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2003 Toyota Matrix by John Pearley Huffman (12/3/2001)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — In WeHo’s fabulous Skybar, celebrities trickle in just often enough to pump the civilian crowds into a frenzy. Meanwhile, those actually sleeping at the attached — vestigial? — Mondrian hotel simply try to park discreetly without adding to the insanity. Throwing a Marty Padgett or TCC Team into the mix would only cause more bedlam, wouldn’t it?
It’s a good thing we weren’t distracted by adoring crowds and hangers-on asking for our BlackBerry address and five minutes for their movie pitch. Big questions were to be pondered: is the Pontiac Vibe a starter kit for adventure, or is it a clever station wagon that’s small and cute enough to lose all those stodgy connotations? And is it the best Pontiac in recent memory?
Nothing like the rest
The Vibe’s like nothing we can recall from Pontiac’s history, and at first glance it’s a poor fit for the rest of the brand’s catchall portfolio of sedans, minivans and sporting machines. It’s sleek and compact, and in the grand scheme almost understated with its low-relief cladding. Apparently its smoothed-over looks have been controversial even inside GM walls — and we’re reassured that, finally, its cleaner demeanor is the look of the future for the rest of the brand’s vehicles.
Its format is another seeming mismatch. It’s a tall five-door wagon with a flexible cargo area. You’ll see visible winces if you call it a wagon in front of Pontiac people, but it’s the most apt description; “crossover” doesn’t really fit the two front-drive Vibes. In all, there are three Vibes to catch: a base front-drive, 130-hp model with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission; an all-wheel-drive model with 123 hp and a four-speed automatic; and a front-drive 180-hp Vibe GT with a six-speed manual gearbox.
2003 Pontiac VibeEnlarge Photo