Pontiac occupies an odd automotive niche at General Motors between Chevrolet, which for the most part makes some affordable and interesting cars alongside the brand-showcase Corvette, and Buick, which makes a fleet of soft-tuned sedans. Pontiac's brand offerings seem an odd mixture of the two.
During the past few years, there has not been much to be excited about in the Pontiac line-up. The cute little Vibe is basically a rebadged Toyota Matrix. The ever-more-bulbous and decal-ed Trans Am has mercifully faded from the scene. The hot-rod Pontiac GTO -- legitimately one of the best performance cars on the roads right now -- was saddled with a bland, sales-killing body.
The G6 is supposed to stand in contrast to some of those missteps. Looking at the new sedan -- most famous so far for being given away in large numbers by Oprah -- you can see that Pontiac has decided to go a little bit Euro.
In many ways, the G6 looks more like an Audi or Volkswagen than its Grand Am or Bonneville stable mates. And that's a good thing. The G6 still shares the kidney-shaped grill with the rest of the product line, but the back bumper and tail lights have a far more tailored and refined look, without all the grooves and red plastic that fuss up its brethrens' behinds.
The G6's lines are clean and smooth from the front to the back, with a bit of swoopy flair as they pass over the door panels. The back fenders kick out just enough to give the car a solid-looking stance. And the spoke wheels are nice touch on a car with a base price under $25,000.
The G6 puts its best foot forward with its polished and refined exterior design.
Behind the wheel things aren't quite so successful. The V6 engine is certainly serviceable and moves the car along as demanded, although the automatic transmission is less than buttery in its smoothness. The ride is comfortable, although even with the "sport" suspension it feels too floaty in its handling. Unlike the exterior design, the G6's performance can't really compete against the sportier Japanese and German offerings.
The interior on the test car I drove was all black -- black leather seats, black plastic dash, black plastic door panels. It was more funereal than hipster. I have, however, seen a G6 interior with a black-and-tan, two-tone finish that looked much nicer and would certainly be my choice were I to spend extended time with the car.
The interior is a comfortable space, although I also regretted not getting a model with the distinctive and cool-looking multi-panel sunroof that features so prominently in the advertising.
As with so many mid-range cars these days, the onboard computer offers up myriad data on gas mileage, trip length, temperatures and other automotive arcana. But unlike other cars that either scroll the info alongside the odometer or on a special screen in the dash, the G6 displays the data on the stereo faceplate. It involves all kinds of twisting and turning of the dog-bone shaped control panel to pull up what you want, and takes your eyes away from the road far too often and for far too long. This was just simply a bad idea that should be changed as soon as possible.
If you're in the market for a sedan and are considering the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or Volkswagen Passat, then you should take some time to test drive the G6. It's the type of car that's good-looking enough and competent enough -- and at a reasonable enough price -- that it may hit you in just the right way.