What was tested? 2008 Pontiac G8 GT ($29,310).
Options: Premium package ($1,250).
Price as tested: $30,560.
There was a time when Pontiac's lineup was mainly comprised of rebadged Chevys with a bit of extra plastic glued around the chin.
Aside from occasional thrillers like the GTO and turbo Solstice, recent Pontiacs just haven't lived up to their slogan of "driving excitement." Sure, you might say the Grand Prix, Torrent and Vibe were exciting, but only if you were comparing them to oatmeal, cardboard or John McCain.
But the new G8 -- thank goodness -- is finally the real thing.
Never before have I driven a four-door Pontiac that makes my knees shake when I climb inside. It has an exhaust note that will wake your neighbors, a suspension that pleads for twisty roads and steering that transmits all the right details to your fingertips.
It also has a hurricane under the hood.
While you can get a 256-horsepower V6 in this car, the G8 I drove came with a 6.0-liter V8 engine that makes 361 horses. It growls. It snarls. It screams. It commits assault and battery on the rear tires.
Best of all, it's -- get ready for this -- exciting.
Imagine that! After years of selling four-door cars that drove exactly like the other GM brands, Pontiac has finally created a car that drives like a Pontiac should. It feels sort of like a BMW, only without the German interior and snob appeal.
It's easy to draw comparisons between the G8 and its Australian sibling, the GTO. Both are based on designs from GM's Holden brand. Both have big, powerful V8 engines. Both are rear-wheel drive.
But there's one huge difference: the G8 actually looks good.
After the GTO flopped with awesome performance but a bland body, the G8 aims to please the eyes as well as the heart. It definitely looks like a bully, with bulging fenders and two huge hood scoops to feed the V8, but it's also not nearly as ugly as cars like this tend to get. There are no giant wings, no coffee-can exhaust tips, no silly pieces of plastic tacked onto the body. It's very simple and clean, but it's also intimidating to see in the rear-view mirror.
Now, the downsides.
First of all, Pontiac couldn't have chosen a worse time to launch a modern-day muscle car. Even with the V6 you'll only get 17 mpg in the city, while the V8 gets 2 mpg worse. Yes, that makes the V8's consumption pretty darn good considering the power it produces, but 2008 is a terrible time to be selling a giant SUV that gets 15 mpg, much less a four-door sedan like the G8.
Secondly, I've also got to fault the interior because I know GM can do better. It's nice enough -- and far, far better than the Pontiacs of just a couple of years ago -- but I've also driven the new Chevy Malibu with its Lexus-like interior. If Chevy can make your jaw drop with the fancy interior in a $20,000 Malibu, why can't Pontiac do the same in a $30,000 G8? It just doesn't make sense.
All in all, though, Pontiac has made a stunning car. It drives like a Pontiac should, with speed and precision, and it looks the part, too.
If not for those pesky gas prices, GM would have a massive sales hit on its hands.
Pros: It's a world-class sports sedan from Pontiac, with muscle-car power, precise handling and good looks.
Cons: Even with the V6 engine you'll only get 17 mpg in town.