Pontiac G6 GTP Coupe: A Lemans Sprint for the New Millenium

Extra points if you’ve already pegged the reference. Back in the 1960s, Pontiac was known more for innovative high-performance than blandness and body cladding. The ’64 GTO sparked Detroit’s muscle car wars; the near-unique Tri-Power 389-cid V8 was so popular it annoyed Chevy engineers enough so they had GM issue a corporate edict against multi-carb induction on anything but their beloved Corvette; and the ’70s saw the Endura bumper presage the look, if not the actual durability (or lack thereof) of today’s chromeless front ends. One Pontiac venture that didn’t make the all-time great list–although it was just as innovative, if not more–was the 1966 Lemans Sprint, spearheaded by none other than John Z. DeLorean.

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In those heady days of ever-increasing V8 displacements, the Sprint motor, available only from Pontiac, was as different and unexpected as Laugh-In. With an overhead cam design, the 230-cid engine made 207 horsepower with the 4-barrel–and revved to 6,000 rpm. It made for a light, European-feeling drive–and helped cement Pontiac’s reputation as a forward-looking firm within the General Motors corporate behemoth.

Like that iconoclastic Sprint, the 2006 Pontiac G6 GTP coupe is in many ways unlike anything else the division offers–except maybe the Solstice. So much so that the first half-hour spent with the car was filled with disbelieving comments along the lines of “This is a Pontiac? You sure?”

First of all, it’s good looking inside and out. Shaking off the shackles of the G6 sedan’s rather pedestrian lines, the coupe gives a rakish, sporty appearance. A high beltline lends a somewhat sinister feel as well, and the subtle spoiler and chromed 18″ rims complete the go-fast look.

Body-color panels and chrome accents inside continue the theme as well, as does the slick dash and bolstered front seats. For upscale aficionados, there are leather seats with heat and driver’s power adjustments, a tilt/telescoping wheel, a good-sized one-touch sunroof, and a spine-thumping Monsoon stereo with XM Satellite radio. The center stack, with its new displays and controls, is simply excellent–although the cheapest plastic in the car can unfortunately be found here. Impressive as well are the materials used in the rest of the interior’s construction; they feel as good as anything in the price segment, and switchgear is modern, too. Adjustable pedals are a nice touch here as well. Rear seats are roomy, too, unless you’re over 6 feet and want to stay that way. Overall, the ambiance is classy yet sport-oriented; everything falls to hand, and feels like money as it does so.

Driving the G6 GTP is a revelation, especially if you’ve had seat time in the old Grand Am coupe. The all-new 3.9-liter V6 makes 240 horsepower and 245 ft-lbs. of torque, and runs quickly–sixty miles per hour should be reachable in under seven seconds. It feels powerful in a European way; less like a GTO than a 325. The shifter for our tester’s optional manual tranny was nowhere near as sloppy as expected (although still not BMW-slick; and the ‘shift to Reverse to remove key’ feature stymied us for far too long). Everything is smooth–shifter, steering, pedals, motor–and the engine is just as happy at 1,750 in 6th gear at 60 mph as it is zipping to the redline. Even the ride is good enough for everyday use, although there’s decent grip, and handling is mainly confidence-inspiring. Mileage is decent for an everyday sporty car; at 18 mpg city and 26 highway, you could do worse. If anything, we’d ask GM to take out a little of the play in the steering wheel and dial out a little more understeer, but all told, this is an impressive effort from the ‘once and future’ Excitement Division.

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Although we haven’t driven the $22,000 base G6 GT, with its 201-horse 3.5-liter six, we have to praise this example of car czar Bob Lutz’s work. At the price–not released, but figure around $24,500 to start–the GTP coupe is a nice ride from both a luxury and a performance standpoint. It’s heartwarming for nostalgia-ridden folks like us to see yet another sporty two-door in the Indian’s lineup. Of course, those who got the title reference without the reminder will also remember that the OHC motor died an untimely death in a mere three years. Let us hope the same fate does not befall this G6.

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