The Grand Am is Pontiac’s bestseller and one of the top ten best-selling cars in America, year after year. As such, it poses challenges shared by any manufacturer of a high-volume model: what features and attributes to package, and at what price point?
You can get a Grand Am in either a two-door coupe or four-door sedan, at three different trim levels for each: SE, SE1, or GT. The company lists the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Mustang, Dodge Stratus, Acura Integra, Mitsubishi Galant, Mercury Cougar, and Volkswagen Jetta as key competitors—an admirable group to emulate, to be sure. And a big one.
The big news this year is the new, base-level, 2.2-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine, found in our Galaxy Silver Metallic SE1 sedan. It delivers 140 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 150 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm without sacrificing smooth, unobtrusive operation. According to Pontiac, its twin balance shafts, all-aluminum construction, hydraulic roller-finger valve operation and outstanding structural rigidity provide “first-rate” noise, vibration and harshness control, although to my ear the engine lacked the quietude and refinement found in, say, a Honda powerplant.
The Ecotec four was designed for minimal maintenance, and features an innovative paper-only oil filter cartridge for easy replacement and disposal. A hydraulic tensioner keeps the timing chain adjusted for life, and extended-life spark plugs deliver 100,000 miles of service.
At 305 pounds fully dressed, the Ecotec is the lightest engine GM has produced in its displacement class, and one of the most compact four-cylinders in the world. Just as importantly, thanks in part to its 10.0:1 compression ratio, it delivers decent acceleration and good drivability, with a broad, flat torque curve.
Putting the power down through the Getrag five-speed manual is fairly pleasurable. The throws are longish, and the linkage is somewhat rubbery, but the double-cone synchronizers in gears one and two, and the sintered bronze blocker rings in gears three through five, make for a smooth shifting experience.