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The Pontiac Vibe began life as a Toyota Matrix twin and ended it as the answer to a trivia question: "What is the only Pontiac model to be produced for the 2010 model year?" That's right -- while all other Pontiac models went the way of the dodo after GM's 2009 bankruptcy fiasco, the Vibe stuck around for a last hurrah. It's gone now, though, and that's a real shame. Of all the compact cars that wore Pontiac badges, the Vibe was by far the best.
Smart packaging is what made this small wagon desirable, as the Vibe combined clean styling, a roomy interior and exceptional utility under one affordably priced roof. A peppy powertrain was another welcome feature. The fact that the Vibe also got above-average fuel economy and had a solid reputation for reliability only added to its appeal among budget-minded consumers.
There were two generations of the Pontiac Vibe. Both are distinctive in appearance without looking overdone and resemble a sporty four-door hatchback rather than a frumpy station wagon. The Vibe offered a lot of functionality for not a lot of money, and Toyota-sourced parts and powertrains counted as another point in its favor. Despite Pontiac's demise, the Vibe should enjoy a long life on the used-car market.
Most Recent Pontiac Vibe
Produced for 2009-'10 only, the second-generation Pontiac Vibe is the corporate twin of the Toyota Matrix. What this means for pre-owned models is that the Vibe has reliable Toyota genes and will likely provide years of dependable service. The Vibe was treated to distinct exterior styling, however, as well as its own trim levels and options.
Pontiac sold this Vibe in base, AWD and GT trim levels. Base Vibe models were front-wheel-drive only and had a 1.8-liter 132-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a torsion-beam rear suspension. AWD models had -- you guessed it -- all-wheel drive, as well as an independent rear suspension and an upgraded 2.4-liter four good for 158 hp. The sport-themed, front-wheel-drive GT had the more powerful 2.4-liter engine along with the independent rear suspension.
All models came standard with a five-speed manual transmission except for the AWD model, which could only be equipped with a four-speed automatic. A five-speed automatic was optional on the GT, while the four-speed automatic could be added to base models. Base Vibes could also be equipped with the 2.4-liter engine at extra cost, in which case the five-speed automatic replaced the four-speed on the options list.
Inside, this Vibe featured simple and intuitive gauges and controls. Build quality was good, with most of the interior bits and pieces sourced from Toyota. Thanks to the Vibe's elevated roof line, there was plenty of room for passengers. In the safety department, the Vibe came standard with antilock disc brakes, OnStar, stability control and a full complement of airbags.
In reviews, we noted that acceleration was sluggish in the base Vibe but peppy otherwise, especially in the GT, which wasn't noticeably weighed down by the all-wheel-drive system. Expect fuel economy of nearly 30 mpg or more on the highway in all models. The four-speed automatic was rather anachronistic for a new model, though the five-speed automatic was a satisfactory unit. Handling was capable in all trims and even somewhat entertaining in GT models.
Used Pontiac Vibe Models
The first-generation Pontiac Vibe was sold from 2003-'08. It was available in base and GT trim levels. Base Vibe models had a 126-hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and could be equipped with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD). Non-AWD models were equipped with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission, both of which yielded adequate response in traffic and fuel economy in the low 30s. The AWD model was rated at 118 hp due to its different exhaust routing, and the four-speed automatic was mandatory. Acceleration was sluggish in the AWD Vibe, but it was still a useful option for buyers in harsh climates who needed a low-cost snow vehicle.
Aimed at a small niche of performance-minded consumers, the Vibe GT came with a Yamaha-designed high-revving 1.8-liter four-cylinder rated for 164 hp at a lofty 7,600 rpm. Sold in front-drive form with a six-speed manual transmission only, the GT was much quicker than the base Vibe, provided the engine was kept on boil. Ride and handling dynamics, however, were largely the same as in other Vibe models -- adequately comfortable and responsive for commuting purposes, but underwhelming from an enthusiast's perspective.
Other than the elimination of the GT and AWD models after 2007, the first-generation Pontiac Vibe received minimal changes. However, there are some equipment differences of note if you're shopping for a used one. A DVD-based navigation system was offered as an option from 2003-'05, but Pontiac discontinued it for 2006. Used-car shoppers interested in this feature will likely have difficulty locating models with it installed, as it was a rare selection when new. Also, while front seat-mounted side airbags were always optional on the first-generation Vibe, full-length side curtain airbags weren't available until the 2005 model year. That was also the first year that buyers could get stability control, but availability was limited to front-wheel-drive base Vibes equipped with the automatic transmission.