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1999 Pontiac Grand Am

  • Driver

This is a car for the young and the restless (and those who wish they were).

The creators of the all new Pontiac Grand Am's zowie dash, with its hulking speedo and tach and fiery red lighting, apparently hung out in video arcades for inspiration.

They came up with some neat touches: five big round air vents that do the job better than those of some luxocars.

A thick, very holdable steering wheel that you can tilt high or tilt low and still see everything.

A dash-mounted ignition switch that's clearly where God intended it to be.

A lumbar-adjustment knob mounted on the right front of the driver's seat cushion. Okay, maybe God wouldn't put it there, but at least it's different.

Two interior annoyances that slipped through:

A horizontal ridge under the radio obstructs the driver's view of some fan and HVAC settings.

Accessing the coupe's rear seat means ducking under shoulder belts that feed through plastic ears on the front buckets. Whoever dreamed up this system should be forced to use it.

The Grand Am's upgraded 2.4 L, DOHC four is a blast to drive. It's nicely dressed, too; you don't need coaxing to throw open the hood.This rowdy little stormer will be at its best with a five-speed manual gearbox, which is slated to arrive in September, 1999, for the 2000 model. (It won't be available with the V6.)

My tester coupe's styling seemed surprising staid for a car aimed at young bloods. Pontiac remains convinced that furrowed sides and bumpers make a looker. Must be something Freudian.

Birkenstock wearers need not apply

By JOHN TERAUDS

There are drivers who value the act of driving. There are others who prefer being seen driving. Some people buy their clothes at Le Chateau. Others gravitate to Eddie Bauer.

The 1999 Grand Am is for the driver who wants to be seen, who values something a bit outre. Birkenstock wearers need not apply.

Beyond the curvy contours, the deeply ribbed plastic cladding and undulating dashboard face resides a competent mid-size automobile nothing more.

The cheaper Chevrolet Malibu shares the Grand Am's base four-cylinder engine, among many other bits, while offering a more spacious rear seat. The Honda Accord DX sedan promisesbulletproof reliability, high resale value and refinement. The Ford Contour/Mercury Mystique twins offer crisper handling and a better controlled ride.

If I were to choose the Pontiac, I would go for the four-cylinder. Its steering felt more substantial and more communicative, it used a bit less fuel, the engine had plenty of (albeit slightly growly) power and I would save $775 over the V6.

But I'm a driver, not a poseur. So for my money, it would be the snappy Contour SE, which starts at $19,695. Or, in a two-door vein, I'd check out the new Mercury Cougar V6, priced at a tasty $21,795.

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