MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — You can only imagine the trepidation of a design team when faced with replacing the car that has led Pontiac’s sales for the better part of two decades. With the Grand Am, stylists not only had to make sure prior owners would come back in droves, but that its shape would be sleek enough to run around with the likes of Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord as well.
Sizewise, the Grand Am fits in just below those midsize cars that dominate passenger sedan sales, but with a roomy interior and a solid V-6 engine, it just barely overlaps the Camry, Accord and the Taurus too.
Saleswise, the Grand Am can stand tall against those mega-sellers as well. It has sold in quantities of over 200,000 units each year since the last overhaul, and it occasionally has been the best-selling GM car. That is a remarkable accomplishment when you consider that it competes with the big names as well as such solid vehicles as Nissan’s Altima, Chevy’s Cavalier, the Dodge Stratus, Hyundai Sonata and others.
Many folks think it’s the styling that draws in bargain seekers. For a vehicle comfortably in the mid-teen range, the Grand Am offers edgy styling that you simply won’t get from Japan or Korea. The Grand Am’s décolletage, all the ribs and strakes on its otherwise lean body, are immediately noticeable — proof that you don’t have to spend a lot to get a standout car. Detractors could reasonably argue the Grand Am as overdone, but clearly it’s hitting a sweet spot in the me-too compact class.
Underneath the compulsive attention-grabbing sheetmetal, designers managed to extend the wheelbase almost four inches and still make the Grand Am slightly shorter than before. This has dual purpose of increasing rear seat room and softening the ride. The combination of the most rigid frame in the segment and a fully independent suspension makes the small Pontiac handle nearly as well as the styling might imply.