One day, perhaps not long from now, maybe even today, a group of car enthusiasts will be sitting around a garage somewhere bench racing and challenging each other's automotive trivia skills.
Who came in second in the 1973 Italian Grand Prix?
Where were the three factories that built the 1965 Mustang?
What was the most powerful showroom stock Pontiac ever made?
That last one will surely garner responses that include such heralded names from the past as GTO and Trans Am, and a couple of joke answers like Fiero and Aztek. None of which are even close.
The correct answer, now and forever, is the 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP. A full-size sedan with a 415 horsepower 6.2 liter V8 borrowed from the Corvette that not only trumps all the rest on power, but is the only one you can still buy new. But not for long.
Unlike Oldsmobile, Plymouth, AMC, and countless other brands that whimpered into history on their last legs, Pontiac unintentionally saved the best for last. While it's not technically the final car introduced by the soon-to-be-eliminated marque - that would be the Solstice Coupe - the G8 GXP is hands down the finest driver’s car the company has ever made. Feel free to argue, but find one and take it for a spin first. I’ll see you in about a week.
And it's not all about the power. Well, a lot of it is. Looking back, I realize that I used similar language to describe the now run-of-the-mill G8 GT and its 361 hp 6.0 liter V8. Since the most prominent change on the GXP is the extra horses, it's easy to point to that as the source of its prowess, but there's more to it than that.
To go along with the more potent engine, the G8 GXP gets bigger brakes with Brembo calipers and a suspension that was tuned on the famed Nürburgring Nordschleife, a 13-mile long racing circuit comprised of 73 turns winding their way through Germany's Eifel mountains. If you're not familiar with it, all you need to know is that its nickname is "The Green Hell". Slinky sports cars from around the world are brought there to see if they are up for the challenge, and the G8 GXP is probably the biggest one from an American company ever to make the trip; a journey that actually begins even further away in Brisbane, Australia, where this 4-wheel chunk of red, white and blue is manufactured by GM’s Holden division.
As huge as it is, the G8 GXP is also surprisingly svelte. Squeezing the scales at just over two tons, the big Pontiac is 100 pounds lighter than the similarly sized and powered Dodge Charger SRT8, and just 100 more than the new Chevrolet Camaro SS, with which it shares some parts. The car is so tossable through the twisties that it makes you want to take up a life of crime just so you can wring the most out of it. Old-time moonshiner and NASCAR legend Fonty Flock once said that he used to go looking for the sheriff to get him to chase him. He would probably have traded a couple of years up the river to own a car like this one.
Then, of course, there's that power. Touch the accelerator and it pours out strong and smooth like a tall cold one after a day at the beach: refreshing at any speed. Drink it down deeply enough and you can coax the G8 GXP to 60 mph in about four and a half seconds and be a quarter mile away from where you first put the pedal to the metal in thirteen. Unless you are in a twelve-step program for speed addiction, it never disappoints. You can't touch this kind of performance in a behemoth like the G8 GXP for anywhere near its $38,000 sticker price. It is a muscle car, plain and simple, and the fact that it can carry four or five six footers in comfort is a scoop of ice cream on the apple pie.
Is it perfect? By no means, but its faults are largely nitpicks. No navigation system; no iPod integration; and the cheesy GXP logos sewn into the otherwise excellent sport seats could be lifted from the gaudy Pontiac Grand Prix this car replaced.
The only substantive issue is the middling 6-speed automatic transmission. It's not bad, but its shifts are just hesitant enough to be noticed. Still, a slushbox matches the persona of a car like this pretty well. The G8 GXP is a ‘get in and don't stop until morning’ kind of cruising machine. If you’re more of a no-compromises, tear it up-type driver, you can order it with a 6-speed manual for $695. Try and find another full-size vehicle with this kind of power that offers that option. The only other one is a sunroof for $900.
It won't take long, though, before a harsh reality smacks you in the face like an insurance premium after the inevitable moving violation or five that you'll get it the G8 GXP. The first time the low fuel warning lit up, I checked the trip odometer and was saddened to see that I'd traveled only 206.32 miles. Thank you, Aussies, for designing that gauge with two decimal points because those 32 hundredths of a mile really brightened my day. By the time I limped into the next gas station I'd made it a mere 234.45 miles, the car's computer informing me that I'd gotten just over 14 mpg.
The experience brought to mind the electric Tesla Roadster that I tested recently which has a theoretical range of 244 miles. Granted, that's a teensy tiny overpriced two-seater that takes forever to charge and was only able to go 140 miles or so on the same roads that I drove the G8 GXP, but it makes the point that the two main arguments against battery-powered cars, that they're slow and don't go very far, are quickly becoming non-issues, while $1,700 gas guzzler-taxed rides like the G8 GXP will soon be forced into history by the folks in Washington.
When they are, I want to be the be the one to lay down a smoky burnout in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as I head off into the sunset for that last fossil-fueled trip cross country.
I just hope there's a G8 GXP around to do it in.
2009 Pontiac G8 GXP
Base Price: $37,610
As Tested: $39,995
Type: Front-engine, Rear-wheel drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
Powerplant: 6.2L V8
Power: 415 hp, 415 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
MPG: 13 city/20 hwy
What do you think of the G8 GXP?
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