2008 Pontiac Grand Prix Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
August 19, 2008

The 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix is roomy, comfortable, and quite enjoyable to drive, but it feels dated and is lacking in the details.

As the experts at TheCarConnection.com prepared this exhaustive review of the 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix, they included a wide range of critical voices and review sources. TheCarConnection.com’s editors have also driven the Pontiac Grand Prix and include their own impressions where useful.

The mid-size Grand Prix is one of the few “old” models in Pontiac’s almost all-new lineup and is basically a carryover for 2008. The Grand Prix shares its front-drive platform with the Buick LaCrosse, and its former coupe body style is no more, leaving only the sedan.

Two models of the 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix remain, with the former middle GT model now discontinued. In its standard form, the Grand Prix is powered by a 200-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 engine. A four-speed automatic transmission is the sole transmission. The GXP model comes with a potent 5.3-liter V-8 that generates 303 horsepower. This engine includes Active Fuel Management Technology, which enables it to sip up to 12 percent less fuel by deactivating half of the engine’s cylinders when they’re not needed, such as at cruising speeds. The four-speed automatic transmission used with the GXP is sport-calibrated and allows aggressive manual gear changes via Formula One racing-style “TAPShift” controls on the steering wheel. The GXP also has a firm-riding sport-tuned suspension, with stability control included. GM promises the GXP can run to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds.

Review continues below

The 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix was last substantially revised for the 2004 model year, with greatly improved handling and performance, along with a sleeker outside appearance that did away with the much-maligned ribbed body cladding along the lower portion of the doors. Though the Grand Prix’s sleek exterior still looks quite contemporary, its instrument panel in particular has a chunky appearance with lots of unappealing plastic surfaces and appears quite dated—though it’s angled usefully toward the driver.

Otherwise, the Grand Prix’s interior is very roomy and functional, with 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks and rear doors that open 82 degrees. The trunk opens wide, and a low loading height requires little lifting. The front passenger’s seatback also folds flat to accommodate especially long items. Some will find the driving position in the 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix a little too low and reclined, and though headroom is a little tight in back, few will complain about the generous backseat legroom.

The base model of the 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix comes with many popular conveniences, such as cruise control, power accessories, keyless entry, a driver’s power seat, and a six-speaker CD audio system. In addition to the performance gear, the GXP adds remote start, steering-wheel audio controls, heated seats, dual-zone climate control, a trip computer, and a Head-Up Display that projects gauge information onto the windshield. Noteworthy options include a nine-speaker Monsoon audio system and a sunroof.

Front side airbags and side curtain airbags, which are standard in most other vehicles of its type, are optional in the 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix. Anti-lock brakes are standard across the line, and GM’s Stabilitrak Sport electronic stability control is standard only on the GXP. Those especially concerned about occupant safety should steer away from the Grand Prix, though. Even if its accident avoidance ability is superior to that of many trucks and SUVs, it gets especially worrisome "marginal" ratings from the IIHS in side-impact protection and "poor" in rear impact, along with three out of five stars from the federal government in side impact.

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2008 Pontiac Grand Prix

Styling

The 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix avoids the miscues of the past, but doesn’t break any new ground.

The 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix, while breaking from Pontiac’s straked and cladded past, breaks little ground in the larger world of automotive styling. In 2004 it received a makeover with a sleeker outside appearance that did away with the much-maligned ribbed body cladding along the lower portion of the doors.

Calling it a “sports sedan wannabe,” Car and Driver claims “the Grand Prix’s image is one part swoopy styling and one part performance.” Kelley Blue Book celebrates the elimination of Pontiac’s ubiquitous tacked-on side body cladding “that once plastered every Pontiac with sporting intentions,” claiming that it “has finally been banished.” Automobile also remarks on the cleaner exterior styling when compared to prior generations, but feels that the Grand Prix “is a little underprepared for the competition.”

