Contemporary review originally published in Examiner.com April 22, 2009
Buy a 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP now. Then thirty years from now when everyone glides silently about in Chinese-built autonomous zero-emission transportation pods, you’ll be able to tell young people about Pontiac and something called a G8 GXP and how it had something called an LS3 under the hood and that you had paid $695—OK, that wouldn’t sound like all that much after the hyper-inflation of 2012—for a manual transmission, actually having to do more than just program in a destination. Of course, old man, they’ll think you quaint.
Ah, but those were—these are—the good old days. Now halfway through the G8’s second year and with Pontiac on the cusp of oblivion, the Aussie-built rear-drive four-door adds a Corvette drivetrain to G8 lineup compose of the 256-horse V6-powered base and 361-horse V8- powered GT trim levels to form the G8 GXP.
The defining element of the Pontiac G8 GXP is its LS3 6.2-liter engine that generates 402 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque (402 lb-ft with the standard equipment Hydramatic 6L80 6-speed automatic transmission, oddly enough). That’s notably less than the LS3 in the Corvette, rated at 430 and 424 respectively, probably due to a more restrictive exhaust system caused by putting the engine in the tighter confines of a car that wasn’t expressly built around it.
Nevertheless, the engine constantly reminds the driver that it’s a serious mélange of reciprocating and revolving metal, surprisingly more so than the G8 GT’s entertaining V8. Even driving around town the GXP has the unmistakable sound of eight high performance cylinders. Think today’s kids are interested only in hopped-up Honda’s with coffee-can mufflers? Tell that to the kid fresh from the high school school bus who stood literally transfixed as we drove by all a-rumble. It’s a windows-down-even-though-it’s-too-cold sound that’s almost as good with the windows up, thanks to intake tuning that’s as rich as what the engineers did with the pipes.
Part of the feeling comes from the Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual that has a metal-to-metal up-against-the-compression kick lacking in the GT—and perhaps the GXP with the Hydramatic—that in intermediate gears gives a delightfully raw, hair shirt tightly-wound sensation of a Colt Peacemaker .45 caliber revolver with the hammer cocked.
The transmission feels like that in a Corvette, with the one-to-four shift if one doesn’t wind first gear far enough, designed to fool the EPA fuel economy test (but if it bothers a driver, it’s being driven improperly). The gearbox can also be slammed from gear to gear without remorse because it’s built to carry much more than the LS3 in G8 GXP can dish out.
Then, too, part of the feel comes from the 3.70:1 performance final drive ratio with its close gear ratios—though with a tall sixth gear made for highway cruising at just above idle rpm. Thriftiness is where you find it, and for the G8 GXP, it’s a 20 mpg EPA highway fuel economy rating, though more about that later.
The 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP that honestly could be sung about with lyrics by Brian Wilson, or perhaps the multiple overdubs by Jan Berry and Dean Torrence. There’s a big difference, however, between the cars sung about in the sixties and the 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP. In the cars of the sixties, one got “pushed out of shape and it’s hard to steer.” And you really shouldn’t see me on a road course in my GTO: Suspension only mattered then about getting down the quarter mile and the only turn that was important was to the return road back to the staging area.
Big difference with the 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP from any GTO of the sixties. Pontiac claims that the GXP’s handling was honed at the Nurburgring. No one back then, other than readers of Road & Track, knew that a Nurburgring wasn’t some sort of German pastry. Today of course everyone knows it’s the torturous, famous and infamous snake of asphalt outside of Nurburg, Germany, often used for calibrating suspension systems. GM’s engineers have tested the Corvette and the Cadillac CTS-V on The ’Ring. The GXP is in good company.
Whatever, it worked and we sincerely would like to try the Pontiac G8 GXP on a road course. We settled instead for sinuous local roads—eat your hearts out, sports car fans—and weren’t disappointed. Instead of the primitive arrangements of the sixties, not the least of which was the psychedelic boogaloo-inducing live rear axle, the G8 has for front suspension, “multi-link MacPherson strut, direct-acting stabilizer bar, progressive-rate coil springs, fully adjustable camber caster and toe,” and at the rear, “four-link independent, progressive-rate coiled springs over shocks, stabilizer bar, fully adjustable camber and toe.” Even hotrodders didn’t know what that meant back then…or what could be done with it.
We know now, and tuned a la G8 GXP, it easily out-handles the sloppy barges of the sixties. It would handily dispatch sports cars. The 245/40R19 summer performance tires of the GXP would have seemed not exotic but otherworldly back then.
Back then, the source of the G8 would have seemed truly weird. Now it’s simply odd. The Pontiac G8 is assembled by GM’s Australian subsidiary Holden, which also sells its own right-hand drive version. That means a few oddities, such as the switches for the power windows mounted on the center console. The parking brake is between the seats as well. The information center on the dash provides no information. The ’08 G8 GT did, and it was not only disconcerting but also relatively useless info. Better if it had been made useful, but in this case, less really is more.
We’ll not run down all of the comfort and trim issues with the G8 GXP because those items are basically the same as the Pontiac G8 base model. The hood scoops still don’t scoop and the fender vents still don’t vent—they’re hardly big enough to make a difference.
Our test 2009 Pontiac G8 carried a base price of $27,310, optioned up to $31,065. The 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP we tested lists for $37,610, with optional sunroof ($900), 6-speed transmission ($695), gas guzzler tax ($1,700) and destination charge ($685), the total comes to $41,590. Wait, gas guzzler tax is optional? Thank you, Mister Dealerman, I’ll uncheck that box. Nope, that’s what called a mandatory option. Consider it a price of doing business, if your business—or pleasure, for that matter—involves 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds and the quarter mile in 13.0 seconds at 108 mph. There’s not much in the ‘60s right off the showroom floor that could do that.
Still, $41,590 is a lot for a car, though now, when dealers are hungry, is a very good time to shop, and certainly to do so before the coming inflation and reduced buying power of your dollar. And then there’s the matter of Pontiac’s survival as a brand, and the status of the G8 and especially the Pontiac G8 GXP within whatever might survive.
Timing matters, and for those young enough for good actuarial numbers for thirty years, the 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP will be memories good for making the future youth roll their eyes. Consider it one of the joys of getting older. And for everyone else, well, “owning a muscle car” can be one more item to scratch of your ultimate to-do list.
Either way, get a 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP while it’s still there to be got. You’ll thank yourself now, and you’ll thank yourself later.