Pontiac Grand Prix Gtp Offers Lots Of Fun For Not Much Money

Posted: December 24, 1999

Even in its under-$20,000 base form, the Pontiac Grand Prix four-door looks like a sport sedan. But it remains for the top-of-the-line GTP model to act like one.

The GTP doesn't settle for the 175- or 200-horsepower V-6s found in the downmarket SE and GT coupes and sedans. It uses a supercharged, 240-horse V-6 that squeals wheels out of the chute even with the traction control engaged.

Rapid acceleration is only part of the reason the GTP got an athletic scholarship. A special sport suspension and performance tires the width of Godzilla's footprint take the car's handling to another level.

Suffice it to say that the GTP is a fast car that exhibits excellent composure and tire adhesion in the corners. It is no mean feat to extract this much driving fun from a practical, roomy, well-equipped midsize sedan with a base price of $24,310.

This is not to suggest we have a BMW 540i here for quarters on the dollar. We don't. This car lacks that sort of upmarket sophistication and cohesion. In fact, it lacks the refinement of its comparably priced corporate cousin, the Oldsmobile Intrigue.

But while it can't say "sport sedan" with a German accent, it is still a lot of fun, and a lot of hardware for not a lot of money.

The GTP sedan and coupe are at the top of a Grand Prix pecking order that starts with the SE sedan and moves on to the midline GT coupe and sedan. The SE comes standard with a 3.1-liter V-6 that has been tweaked to 175 horsepower for 2000. A 200-horse, 3.8-liter V-6 is standard on the GT.

The GT also is offered with the performance package that makes it a GTP - a package that includes the supercharged engine, the sport suspension and tires, a decklid spoiler, traction control, and speed-sensitive power steering.

The Grand Prix is nicely equipped even as a base, SE model. That lowest-priced offering includes air conditioning, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks, tilt steering, a rear window defogger, and power, antilock disc brakes.

The Grand Prix's aggressively sporty body is vintage Pontiac styling, as is the interior. The division's interior designers have a knack for drawing up a handsome, comfortable cabin that evokes the no-frills, highly functional feel of a race car. Among the styling cues employed to create this effect are the minimalist charcoal door handles I found in the GTP test car.

(One of the fringe benefits of this no-nonsense design approach is the merciful absence of ersatz wood.)

The interior proved as practical as it looked, boasting accessible instruments and controls, comfortable, supportive seats, and good visibility. A particularly nice design touch was breaking up the expanse of smooth, black plastic on the door panels with black, perforated leather-look inserts.

Driving the GTP is generally pleasant business. It has paste-you-back-in-the-seat power that is smoothly passed along to the front drive wheels by a nifty four-speed automatic gearbox. The car feels solid, and blots out the great majority of the road, wind and engine noise before it gets to the cabin.

The GTP's aesthetic Achilles' heel is the appreciable amount of thunk, clunk and twang engendered by the firm sport suspension on rough pavement. Granted, we don't spend a huge amount of time driving over bumps, and this drumbeat from the suspension is hardly intolerable. But it is a sort of background annoyance.

The noteworthiness of the supercharged engine in the GTP goes beyond its power output. It is also a very durable piece of machinery that delivers low emissions and high mileage.

It has EPA mileage ratings of 18 m.p.g. city and 28 highway. I got 22 in mixed driving.

2000 PONTIAC GRAND PRIX GTP SEDAN Base model: Front-drive, 3.8-liter engine, four-speed automatic transmission, power, antilock disc brakes, speed-sensitive power steering, 16-inch alloy wheels, P225/60R16 performance tires, traction control, air bags, daytime running lights, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks with keyless entry, theft-deterrent system, fog lamps, deck-lid spoiler, air-conditioning, stereo/CD player, leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, tilt steering, power driver's seat, cruise control, rear window defogger.

Test model: Power sunroof, heated driver's seat with power lumbar support, leather seats, premium alloy wheels. Base price: $24,310.

Test price: $26,845.

EPA city mileage: 18 m.p.g.

Test mileage: 22 m.p.g.

Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper, roadside assistance, courtesy transportation.

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