Though the Grand Prix’s sleek exterior still looks quite contemporary, its instrument panel in particular has a chunky silhouette with lots of unappealing plastic surfaces and appears quite dated, though it’s angled usefully toward the driver. On the inside, the attempt to generate excitement with gee-whiz features and oversize dials draws mixed reviews. Car and Driver finds the interior littered with “oddly textured plastics that don’t quite avoid looking cheap.” Yet Kelley Blue Book comments that “the Grand Prix’s dash is playful, with overlapping folds, large round air vents and prominent red lighting.” An Autoblog editor complains about an “overabundance of gray.”

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2008 Pontiac Grand Prix

Performance

A V-8 doesn’t transform the 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix into a bahn-burner.

While generating competitive performance numbers, the 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix pales next to its competitors when it comes to refinement and subtleties.

The Grand Prix’s base 3.8-liter V-6 generates 200 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque while delivering EPA numbers of 18/28 mpg. Designed in the 1960s by chopping off two cylinders from its 5.0-liter V-8, this tried-and-true powerplant gets the job done but is rather crude and gruff from a dynamic standpoint. Says Car and Driver, the Grand Prix “puts up impressive performance numbers despite a clear lack of refinement.” Criticizing the cast-iron V-6’s yesteryear technology, they call it “a bulldog among whippets” and gripe about its “asthmatic growl that’s probably intended to suggest sportiness.” ConsumerGuide finds the V-6 “provides ample power for everyday use,” while sister publication Consumer Reports labels it “responsive but rough and noisy.”

The optional engine, a significantly updated version of the very same small-block design responsible for the V-6’s blueprint, rings in at 5.3 liters, 303 horsepower, 323 pound-feet of torque, and it yields EPA numbers of 16/25 mpg. This engine is far smoother, more sonorous, and more refined. After all, a 90-degree bank angle was meant for a V-8, never a V-6. Still, Car and Driver feels that “putting 303 horsepower through the front wheels doesn’t make it a great car, just a quick one,” but admits that this engine yields “real performance.” Cars.com finds “it accelerates from a standstill with vigor, and the V-8 emits a much throatier, fuller exhaust note than the discontinued supercharged V-6.” Kelley Blue Book mentions the V-8’s Active Fuel Management (AFM) “helps deliver highway fuel economy figures better than some V6s.”

Both engines send their power to the ground through a torque converter and only four forward ratios. Says Autoblog, “the amount of usable power doesn’t make this car scream for a 5 or 6 speed automatic, but it sure wouldn’t be bad for fuel economy numbers.” Of the TAPShift feature, Cars.com notes it “work[s] well but may suffer a little delay.” With a selection of only four gears, it seems a questionably useful feature. ConsumerGuide declares the “Grand Prix's 4-speed is smooth and prompt.”

“Body roll was also conspicuous in transitions, accompanied by resolute understeer,” says Car and Driver. “The Grand Prix's suspension eases over most road flaws,” finds Cars.com, “but it gives the impression of avoiding rather than absorbing them.” Automobile feels, regarding the Grand Prix’s competent handling results, “g numbers and magnetic steering stand in for sensitivity to the finer points of chassis tuning,” and they add that its “chassis lacks suppleness, its steering lacks linearity, and its brakes lack bite.”

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2008 Pontiac Grand Prix

Comfort & Quality

Front-seat room gives the 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix a leg up, but the rear-seat room and plasticky dash take it away.

Depending upon your priorities, the 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix offers compelling value or disappointing details, fit, and finish.

Car and Driver finds “front-seat space is good.” ConsumerGuide registers “ample legroom up front, but no excess of headroom, particularly with the available sunroof. The seats provide good side support in turns.” “Front riders are treated to wide bucket seats, with gentle bolsters,” says Motor Trend.

Reviewers don’t care for the rear seat in the Grand Prix. “Rear-seat passengers may feel a bit boxed-in,” laments Kelley Blue Book, blaming “the high upswept beltline” that “results in smaller windows that limit outward vision.” They also find “low rear-seat bottom cushions had our taller passengers riding with their knees uncomfortably high.” Other reviewers echo these comments. Car and Driver notes that “the rear seat lacks leg- and headroom.” And ConsumerGuide comments that “rear seat comfort is disappointing for a vehicle this size.”

