2009 Pontiac Vibe Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
September 23, 2008

The small-hatchback competition is growing, but with a new look, upgraded powertrains, and bolstered safety features, the new 2009 Pontiac Vibe should be a top choice.

To prepare this review of the 2009 Pontiac Vibe, the experienced auto enthusiasts at TheCarConnection.com read what other critics has to say. Then TheCarConnection.com's editors included firsthand information when possible to provide the best advice to shoppers.

A complete redesign, along with an expanded safety-feature list and more power from a newly available 158-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is the big news in the 2009 Pontiac Vibe. The base engine is still a 1.8-liter four making 132 horsepower, but the all-wheel-drive and GT models come with the more powerful engine.

Both engines come with a five-speed manual transmission, but a four-speed automatic is optional with the 1.8-liter and a five-speed auto on the 2.4-liter. The all-wheel-drive system that's available on the 2009 Pontiac Vibe is a new electronically controlled system that can send up to 60 percent of power to the rear wheels and now includes the 2.4-liter engine. Fuel efficiency is good, especially with the 1.8-liter engine, which returns ratings as high as 26 mpg city, 32 mpg highway with the manual transmission.

On the outside, the previous Vibe's "ribbed" design has been replaced with smooth sheetmetal. The new look extends to the interior of the 2009 Pontiac Vibe, which is a bit more upscale than the previous Vibe and slightly roomier for passengers, though a little tighter for cargo. Several storage cubbies allow space for odds and ends, and there are now a total of eight cup holders. The Vibe can carry up to five people, though space in the backseat isn't tremendously roomy; four average-sized adults will fit just fine, and the 60/40-split seat folds forward flat to expand the cargo area. And it's easier for the driver to get situated; telescopic steering adjustment is now standard across the line.

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The 2009 Pontiac Vibe GT is especially well equipped; it includes a 320-watt Monsoon sound system, plus various sporty styling cues, fog lamps, and a chrome exhaust tip. A rear cargo organizer is offered on all but the base model.

The Vibe has a very extensive list of safety features, considering its low price. All Vibes include front side airbags, side curtain bags, anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control. The federal government has tested the 2009 Pontiac Vibe, but only in side-impact protection, and it earned five stars for the front-seat occupants but four stars in back.

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2009 Pontiac Vibe

Styling

The 2009 Pontiac Vibe has emerged from its date with Pontiac designers as a sportier and more attractive hatchback.

A smooth, clean look coupled with sleek lines clearly makes the sporty 2009 Pontiac Vibe a ride that grabs attention. With a refreshed look for 2009, the Pontiac Vibe continues Pontiac's recent styling resurgence.

The Pontiac Vibe 2009 is, according to Edmunds, a "compact four-door hatchback/wagon" offered in "two trim levels: base and GT, though the base can also be had with all-wheel drive." Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com love the "all-new exterior styling for 2009" that Cars.com reviewers feel "gives the car a much smoother appearance than before." Kelley Blue Book points out the "bolder wheel arches and larger wheels that make it look sportier than the last generation" and also notes that "all of the trim levels have unique features," such as the "standard roof rack" on the AWD version and "larger fog lamps, lower intake ducts," and "roof spoiler" on the 2009 Pontiac Vibe GT. Edmunds points out that the Pontiac Vibe 2009's "sporty styling" makes it "a semi-identical twin to the Toyota Matrix," while Road & Track underlines its enthusiasm for the 2009 Pontiac Vibe by calling it "a really nice melding of muscular looks." Detroit News adds that the 2009 Pontiac's "chunky slab sides give the [2009 Pontiac] Vibe a big look," and a "meaner face makes it look sportier," leaving little doubt as to the attractive styling of this wagon crossover.

The attractive styling of the 2009 Pontiac Vibe carries over to the interior, which Edmunds describes as "cool looking." According to Cars.com, "the redesigned interior improves the cabin's appearance significantly, and it's something that had to be done" in order for this 2009 Pontiac to keep up with the competition. Detroit News notes other "pleasant interior surprises" for this 2009 Pontiac's cabin styling, including an "instrument panel [that] takes on a fresh look with the tachometer and speedometer each encased separately in deep cylinders...[and] the gear shifter on the automatic and manual comes out of the dash instead of jutting up from the floor between the driver and passenger." Detroit News also mentions that the dash is "big and wide, and on the passenger's side two round vents give it a strange curvy look." Also earning praise from reviewers is the instrument layout, with Edmunds noting "all displays and controls are simple and intuitive, including those for the often-used climate control and audio systems."

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2009 Pontiac Vibe

Performance

It's doubtful that anyone would call it punchy, but the 2009 Pontiac Vibe offers adequate acceleration and acceptable performance for penny-pinching buyers.

A 1.8-liter engine may not sound like much in a car the size of the 2009 Pontiac Vibe, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that this 2009 Pontiac has a few athletic moves up its sleeve.

