Throwback Review: That Old Chestnut Called the Pontiac G6

A Victory & Reseda "Throwback Review" of the 2005-2010 Pontiac G6

Sometimes, a car will show up during a period of time that would be much to my liking. But, after a few turns in one…it all becomes too familiar.

I had a habit of renting cars in lieu of actual car ownership. They were expensive forms of therapy that enabled me to explore the place I call home. In the first several years of my life in the Twin Cities, General Motors provided a particular car that would be a staple of anything I attempted to do to explore and be social.

The Pontiac G6.

This car kept the Pontiac brand in business until the end. It also sent Pontiac into the Old GM pile at Bankruptcy court. In other words, it served as blessing and curse for hundreds of thousands of owners in its tenure.

During the time since the G6 was introduced to almost the very end, I've driven a lot of them. It is not unusual to state that a mid-sized Pontiac became a staple of my rental car patronage since 1986…

From the first one on a weekend trip to Phoenix, Grand Ams and G6s just showed up in my life. I lost count as to exactly how many of them I drove. But, boy do I have stories! Some were of reconnecting with friends and family. Others were of pain and pleasure. There was one particular Grand Am that I took on a very long journey in search of a new home. Obviously, that worked out well.

2008 Pontiac G6 2
2008 Pontiac G6 GT Sedan

When the G6 was introduced in 2004 as an early 2005 model, it certainly helped to keep some familiarity for Grand Am owners. Think twin kidney grilles, a red arrowhead badge, four doors, and red instrumentation lighting. But, the newer model was built on GM's global Epsilon platform. Not to mention a cleaner look – devoid of the plastic cladding that dictated Pontiac design for two decades.

In formulating how to talk about the G6, I had to look back at a few reviews I wrote prior to Pontiac's demise. I also had to consider the fact that the G6 was such a popular car for both retail and commercial customers that there are plenty on the road today.

How was the G6 when I drove them?

I had a few configurations during the time of its life – four-doors, a coupe and a GXP coupe. I never had the convertible, which turned out to be the most intriguing version of this car. Back then, the folding metal roof was seen as the domain of premium brands – not of a sporty-aspirational affordable brand.

In some ways, I found the coupes to be a bit over the top – not just because of their low roofline and lack of headroom. Compared to the coupes I drive today, the G6 felt contrived and forced to be a coupe. It did not help that GM kept the same long wheelbase for the coupe as in the sedan, making it a strange thing to gaze upon. As exciting as they drove, they simply felt a bit awkward for the intention they had in mind.

Their sweet spot was the four-door sedan. It looked right for a modern Pontiac mid-sized – retaining a couple-like profile, while providing space for five people. When new, they looked sharp and invited the driver to have some fun in a four-door sporty sedan. Compared to today's cars – the Mazda6 comes to mind – you have to give the G6 a nod for being ahead of the curve some ten years ago.

2008 Pontiac G6 Coupe 2

Inside was pure Pontiac. Aside from the aforementioned red lighting, the dials simply stood out, as did the entire cabin design. The instrument binnacle had chromed dials that lit up in red at night. They tried to follow then-modern design traits, though it was almost to the standards of today's instrument panels of recessed binnacles, softer touch switchgear and wide screen infotainment systems. In all, the G6 was entertaining to command with its chromed individual dials and three-spoke steering wheel.

Depending on body style and model, the seating balanced support with comfort. You'd expect Pontiac to offer a sportier seating setup compared to Chevrolet and Buick. The truth is that there were times when it did not meet my comfort levels. It also did not help that I was wider back then. In one sedan, I reported that my back still did not appreciate the bolstering of the seat. Many adjustments later and it was close enough for urban work on a trip to Chicago back in 2008.

In the coupe, the seatback had to be reclined so far to clear the roofline. Yet, there were some redeeming qualities in the 2008 GT Coupe I drove during a hot weekend some nine years ago. For example, if you open the door, the glass will lower a tad. When you close it, it rolls right back up. I'm certain I’ve seen this before, but I must admit my amusement to this feature. Go around the back and open up the smallish trunk. You may not be able to maneuver large boxes inside of it, but I have to admit that I love the trunk lid. In all, the G6 coupe is a clever automobile.

