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2008 Pontiac Torrent GXP Compact Sport Utility Vehicle

What Was Tested: 2008 Pontiac Torrent GXP ($29,995). Price as tested: $29,995

Pontiac has spent decades telling us its cars are about excitement. That makes sense when you think about all the hot Pontiacs through the years, like the GTO, Firebird and Trans Am. Those cars were worthy of the "Building Excitement" advertising slogan. Looking at the brand's lineup today, though, and you have to wonder if it should change the tagline to "Pontiac: A Way for GM to Sell More Chevys."

OK, perhaps that's a bit harsh. There's still a true sports car -- the Solstice -- and a sporty, stylish coupe in the G6, but adrenaline pumps like the Firebird and GTO have been dropped. Plus, with a couple of wagons in the stable -- the Torrent and Vibe -- it leaves the brand vulnerable to criticism that it's strayed from its performance-based roots.

Thus, the Torrent GXP is born.

Those three initials mean Pontiac has added some spice to the Torrent, a crossover vehicle that's like a tall station wagon. While the normal Torrent is essentially a Chevy Equinox wearing a Pontiac mask, the GXP version comes with a lowered suspension, 18-inch wheels and a 3.6-liter, 263-horsepower V6 engine. That's 78 horses more than the base Torrent, enough to reach 60 mph in 6.9 seconds.

That zero-to-60 time may seem like an eternity for a sports car, but for a big, SUV-like vehicle it's actually quite impressive.

It also means the Torrent GXP has joined a new class of crossovers that put more emphasis on sport and less on utility in the SUV equation. Vehicles like the Toyota RAV4 Sport, Acura RDX and Mazda CX-7 all aim to provide driving satisfaction in addition to the comfortable, family-friendly layout of a traditional SUV.

Does the Pontiac competitor succeed? Yes and no.

Certainly compared to the blandness and so-so performance of low-priced crossovers, the souped-up Torrent is fun to drive. It's a little more controllable, balanced and sensitive to driver input than a normal family hauler. The 263 horses give it a nice kick when you step on the gas.

At the same time, it's still a normal family hauler in many ways. It doesn't have the race-bred feeling of a BMW X-3 -- which is admittedly in a totally different price class -- nor does it provide the holy-expletive thrill of a sporty car. And that's what Pontiac should be all about.

The Torrent GXP starts around $28,000 for front-wheel drive or $30,000 with all-wheel drive. It comes with plenty of whistles and bells at that price, including a six-speed automatic transmission, a lot of advanced air bags, remote keyless entry, power everything, and a nice-sounding stereo with an auxiliary jack for your MP3 player.

Pros: It's more fun to drive than a typical, dull crossover SUV.

Cons: It's still basically a station wagon. How fun can that be?

RATINGS (1-10)
Style: 6
Performance: 7
Price: 5
Handling: 7
Ride: 6
Comfort: 8
Quality: 7
Overall: 6