According to Cars.com, the base 2009 Pontiac Vibe is powered by "a 1.8-liter four-cylinder that now makes 132 hp," while a "newly optional 158 HP 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine" powers both the Pontiac Vibe GT and AWD versions. Impressed with the Pontiac Vibe 2009's performance, Edmunds reports "the engine revs smoothly and quietly" and that "the run to 60 mph" in the GT "is estimated at around 8 seconds, about average in its class." ConsumerGuide reviewers find that the base 2009 Pontiac Vibe's 1.8-liter engine "offers adequate acceleration," while the 2.4-liter engine "is noticeably stronger from a stop, with better than average merging and passing punch." While the extra oomph might be nice to have every now and then, Detroit News reviewers think that "the smaller 1.8-liter engine will probably serve most people," and though horsepower is a bit lower at 132 hp, they claim that "that's plenty."

The Pontiac Vibe 2009 lineup has three available transmissions. Edmunds lists the transmission breakdown as follows: "a five-speed manual transmission is standard on all but the AWD, which comes with a four-speed automatic," while "an available five-speed automatic" is offered on the GT and AWD versions of this 2009 Pontiac. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show the four-speed auto is pleasant enough, with Cars.com reporting that the "four-speed automatic transmission quickly kicks down if you need a little boost of power, and otherwise goes about the business of shifting gears without much fanfare, which is just what you want from an automatic." ConsumerGuide praises the standard manual as well, finding that it "has smooth shift action and a light clutch."

One distinct advantage of low-output engines is that they offer relatively high fuel economy, which is reflected on the 1.8-liter's EPA numbers. The EPA estimates that this 2009 Pontiac with the 1.8-liter engine will get 26 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway when paired with the manual transmission, while the automatic returns nearly the same numbers, at 26 mpg city/31 mpg highway. With the bigger 2.4-liter engines, the EPA estimates the five-speed automatic will get 21 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, while the four-speed auto hits 20/26 mpg and the manual offers 21/28 mpg. In real-world testing, ConsumerGuide reports that their GT version of this 2009 Pontiac "with automatic transmission averaged 20.5 mpg, a little disappointing for a front-drive compact car," while the AWD model "averaged 28.8 mpg in mostly highway driving."

When it comes to enthusiastic driving, the 2009 Pontiac Vibe gets mixed reviews, though in more relaxed situations its strengths shine through. ConsumerGuide reports that "base Vibes are competent handlers but not really sporty," although the GT is "more agile, yet not as flingable as one might expect of a compact car with sporty pretensions." Kelley Blue Book feels that the 2009 Pontiac Vibe "drives and handles like a compact sedan," but Edmunds remarks that it is "not quite as entertaining as the decidedly sporty Mazda 3." However, most reviewers appreciate the steering feel, which ConsumerGuide deems "generally good in both models," but is "subject to crosswind wander at highway speeds." Cars.com agrees, calling the 2009 Pontiac Vibe "an easy car to drive." Unfortunately, braking on the 2009 Pontiac Vibe isn't ideal, and Cars.com comments that "the Vibe's brake-pedal feel leaves something to be desired," though they note "the hatchback comes to a stop without trouble."

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2009 Pontiac Vibe

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Pontiac Vibe is not the most refined small vehicle, but it has been significantly improved.

The 2009 Pontiac Vibe is another step forward for GM when it comes to materials and build quality. This 2009 Pontiac also offers versatile cargo capacity and decent passenger comfort, making for an all-around success in this category.

Edmunds says that "thanks to the Vibe's tall architecture, there's plenty of room for passengers," five of whom can fit in the 2009 Pontiac Vibe. Cars.com notes the Pontiac Vibe 2009 offers "enough room for a family of four and their belongings" to fit comfortably, adding that the "cloth front bucket seats...offer good comfort and support," but also reporting "the three-seat rear bench is less comfortable." ConsumerGuide reviewers agree, finding "legroom and headroom are fine" up front, "but knee space is tight" in back, and "the seat is too firm for long-trip comfort." Detroit News reviewers also report that the front seats are "comfortable and [hold] you snugly in place."

One of the true measures of any hatchback (or wagon—nobody's quite sure which of the two categories applies to the 2009 Pontiac Vibe) is cargo space, and reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the Pontiac Vibe 2009 meets all expectations here. According to Edmunds, the 2009 Pontiac Vibe rear seat "is split 60/40 and all but the base trim feature a flat-folding front passenger seat to allow long items to be carried inside," while "max cargo capacity is 49.4 cubic feet, which is about mid-pack in the segment." ConsumerGuide adds that this 2009 Pontiac offers "versatile cargo-carrying options," and the "available cargo management system is highly recommended, as it offers numerous options for keeping smaller items" secure. Inside the cabin, Mother Proof is "impressed with the adjustable cupholder that held both my travel mug and, later, a reusable water bottle with no problems," but notes "the center console was a problem...barely big enough to hold a garage door opener and the keys to my mailbox."

