Full 2009 Pontiac G8 Review
What's New for 2009
The 2009 Pontiac G8 receives standard XM Satellite Radio across the board, and the high-performance G8 GXP makes its debut, featuring a detuned version of the Corvette's V8 along with a sportier suspension and an optional manual transmission. Also, the dorky Atari-style oil/battery gauges atop the center stack have been removed.
Thanks to a long line of uninspiring products over the past couple decades, Pontiac -- ostensibly GM's "driving excitement" division -- acquired a rather unfortunate reputation as fodder for rental-car fleets. But that's been changing as of late, thanks to a concerted effort by GM to reassert the brand's high-performance heritage. The 2009 Pontiac G8 is at the core of Pontiac's recent resurgence. This powerful yet refined rear-wheel-drive performance sedan is unlike anything Pontiac has offered in recent memory -- and we mean that as a sincere compliment.
The Pontiac G8 is a mechanical twin of the Commodore sedan from Holden, GM's Australian subsidiary. That's a good thing, as the Commodore has garnered accolades Down Under for providing affordable full-size functionality in a swift and agile package. Thankfully, Pontiac stylists resisted the urge to outfit the American version with the brand's traditional assortment of scoops, vents and spoilers, and the car looks muscular and purposeful from most angles.
The G8's mechanical merits are impressive, from its range of energetic engines to its impressive combination of sharp handling and supple composure over broken pavement. The new 2009 GXP model raises the performance bar even higher with a 402-horsepower version of the iconic Corvette's 6.2-liter V8. One of our few complaints about the G8 has been the lack of a manual transmission, so we're pleased to report that you can get one on the GXP (though still not on lesser G8 models). In any guise, the G8's BMW-like MacPherson front strut layout and multilink rear suspension yields a sophisticated driving character that's more typical of European sport sedans than large domestic rear-drivers.
The G8 also impresses inside, especially considering the plasticky depths to which Pontiac interiors had previously sunk. There are still too many hard surfaces, but the center stack is more than a little reminiscent of Audi's industry-leading efforts. Passenger room is plentiful, particularly in back, where all but the largest riders will have space to spare. The rear center seat isn't so hospitable, however, as the wide center tunnel necessitated by the G8's rear-drive layout essentially eliminates legroom there.
At the G8's moderate price point, the Dodge Charger/Chrysler 300 twins are the only other roomy, rear-wheel-drive, full-size performance sedans available. The Chrysler siblings are certainly competent, but the G8's sporting character sets it apart. We're not fans of the G8's lackluster fuel economy, but then, the Charger/300 duo aren't likely to win any efficiency awards from the EPA either. Bottom line: If you want a large sedan with American attitude and Continental manners, the 2009 Pontiac G8 is in a class of its own.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Pontiac G8 is a performance-oriented large sedan available in base, GT or GXP trim. Base models come with 18-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, four-way power front sport seats, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a seven-speaker CD sound system with XM Satellite Radio and an auxiliary audio jack. G8 GTs add a 6.0-liter V8 engine, summer performance tires, a limited-slip rear differential, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a premium 11-speaker Blaupunkt sound system with a six-CD/MP3 changer. The tarmac-terrorizing GXP version boasts a Corvette-sourced V8 as well as a unique front fascia, an upgraded sport-tuned suspension and 19-inch wheels.
Much of the GT's equipment can be had on the base model via the Comfort and Sound Package. A Premium Package is also available, featuring leather upholstery and six-way power heated front seats. A sunroof can be selected as a stand-alone option. A Sport Package available for the GT adds 19-inch alloy wheels with summer tires and a sport steering wheel.
Powertrains and Performance
The base Pontiac G8 is equipped with a 3.6-liter V6 that produces 256 hp and 248 pound-feet of torque. It sends its power to the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control. The GT has a 6.0-liter V8 packing 361 hp and 385 lb-ft of torque that's mated to a six-speed automatic. The GXP's 6.2-liter V8 puts out a prodigious 402 hp and 402 lb-ft of torque and utilizes either the GT's six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission.
In track testing, the G8 GT roared to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds en route to a blistering 13.7-second quarter-mile. The GXP promises to be quicker still -- Pontiac expects it will shave at least half a second off the GT's 0-60 sprint. V6-powered base models should require roughly 7 seconds. Thanks to a cylinder deactivation feature, the GT V8's fuel economy is close to the V6's; the EPA gives the V6 a 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway rating and the V8 a 15/24 mpg rating. The GXP will likely be slightly less efficient than its GT stablemate. In short, the G8 is fleet-footed in any form -- and you'll pay for it at the pump.
All G8 models are equipped with front seat airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control and traction control. OnStar is also standard equipment.
Interior Design and Special Features
Modern Pontiac interiors have hardly been renowned for their design or quality, but the 2009 Pontiac G8's interior is unquestionably a significant step forward. The center stack is pleasing to the eye, and while many surfaces are hard to the touch, they generally feel solidly constructed. Passenger room is befitting a large car, with generous accommodations fore and aft. The rear seats don't fold down, however, though a ski pass-through helps somewhat. The ample trunk offers 17.5 cubic feet of cargo volume.
On the downside, a navigation system is unavailable despite the G8's navigation-sized LCD information screen. The lack of a redline indicator for the tachometer is also unfortunate. In sum, there's still room for improvement, but the G8's interior is far superior to Pontiac's previous offerings.
Those who buy a V8-powered G8 because they want a four-door modern-day muscle car will not be disappointed. If you turn off traction control, the GT or GXP will lay thick stripes of rubber in your favorite parking lot until the cows come home -- or until you run out of tires. What buyers may not expect is the tight handling that comes with the package, particularly in the case of the GXP, which rides on GM's sport-biased FE3 suspension.
All's not perfect in the G8's world, of course. The V6 is noisy and harsh in almost all driving conditions and gets progressively worse the harder you push the accelerator. Also, the upgraded six-speed automatic on G8 GT models often transmits a firm kick during upshifts that's absent with the base five-speed unit. Brake feel isn't optimal either, as the long-travel pedal feels a bit soft for performance-driving purposes. But overall, the G8 should go a long way toward helping Pontiac reclaim its storied past. Driving excitement is once again alive and well.
Read our Pontiac G8 GT Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test