Even more maligned are the Grand Prix’s materials and quality of assembly. Car and Driver finds little to love about the “appalling interior,” which they feel “has the look of melted air-traffic-control consoles and screams cheapness.” Kelley Blue Book is also critical, commenting “the quality of the plastics used inside the Grand Prix, and the overall design layout, are not up to the standards set by the Volkswagen Passat, Nissan Maxima or Dodge Charger.” “The stereo panel is particularly out of date,” snipes Edmunds, “while the surrounding pebbled plastics look and feel cheap.”

The only thing that seems to save the Grand Prix is its low price of entry (especially with GM’s rebates), some clever items like the fold-flat passenger seat, and lots of features and conveniences for under $30,000, even in GXP trim. ConsumerGuide is impressed with its “cargo versatility, and plenty of features at competitive prices.” Further, they recommend that “the potent GXP is worth a look for shoppers who put a premium on power and expressive styling.” In value terms, Kelley Blue Book declares “V6-powered models also stack up well when compared to rivals from Nissan, Volkswagen and Mazda.” An Autoblog editor praises “the nearly 90 degree opening” for the rear doors," and does “a double take because I expected the GXP to be priced much higher than what it is.”

6

2008 Pontiac Grand Prix

Safety

It offers some intelligent active safety features, but the 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix’s side crash protection is unimpressive.

If occupant safety is tops on your list, the 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix might not make the cut.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) safety ratings for the Grand Prix range from a high of five stars in the frontal crash test for the driver, to a low of three stars for the driver’s side in that agency’s side impact crash test. Even with the optional side curtain airbags, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates the Grand Prix “marginal” in its side-impact test.

Standard on many cars in its class, “traction control [is] optional on the base model and come[s] standard on the GXP,” says Edmunds. Another critical safety feature, side curtain airbags, is optional on both base and GXP models. GM’s Stabilitrak is standard on the GXP, where it is calibrated to allow aggressive driving and some amount of wheelspin on aggressive launches. Comments Motor Trend, “the system is less intrusive than the related Stabilitrak offered on Cadillac models, enabling spirited driving with gentle corrections.”

A Head-Up Display comes standard on the GXP, and it “allows the driver to extinguish all instrument panel lighting for enhanced visibility during night driving,” reports Cars.com. “You'll find the optional head up display (HUD) almost subliminal in its presence,” according to MyRide.com.

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2008 Pontiac Grand Prix

Features

The 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix’s lengthy list of convenient, well-thought-out features save it from irrelevance.

The 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix has a lengthy list of standard features, as well as some clever convenience items that help salvage its otherwise mediocre standing within its segment.

One of the Grand Prix’s most clever features is a flat-folding passenger seat (another feature shared with the late and unlamented Aztek are speedo and tach needles shaped, curiously, like crutches). An option on the Grand Prix, the folding passenger seat creates a “9.5-foot space, easily large enough to bring home 2x4s or a ladder from the hardware store,” claims Motor Trend. In a rare moment of praise, Automobile states, “the Grand Prix's packaging flexibility is world class” and also likes the optional XM radio, claiming that “it makes all cars better.” MyRide.com is impressed with rear doors that “swing out 82 degrees, improving ingress and egress for people and stuff.”

Despite affecting only four gears, the TAPShift feature, standard on the GXP, is praised for its intuitive and easy operation. “Just a light tap,” says Motor Trend, “commands the automatic transmission to do the driver's bidding.” Even the driving enthusiasts at Road & Track love it, claiming “this may just be the best steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifter yet, allowing the palm and fingers to remain on to the steering wheel in their normal position while the thumbs do all of the gear changes.”

“It’s not hard to max out the capabilities of the base system if you really like to blast music,” says Autoblog, who recommend upgrading to the optional Monsoon audio system. Both the base model and the GXP feature one year of GM’s OnStar service, but higher-tech features like Bluetooth and a navigation system are absent from either model.

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6.6
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Expert Rating
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Styling 6.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 7.0
Safety 6.0
Features 7.0
Fuel Economy N/A
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