Several reviews complain about the hard plastic lining the cargo area, which Mother Proof describes as “a skating rink.” Although some of those interior plastics draw several reviewers' ire, overall Edmunds feels that "build quality is...very good, with most of the interior bits and pieces sourced from Toyota." However, ConsumerGuide notes that the interior of the 2009 Pontiac Vibe "is dominated by hard-plastic surfaces" and "not all testers find the silver-painted dashboard trim appropriate, even in this price class." On the positive side, Cars.com says "the new cabin is more upscale than the old version," commenting "it's clear Pontiac gave most of its attention to the upper half of the cabin" where "the dashboard, instrument panel and doors feature materials that are pleasing to the eye." On the downside, however, Cars.com says that if you "look down at the console and middle armrest and you'll see less-appealing plastic and cruder finishes."

Certain aspects of the interior may rate highly with reviewers, but one area that can use improvement on the 2009 Pontiac Vibe is noise reduction. ConsumerGuide reviewers find that "neither engine is a paragon of refinement," and overall "wind and road noise intrude at highway speeds." Cars.com also notes "the engine doesn't sound great when revved hard." Overall, the ride is pleasant; ConsumerGuide says the Vibe exhibits "good bump absorption over most road blemishes."

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2009 Pontiac Vibe

Safety

Despite the visibility issue, the 2009 Pontiac Vibe is one of the safest vehicles in its class.

One major selling point with family-oriented vehicles, a category that definitely includes hatchback/wagons such as the 2009 Pontiac Vibe, is their safety record. In this regard, the 2009 Pontiac Vibe has a leg up on nearly all its competitors, as its safety features and crash ratings are well above average.

While the IIHS has not yet had a chance to test the 2009 Pontiac Vibe, the government has conducted its full battery of crash tests and issued a glowing endorsement of this 2009 Pontiac. The NHTSA reports that the Pontiac Vibe earned a perfect five-star rating in both front impact tests, as well as five stars for the driver side-impact test. The only blemish on this 2009 Pontiac's record is in the passenger side-impact category, where it still earned a respectable four out of five stars.

In addition to the crash-test ratings from the NHTSA, the Detroit News rates this 2009 Pontiac's safety features as "excellent," and other reviews read by TheCarConnection.com agree. According to Cars.com, these features include "antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags, an electronic stability system, and active head restraints for the front seats." Road & Track gives two thumbs-up to Pontiac's decision to add "traction control and steering inputs to help keep the driver in control in adverse road conditions like rain or ice" to the 2009 Pontiac Vibe. Furthermore, Kelley Blue Book notes that the standard safety equipment includes OnStar and a "tire-pressure monitoring system."

So far this section may seem like a pretty rousing endorsement of the Pontiac Vibe 2009's safety rating, and while there's a lot to praise on this vehicle, there is also one drawback worth noting. What prevents this 2009 Pontiac from achieving a perfect safety score is its shape, which compromises rearward visibility. In particular, ConsumerGuide reports that visibility is "generally good, but view aft [is] compromised by thick pillars." Unfortunately, Pontiac doesn't offer any sort of parking or rearview assistance system to help mitigate this problem.

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2009 Pontiac Vibe

Features

The standard equipment list is a little stingy, but nearly every other feature that’s expected in a car of this type is on the options list.

The 2009 Pontiac Vibe lineup comes with a few nifty features, but unfortunately you'll have to go for the upper-level models if you want access to the coolest options.

In its usual facetious way, Mother Proof opines that the Pontiac Vibe 2009 "has a lot of things going for it—except its name—but the car's features are a good distraction from its unfortunate moniker." According to Kelley Blue Book, standard equipment for the Pontiac Vibe 2009 base trim consists of "six-way adjustable driver's seat, four-speaker sound system with AM/FM radio with CD, XM satellite and an auxiliary input jack" in addition to aforementioned 2009 Pontiac safety features; however, "it lacks some clever features like the Chill Box or the tailgate speakers." Edmunds reports that this 2009 Pontiac in base trim includes "a tilt/telescoping steering column" as well. The 2009 Pontiac Vibe GT brings a few more standard features to the party, including power accessories, a "leather-wrapped steering wheel w/radio controls, cruise control," and a "Monsoon AM/FM/CD/MP3 player," says ConsumerGuide.

In addition to the standard features offered on the 2009 Pontiac Vibe, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that there are a couple desirable options available on this 2009 Pontiac. According to Kelley Blue Book, additional options for this 2009 Pontiac model include a "320-watt premium Monsoon sound system," though this is only available on AWD versions, and a "power glass sunroof, 17-inch chrome or machine-finish wheels and a roof rack." ConsumerGuide says that "air conditioning" with an "interior air filter" is available for $950 on base models, as well as an "AM/FM/CD/MP3" system that is not standard equipment on the base 2009 Pontiac Vibe. Edmunds adds that all 2009 Pontiac Vibe models except the GT have an "available Preferred Package, which provides full power accessories, cruise control and keyless entry."

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Styling 8
Performance 7
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Features 8
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