Pontiac's midsize car gave up little sales ground despite take-no-prisoners competition and GM's mounting troubles. The vintage-'97 Grand Prix drew some 130,000 calendar-year orders from 2001 through 2003, then got a heavy makeover to stay at roughly that level -- a modest feat in the old days, but now a cause for rejoicing at embattled fortress GM.
After a stand-pat 2001, Grand Prix marked its 40th anniversary with a cosmetic package for GT and GTP coupes and sedans. It wasn't much -- Dark Cherry paint, specific red/grey interior, hood ducts, chrome wheels, rear spoiler, aerodynamic "roof fences" -- but it cost a bit much: $2400 even with a built-in manufacturer discount. Such cars might be minor collector's items in the far-distant future, but they may not.
Grand Prix gave up coupes for 2003 -- a first for this Pontiac -- but sales had been waning for years. There was little other news that season, which was shortened anyway. The remodeled '04s were ready.
Remodeled they were: purged of plastic paneling and given a more rakish sedan roofline imparting coupelike sportiness in concert with a dramatic beltline upsweep at the rear doors. The overall look was curvier and more sculpted, emphasized by deeper fascias, slightly pinched nose and deck contours, and larger headlamps and taillights. The dashboard was naturally redone too, and became much more driver friendly, with an orderly layout and large, legible gauges. Hard to believe that beneath this new finery lurked the basic W-body platform first seen in the late 1980s.
Grand Prix reprised three sedans for 2004, but under new name management: GT1, GT2, and top-line GTP. Powerteams, alas, were not new, with a 200-hp 3.8 V-6 for GTs and the supercharged edition for GTP, though the latter now puffed out an extra 20 bhp. ABS/traction control was available for GT1, standard otherwise, and curtain side airbags at last came to Pontiac's midsize car as a GT2/GTP option.
A nice surprise was the GTP's available Competition Group, aka the "Comp G" package. This aimed at maximum driver involvement with a specially calibrated "Stabilitrak Sport" antiskid system, power steering whose assist varied with cornering force as well as straightline speed, numerically higher final drive for quicker takeoffs, plus higher-speed tires and performance suspension tuning.
The $1395 package price also included an import-style "TAPShift" allowing manual control of the mandatory four-speed automatic transmission (still) via "paddle" switches on the steering wheel. A head-up display, trip computer, and red-painted brake calipers completed the enhancements.
Predictably, the Comp G GTP got the most early press, and most of it was good. Car and Driver judged the redesign underdone in some ways, overdone in others, but liked the Comp G's lively acceleration -- 6.6 seconds to 60, just 0.1 second off the factory claim.
Steering feel wasn't the best, but adept road manners compensated. "Understeer rules the Grand Prix's high-speed life," C/D reported. "At least the car's electronic safety net is an excellent one. [It] quietly and unobtrusively works individual calipers to keep the car on course with minimal power-killing throttle intervention…In that respect, Stabilitrak Sport outsmarts the jumpy, heavy-handed stability computers fitted to more pricey rides from Mercedes, BMW, and Lexus."
Though lesser GPs were less impressive, the general view was that Pontiac had done a remarkable job of bringing its elderly W-car up to twenty-first-century standards. As Consumer Guide® summarized: "It trails our top-rated Honda Accord and Toyota Camry in quality of interior materials, and rear-seat comfort is substandard. But Grand Prix delivers good performance, a comfortable ride, cargo versatility, and plenty of features."
More features arrived as 2005 options: a remote engine-start system operable from the door-lock keyfob -- great for pretrip wintertime warm-ups -- plus an onboard navigation system (an industrywide must by now) and dual-zone automatic climate control.
But the real news was the midyear GXP, the first V-8 Grand Prix in two decades. This packed a 5.3-liter pushrod engine first seen in GM midsize trucks, lately enhanced with an "Active Fuel Management" system that would deactivate four cylinders under light throttle loads to eke out a few more mpg. Horsepower was listed at 303, and the number rang true. Car and Driver clocked just 5.7 seconds for the 0-60 dash.
This GXP was an early replacement for the soon-to-depart Bonneville, as well as the new top-dog Grand Prix. As such, it relegated the GTP to midline status, where the name was now GT. It still had a blown V-6, but a Comp G option was nowhere in sight. Not to worry, though, because the Comp G's TAPShift, antiskid system, and other features passed to the GXP. Unusually, the GXP also included 18-inch wheels with tires that were wider at the front -- deemed necessary for putting the V-8's power down effectively.
Many still wondered why GM persisted at all with high-power front-drive cars when rear drive was dynamically superior. Nevertheless, some critics judged the GP GXP a tempting alternative to certain import-brand sports sedans -- BMWs included -- especially given a heavily discounted mid-$20,000 delivered price.
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