How Pontiac Works

By: the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide

1990s Pontiac Grand Prix

The midsize Grand Prix was honed through 1996, its basic 1988 design updated as new engines and features emerged from General Motors labs.

Of course, the same held for the W-body Buick Regal and Olds Cutlass Supreme. Yet the GP, perhaps because of Pontiac's hipper image, usually sold the best, if not quite as well as Chevrolet's more affordable W-body Lumina. Worrisome, though, were see-saw sales in these years, dropping from more than 197,000 for 1990 to 100,000-150,000 per model year. The exception was swan-song '96, when early release of redesigned '97s held volume below 84,000.


Grand Prix's 1991 program reprised LE, SE, and STE sedans, but not the turbocharged STE. The Turbo coupe was gone too, replaced by a nonturbo GT and uplevel GTP, the latter dressed in aggressive body cladding. (The plastics industry must have loved Pontiac in these years.) While some mourned losing the turbocharged V-6, Pontiac consoled them with GM's new normally aspirated Twin Dual Cam V-6, a 24-valve 3.4-liter rated at 210 bhp with five-speed manual or an even 200 with that year's new four-speed automatic option. Standard for GTP, this engine was available for other models save the LE sedan.

Also on the card were a base 140-bhp 3.1 V-6 and a 160-bhp 2.3 Quad-4. LE sedans also missed out on the ABS that was newly available on other '91 GPs. The Quad-4 departed for '92, when ABS became standard except on LEs, and all sedans took on the STE's front light bar. Linewide-standard automatic power door locking was the main change for '93.

Catching up with many rivals for 1994, Grand Prix added standard dual airbags in a redesigned interior, the year's only W-body so blessed. More surprising was a lineup pared to just a pair of well-equipped mainstream SEs. The 3.1 V-6 added 20 bhp for 160 total. The five-speed manual transmission was discarded, but the options list still had enough of the right stuff to approximate the sportiness of the discontinued GT and STE.

Interestingly, the more overt family focus boosted GP sales by some 31,500 units over model-year '93. The '95s drew only some 4700 fewer orders despite little change. There was even less news for the abbreviated '96 season, though the 3.4 V-6 tacked on five bhp.

A mostly new H-body Bonneville sedan began an eight-year run for 1992, distinguished by a billowy new look that not everyone liked. That might explain why sales followed the Grand Prix pattern, with a first-year peak (some 124,000), a lower midlife plateau (fewer than 100,000 through '94), and a still-lower level through series end (75,000 at best).

Pontiac soon began renewing its bread-and-butter models, starting with Grand Prix for 1997. Previewed two years before by the 300 GPX concept, it was one of the handsomest Ponchos since the '60s: purposeful, curvy, near frippery-free. The sedan showed particularly dramatic change in a new coupelike profile.

Even better, "Wide Track" was back, as ads loudly proclaimed. Like Buick's latest Regal on the same ­updated W-body platform, the GP was little longer than before despite a three-inch-longer wheelbase. But Pontiac went for a broader stance, upping track width by two inches fore, three inches aft.

Grand Prix offered three V-6 models for '97: a mom-and-pop 3.1-liter SE sedan with 160 bhp and an enthusiast-oriented GT sedan and coupe with GM's ever-improving "3800" engine and 195 standard bhp. An optional GTP package delivered a muscular 240-bhp supercharged 3800, plus beefier four-speed automatic transmission, somewhat firmer suspension, stickier tires, modest decklid spoiler, and discreet identification.

All models boasted standard all-disc antilock brakes and traction control, though the latter was denied GTPs until 1998, when a stouter system was adopted across the board.

Car and Driver had good things to say about the '97 GTP sedan. Topping the list were a zippy 0-60-mph time of 6.8 seconds, fine skidpad grip (0.79g), safe and predictable front-drive moves, a roomy and comfortable cabin with generally sound ergonomics, and lots of features for only about $25,000 delivered. There were faults, to be sure, but C/D dismissed them as "relatively minor carping. We were expecting the 1997 Grand Prix to be a better car than the previous model, but we weren't expecting it to be this much better."

Buyers also responded favorably, snapping up about 159,000 GPs for the extended '97 season. Though the extra selling time helped pump up the volume, this was Grand Prix's best model-year performance in two decades. Demand eased for '98 to a bit over 142,000, but the '99 tally was 155,000, and model-year 2000 output climbed to near 173,000. Interim changes helped keep buyers interested.

The GTP proved popular enough to win separate-model status for '99, when the base V-6 added five bhp. For 2000, GM's useful OnStar communications and assistance system became available, the base V-6 got another 15 bhp, and all models added an engine immobilizer that disabled the ignition if starting was attempted by devious means.

Grand Prix was chosen as the pace car for the 2000 Daytona 500, and Pontiac reeled off 2000 replicas, all silver GTP coupes with unique 16-inch aluminum wheels, functional hood vents, special interior, and Daytona insignia inside and out.

For more on the amazing Pontiac, old and new, see:

For more on the amazing Pontiac, old and new, see:

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