Car Reviews

Pontiac GTO charges again, but only in U.S.

By Wheels Wheels.ca

May 15, 2004 4 min. read

Article was updated 19 years ago

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-A lot of Canadian car enthusiasts are cheesed that General Motors of Canada has chosen not to import the Pontiac GTO coupe, powered by a Corvette V8.

After all, the Goat, as this original muscle car was dubbed, is one of the hallowed names of domestic automotive history. And the new one looks to be a worthy successor.

The new GTO coupe suggests a four-seat Vette, and who wouldn't like the sound of that idea? But GM Canada figured that projected sales would be too small to justify meeting Transport Canada standards and to support the product (making dealers keep it in stock, supplying parts and servicing, etc.).

"The vehicle safety standards for bumper systems are different in Canada than they are in the U.S.," says Stew Low, director of corporate affairs for General Motors of Canada.

"The business case for importing the Pontiac GTO to Canada did not support the time and resources required to re-engineer not only bumper systems but other unique requirements for Canada." Still, you should know about this car, and we'll stop at (almost) nothing, not even flying to Fort Lauderdale in early spring, to bring you Automotive Truth.

For a car carrying so much Amurr'can heritage, the reborn GTO has a distinctly British Commonwealth genesis. GM says the car is "based on" the Australian Holden Monaro platform.

Well, not really: this car is the Holden Monaro, built alongside its Aussie brother down under, with a different front end and badges.

And that star-spangled, 5.7-litre, aluminum-block, pushrod Corvette V8? That comes from St. Catharines, in this case developing 350 hp at 5,200 rpm and 365 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm.

The base transmission is GM's four-speed automatic; a six-speed Tremec (formerly Borg-Warner) manual is an extra-cost option.

This rear-wheel-drive, two-door has been criticized by some Pontiac fans for looking too refined, too European.

Okay, there is the twin-kidney grille, but nary a slab of body-side cladding, no egregious styling excesses.

Even the little rear-deck spoiler doesn't look too bad.

I think the car looks spectacular, especially in the bright metallic blue of my test car. It drew many approving glances from onlookers.

No matter your opinion on the styling, you won't find any General Motors product built on this continent with wheel-to-fender gaps as small as these, with a stance as good as this, with body panel apertures as precise as these.

Nor will you find any GM car built anywhere with an interior as well crafted.

The front seats are little short of magnificent. Big, fabulously bolstered, amazingly comfortable and supportive, and with enough room for drivers of all sizes - Aussies must have big butts, too.

The electric-blue leather might be best enjoyed with sunglasses, but it still looks great.

The GTO is configured as a 2+2. The rear buckets are almost as comfortable as the fronts, although it's a bit awkward climbing in there, despite the massive doors.

The dash is also terrific, with high-quality metallic trim and Audi-like fit and finish.

Another couple of clues that this isn't your usual GM car are the tilt-and-telescope steering wheel (what will they think of next?) and the Blaupunkt sound system in place of the Delco or Bose system you might expect.

The only thing preventing the GTO from being a wonderful transcontinental express for four friends is the ridiculously small trunk; it's just 198 litres.

This is a fairly big car, with independent rear suspension, which is supposed to be space-efficient - where does the space go? Another oddity of the interior is the lack of a dead pedal - a place to rest your left foot. Unforgivable in what is supposed to be a performance car.

And performance car this surely is. Even with the autobox, 100 km/h will come up in under six seconds, accompanied by the finest V8 bellow you'll find this side of, well, a Corvette.

The transmission lacks any manumatic shift capability; again, an odd omission, even if I don't find such gearboxes particularly helpful.

Despite the former GTO's reputation as a rock-hard street racer, the new car's suspension is biased more toward comfort. Ride quality is remarkable.

The coupe's steering is curiously heavy, but it corners flat and feels composed at all times. A standard three-channel Bosch traction control system stands on guard for thee.

You get strong, four-wheel disc brakes with standard ABS, of course, but neither brake force distribution nor directional stability control is offered.

The new GTO starts at $31,795 (U.S.) and pretty much ends there.

The only option is the six-speed manual.

A straight currency conversion puts the base list at $44,130 in our dollars.

(Of course, Canadian car prices are almost never straight conversions; we usually get a break.) But the car that the GTO most closely resembles, as a stylish, four-seat touring coupe, is the Mercedes CLK, which starts at about $62,850. By the time you get to a model that can run with the GTO (that would be the CLK55 AMG), you're talking $100,000-plus.

Hey, GM of Canada, would you reconsider your plan not to bring in this nifty Pontiac? Please? Jim Kenzie can be reached at jim @ jimkenzie.com.
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