Evaluated on its own merits, the Australian-made 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP is a dream come true for driving enthusiasts who need four doors. Rear-wheel drive? Check. Corvette-derived LS3 V8 power and a sport-tuned suspension? Oh, you betcha. Snick-snick manual transmission? Check the $695 option box, and it's yours. As for the rest of the family, the G8 GXP has one of the most accommodating backseats this side of a Maybach — and at around $40,000, it's far easier on the wallet than many of its performance peers.
Trouble is, much the same could be said for the GXP's considerably cheaper sibling, the V8-powered G8 GT. Despite riding on the ostensibly less sporty FE2 suspension, the GT's handling deficit is negligible. Its V8 may not be shared with the Corvette, but the GT still manages a 5.8-second dash to 60 mph, just 0.6 second off the manual-shift GXP's 5.2-second pace (notably, the automatic transmission improves the GXP's time to 4.9 seconds). The GXP's cabin layout is largely unchanged from GT duty. Given all that, it's difficult to rationalize the GXP's $8,000-plus price premium over a comparably equipped GT.
The GXP's trump card is the available six-speed manual; the GT is automatic-only, so if you want to shift your G8 for yourself, the GXP is the only game in town. We're pleased to report that the shifter itself is a joy to operate, though the clutch it's paired with is ridiculously light. But is it worth paying that much more for six on the floor? Our inner enthusiast nods. Our inner accountant looks pained.
For some, the G8 GXP's Corvette motor and available stick shift will be irresistible. If it weren't for the bargain-priced and nearly-as-capable G8 GT, we might feel the same way.
The 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP is powered by a 6.2-liter V8 that pumps out 415 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque, which is 54 hp and 30 lb-ft more than the G8 GT's 6.0-liter V8 can manage. Our test car was equipped with the optional six-speed manual transmission. At the test track, we recorded an impressive 0-60-mph sprint of 5.2 seconds en route to a sizzling 13.4-second quarter-mile at 105.9 mph.
Put simply, the Corvette-sourced LS3 V8 is a beast. It rumbles menacingly at idle, impatiently shaking the car from side to side, and while it's not quite the torque monster off the line that you might expect, your passengers will be holding on for dear life once you hit 3,000 rpm or so. Acceleration at highway speeds is frighteningly quick — 60 to 100 mph feels like zero to 40 mph in a lesser car. The GXP also features a freer-flowing exhaust system than the GT, and we love the rowdy burble it emits.
Our tester's Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual transmission featured one of the best-feeling shifters in recent memory, with short throws and a solid mechanical feel through the gates. We also appreciated the reverse-lockout function — reverse is located to the right of 5th, but the reverse gate is only accessible when the car is at a complete stop, eliminating the possibility of finding it by mistake (are you listening, BMW?). On the downside, though, this sublime shift lever is paired with one of the lightest clutches we've ever depressed. Performance cars needn't be saddled with ThighMaster-grade clutches, but there's definitely something incongruous about economy-car clutch effort in a V8-powered four-door muscle car.
On our standard handling loop through the canyons, the GXP acquitted itself well despite its prodigious 196.1-inch length (5 inches longer than a BMW 5 Series). Body roll is kept in check by the sport-biased FE3 suspension, and the light steering is quick and responsive. Tire-smoking power oversteer is a cinch out of 2nd-gear corners, yet the GXP always feels stable and predictable, even when you're going sideways. However, we feel the G8 GT with its FE2 setup is equally competent — its slalom speed at our test track was virtually identical to the GXP's, and there are few if any discernible handling differences from behind the wheel.
Braking performance was excellent at 110 feet from 60 mph, though the GT once again nips at the GXP's heels with its 113-foot panic stop. As for fuel economy, EPA estimates stand at 13 mpg city and 20 mpg highway for the GXP, which is considerably worse than both the GT (15/24) and the LS3-powered Corvette (16/26). We averaged a woeful 15.4 mpg in our GXP — but if you're interested in this car, that's probably not cause for concern.
The 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP is a comfortable highway cruiser. A tall 6th gear allows for relaxed high-speed travel, and road noise is nicely suppressed by performance-car standards. The ride quality is quite livable given the GXP's canyon-carving capabilities — kudos to Pontiac (by way of Holden, GM's Australian subsidiary) for striking such a fine balance between control and compliance.
The special front sport seats provide adequate space and support for long trips, but they could use more prominent side bolstering for aggressive driving. We were also disappointed to find manual rotary knobs for the seatback angle and lumbar adjustments. These knobs are awkward to operate, and in any case we'd like to see full power seats on a $40,000 sport sedan. We also found fault with the door-mounted armrests, which have hard outer edges that are hostile to elbows.
Editors of all sizes had nothing but praise for the GXP's gargantuan backseat, however. Short of limousines or extended-wheelbase luxury cars, backseats don't get roomier than this.
The GXP's center stack controls are generally intuitive, though the stereo power button's Aussie-spec placement on the right side of the head unit takes a little getting used to. The stereo itself produces mediocre sound despite its Blaupunkt-branded components, let down by weak bass and rattling trim panels at higher volumes. The GXP-specific steering wheel misses the mark — its aggressive contours fit none of our hands, and its diameter is too large. Despite the standard color LCD information screen, a navigation system is unavailable, and that's not the only missing feature; other absent amenities include keyless entry/ignition, an iPod jack and the above-mentioned power seat controls.
In our real-world usability tests, the G8 GXP's large 17.5-cubic-foot trunk swallowed everything we threw at it — golf bags, suitcases, you name it. Same goes for the backseat, which accommodated our child safety seat with room to spare.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP's exterior is defined by its clipped front overhang and tastefully sporty styling cues. We especially like the muscular rear-three-quarter view, though this Pontiac appears awfully long when viewed in profile. Some of us complained that the GXP looked too much like the GT — other than the GXP's exclusive wheels, it's hard to tell the two apart.
Inside, the GXP is pretty much standard G8. The high center console and steeply raked windshield create a sporty ambience, and the comprehensive red backlighting evokes Audi's benchmark interior designs. The oft-heard Audi comparison can be misleading, however. Look closer and you'll find inconsistent panel gaps, loose-fitting parts and pedestrian materials that look out of place at this price point. On our test car, pressing on the trim panel underneath the steering column caused the backlighting for the steering wheel controls and center console to go out. These aren't deal-breakers, in our opinion, but they do show where the G8's designers cut corners in their quest to produce a high-performance bargain.
Who should consider this vehicle
G8 fans who can't live without a Corvette engine and/or a manual transmission.
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