New & Used Pontiac Grand Am: In Depth
2002 Pontiac Grand Am SE1Enlarge Photo
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The Pontiac Grand Am is a compact (or mid-size) coupe or sedan that was produced through the 2005 model year, when it was replaced by the short-lived G6. Competitors to the Grand Am through the years included the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Contour, Dodge Stratus, and Mitsubishi Galant.
The Grand Am is actually a nameplate that goes back to the 1973 model year and a rear-wheel-drive model, but from its start as a front-wheel drive car in the 1980s, the Grand Am was positioned as a bit sportier than most of its rivals—if only in appearance, at times. There are likely few 1980s-era Grand Am models remaining on the road at this point. These were plasticky, low-quality cars with many issues—built on essentially the same X-body underpinnings as their Pontiac Phoenix predecessor.
Pontiac carried the Grand Am's underpinnings over again for 1992 but gave it some significant changes, with a revised look throughout, more body cladding, and a choice of four-cylinder or V-6 engines as before. A mid-cycle refresh in 1996 brought a softer, better-designed interior, as well as four-speed automatics and a better 'Twin Cam' version of the engine that had previous been badged 'Quad 4.' For most of these model years, a raspy, 155-hp, 3.1-liter V-6 was also on offer, but it didn't make the Grand Am much quicker than with the four. Through this era, ride quality and steering were atrocious, and hardware and reliability were subpar.
Grand Am models from the 1999 through 2005 were a significant improvement, as GM finally paid the platform some serious engineering attention. With a multi-link independent rear suspension and longer wheelbase, the Grand Am rode and drove much better. SE models included a 3.4-liter V-6. At launch, these versions of the Grand Am had body cladding that was more prominent (and textured) than ever, but it was phased out in some later models. 2002-2005 models with the revised Ecotec four-cylinder engine are probably the best pick from recent years, as these models handled a bit better and returned good gas mileage.
Even these newest Grand Am models should be avoided on the used-car market, as in addition to various mechanical issues, safety was a concern. GT models included disc brakes, and all Grand Ams from this era include ABS (until 2003, when it was again made optional). The Grand Am Coupe from this most recent period earned just a one-star side-impact rating, while the Sedan earned three stars.
Although the Grand Am was mostly competitive when new, comparing spec sheets, its checkered record and unremarkable driving experience are perhaps emblematic for why Pontiac as a brand isn't around today.