I still love the G6's instrumentation, but wished they would do something about moving the Information center functions onto the instrument cluster instead of on the audio system. However, I will attest to the functionality of the car as it had up to four larger-than-average adult male passengers in my care in the past. Equipped with the Monsoon audio system, you would forgive the quirks of the head unit for the sound it produced. Granted, these were days before OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi, IntelliLink and satellite navigation.

Across the various G6s I drove, I experienced three different engines. The most common one was a 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine. With 169 horsepower on tap, it was simply fine. Though one would wonder if it could do better, with its double overhead camshaft, 16-valve head – now commonplace in today's engines. But, imposing today's standards on yesterday's cars would not give it some justice. Through a four-speed automatic, this engine was fine for the G6.

2008 Pontiac G6 3

On occasion, I would enjoy the open power of G6's 3.5 liter V6. By the time I got one, it just added variable value timing, raising the performance to 224 horsepower. It was a solid V6, although today's GM standard High-Feature engines completely eclipse the old mills. Not complaining, but the V6 was simply fine.

For the one time I drove the GXP, it came with the aforementioned High-Feature 3.6 liter V6. The jump from the old 3.9 liter motor to the new one was dramatic, in terms of engine balance and performance. At 252 horsepower, the engine seemed right for the G6.

To give you an idea on how I did on fuel economy, consider this range for a moment. On V6 models, I got as low as 16.0 MPG. On four-cylinder models, I got as high as 25.0 MPG. On today's mid-sized cars, neither of these numbers would be seen as remotely acceptable for their particular engines. Not when I would average in the low 30s for the Mazda6 and Nissan Altima, let alone higher on hybrid versions of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

As for the driving experience, the G6 was fine. It had a bit of swagger to it, which helped its cause. It exhibited a solid ride with good handling, decent steering and superb brakes. The sportier versions exhibited more hardcore qualities that befitted their badges.

Was the Pontiac G6 a good car? It was for me, since it was on my shopping list for a new car in 2009 – prior to the Global Economic Crisis screwing things up financially. Further confirmation on why I never got one to own came with Consumer Reports recommending against purchasing the G6 due to reliability issues.

For the time, the Pontiac G6 laid down a basis for what would be my life in the Twin Cities. Little did I know how much it would be a catapult for the vehicles I work with today – especially in the mid-sized sedan field. Not discounting the coupes, the G6's bread-and-butter would be their four-door models carrying the bulk of the over 676,000 units sold during its lifespan.

There is another twist to the story. Before Pontiac was sent into the Old GM asset bin, their marketing and product development teams had the audacity to consider positioning the arrowhead brand against premium marques, such as BMW and Acura.

2008 Pontiac G6 1

Let that sink in for the moment.

Knowing that the G6 was seen as the perfect foil to the E90 3-Series, the TSX, the Lexus IS and the Audi A4 is quite absurd. However, that was GM's thinking in the mid-2000s. No, scratch that, they had the same idea in mind when they were reinventing Oldsmobile for the umpteenth time before it, too, would be sent off to the orphan brand ranch in 2004.

The Pontiac G6 was a different kind of car for the arrowhead brand. It was cleanly designed, offered a choice of body styles that would capture both mainstream and upmarket customers. Once you got to the interior…a BMW or Audi owner would only laugh at it.

The G6 was American as apple pie, but using imported rare apples from Kazakhstan inside the filling. Although one would discover that they were Washington Red Delicious apples instead. Regardless, Pontiac wanted a world-class mid-sized sedan that fit its sporty image with upmarket potential. It was easily obtainable, even for a three-day rental. Not sure if that would fit its legacy as an orphan car that once had the blessing of Oprah Winfrey.

Just don't look underneath the chair for its keys anytime soon…

DISCLAIMER: All vehicles mentioned in this review were rented by Randy Stern

All photos by Randy Stern

PRE-OWNED VEHICLE INFORMATION: Per a search on several car shopping sites, V&R found there were a lot of Pontiac G6s – model years 2005 to 2010 – available between $1,900 and $9,500. Mileage and condition varies, but most were found with over 110,000 miles on the odometer, the highest being over 222,000 miles. Always have any vehicle inspected before purchase.

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