Brian Moody, Road Test Editor
There's something slightly odd about Australian culture. Most Americans would recognize elements of it, yet certain aspects seem like amped-up, overblown versions of what we enjoy right here in the United States. From Mad Max to The Wiggles, Aussies have a knack for doing things big, loud and in your face, so few will be surprised to learn that the 2008 Pontiac G8 is really an Australian Holden Commodore dressed up with a Pontiac grille and badges.
The loud and in-your-face part is the new Pontiac G8 GT, a 6.0-liter powerhouse of a performance sedan. However, base G8s come with a slightly less aggressive V6. The base sedan still has an authenticity in its look and feel, but ultimately lacks the GT's urgency. And of course, the V6 version is less expensive by about $3,000, so shoppers looking for a sedan with both sharp styling and adequate performance will be impressed with the base Pontiac G8. In fact, it's hard to tell the difference between the G8 GT and a G8 V6 at first glance. Quad exhaust tips outside and automatic climate control inside set the GT apart, but the base G8 looks and acts almost as cool.
While the base G8 is priced similarly to a nicely equipped Honda Accord or Toyota Camry, a more accurate comparison would be to a large American sedan like the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger or perhaps Ford Taurus. Like the Chrysler and Dodge, all G8s are rear-wheel drive, so skip the Taurus, Accord and Camry if that's important to you. On the whole, the base G8 delivers exactly what its sleek bodywork promises: an aggressive sedan that's fun to drive and stands apart from the crowd. The masses will be perfectly happy with the Camry, but enthusiasts who need the practicality of a sedan, yet want the edge of a performance coupe will find much to like about the new 2008 Pontiac G8.
There's one big problem with the base Pontiac G8. It isn't the engine...but then again, it is the engine. The 256-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 provides brisk acceleration, so those who opt for the V6 will not feel shortchanged by not getting the V8. Then again, those who don't opt for the GT will feel shortchanged, because everyone and his sister will, upon seeing your new Pontiac, instantly ask about the car's 6.0-liter V8. You'll then spend the rest of your G8 ownership regretting your decision and beginning every automotive conversation with an apology or the words "No, it doesn't." You won't be saving the planet with the V6 either — its fuel economy is only 2 mpg better in the city and 1 mpg better on the highway than the much more powerful V8. Both engines also get the same EPA smog index rating — 6. That's the same rating as a Toyota Avalon.
Still, the V6 gets the G8 from zero to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds, which is plenty quick for a large sedan. Even with the car's somewhat boy-racer looks, the base G8 isn't a pretender or a fake. The shift-it-yourself transmission adds more sport to the experience, and the whole package delivers a distinct "I've got something special" feel.
Both V6 and V8 versions of the 2008 Pontiac G8 have the same sporty but smooth FE2 suspension tuning — one more reason you won't feel shortchanged by the lower-priced base G8. Although generally speaking, the V6 G8 feels balanced, our test driver noted that in the slalom, the suspension doesn't control body roll very well in quick transitions. Still, the V6 G8 hustled through the cones at 63.9 mph, which is adequate for a sporty sedan.
Unfortunately, the one area where the V6 falls short is in terms of refinement. The GT is more expensive and it offers more power than many people will need or want, but the real benefit is that it's smoother and quieter than the V6. The V6 is excessively noisy and seems coarse by comparison.
As expected, the G8's interior is roomy and the seats are comfortable. If there's one thing big American sedans do well, it's comfort. The G8 delivers on this implied promise. The front seats are nicely shaped and offer plenty of support. The G8's rear seats are comfortable and the standard cloth is quite nice — skipping the optional leather does not result in a low-rent cabin atmosphere. Plus the front seats covered in cloth are actually softer and more comfortable than the leather seats. The rear seats are also notable for another reason. Installing a child safety car seat or booster seat via seatbelts is a snap, thanks to adequately spaced seatbelt receptacles. Too often, the contour of the seat is too narrow, making a booster seat all but unusable.
There's nothing exceptionally good or bad about the G8's interior from an ergonomic standpoint. Most controls are logically placed and work as expected. The only exception is the optional Blaupunkt audio system. There are no gross errors here either, but a few features take time to master. For example, depressing the volume knob doesn't turn the stereo off; it just mutes it. Even then, "mute" doesn't mean "silent." In true quirky Aussie form, pressing the mute knob just means "less loud." To change radio stations manually, you have to press the "disc" button that also controls the CD changer. Finally, if you have the factory preset equalizer switched on, you cannot then modify the sound by adjusting bass and treble. You have to go into the menu, turn off EQ, then adjust bass and the rest. Unfortunately, this little piece of info isn't obvious right away.
The trunk is spacious and easily holds a weekend's worth of luggage or sports equipment — cargo space is so plentiful that you may find yourself looking for the keys to the G8 when it comes time for an airport pickup.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2008 Pontiac G8's interior won't win any design awards, but there's simplicity and restraint here that's been missing in recent Pontiacs. Most surfaces are flat black with varying textures. Doesn't sound too sexy, right? Luckily, in practice, the dash and major controls have an intentionally straightforward look that never veers into stark or cheap.
Materials quality is also very good. There are some hard plastic bits, but there are also plenty of rubber and soft-touch surfaces. Combined with the red gauges and readouts, the G8's interior has a sort of Audi quality.
Who should consider this vehicle
Anyone who's bored by the usual band of import sedans and doesn't want a "me, too" Dodge Charger. Consider the base V6-powered G8 only if you're looking to keep the purchase price as low as possible; otherwise, it doesn't make a lot of sense.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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