power front seats and a tilt and telescoping steering wheel. And, not in spite but because of its Australian roots, this car has one of the neatest interiors of any GM cars. It's purposeful and contemporary. The surfaces looked clean.

Marring the appeal, however, are the gauge faces that match the car's exterior color -- sort of. As I said, the exterior was painted bright yellow, like hot dog mustard. These gauge plates looked more like Grey Poupon, a brownish-yellow that didn't have much appeal. The black, leather-covered seats were stiff, but well bolstered.

The GTO's trunk is small and rectangular. It held a cake from Costco for my son's birthday party, but, afterward, there wasn't room for all the presents.

But the car is well short of what you'd expect, safety-wise, from a car costing more than $33,000. There are only two air bags, the ones up front -- no side bags, no side-curtain bags. There's no stability control offered -- again, something you'd expect in a car designed for performance-oriented driving. (Anti-lock brakes and traction control are standard.)

And it's out of step with what's found in many GM models these days, including some cheap ones -- XM satellite radio and the OnStar safety/concierge system.

There's no navigation option, either.

I guess that makes it much like a '60s muscle car, as these items weren't available on a GTO back then, either.

The Australian annoyances -- things like the radio volume knob and the hand brake on the wrong (right-hand) side of the car -- are compromises that American buyers don't deserve. I also didn't find the driver's-side foot well very spacious.

The four-passenger GTO competes with other two-door models such as the Acura CL, the BMW 3-Series, the Infiniti G35, the Chrysler Crossfire, the Nissan 350Z and the Mazda RX-8, GM suggests. But, in reality, its name, its tradition and its V-8 engine place it squarely against the Ford Mustang and the soon-to-arrive Dodge Charger, a four-door.

I haven't driven the Charger yet, so I can't make a fair comparison. But in a segment that values hot looks as well as hot engines, the GTO falls down in the former. Consider its other faults -- like a V-8 that requires premium fuel (recommended) and a really lousy 16/21 mpg with the standard four-speed automatic that also requires a gas-guzzler tax -- and I'd suggest this GTO should GO. Away.

Talk to Matt Nauman about new cars online for a live question-and- answer session from noon to 1 p.m. today at www.mercurynews.com . You also can contact him at [email protected] or (408) 920-5701.
 

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Why waste your breath and time on a poor shlep that just doesn't get it? No matter what a GTO enthusiast writes to him, he'll just feed on it and slam the note's author as well, it's like trying to heckle a bad comedian, he's still the one with the microphone . . . Screw 'em all, the idiots with love for nothing but seeing their excrement in print.

I predict that after this Goat's production is done, the resale slide will be too, and then a few years down the road it will command pretty good prices like an Impala SS, just wait and see.
 
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