I'm convinced my local highway on-ramp was designed by the Pawtucket (Rhode Island) Fire Department. Drivers have just 100 yards of tarmac to join the outside lane of a three-lane road that immediately and violently kinks left. The ramp ends on a bridge, so there's no breakdown lane for failed mergers and there's an off-ramp 200 yards ahead. As you'd expect, cars line up like F14 pilots on a carrier deck. It's the perfect Death or Glory test track for the Pontiac Grand Prix GTP with Competition Group Package: the “Comp G”.
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Pontiac gave me a fighting chance by transversely mounting a supercharged V6 under the bonnet. The 3.8 litre unit may be older than Abba, but it stables 260 horses. Equally helpful, the super six cranks out 280 ft. lbs. of torque at 3200rpms. By all accounts, it should have been sufficient oomph to keep Pawtucket's paramedics in front of their soap operas.
The instant I mashed the go pedal I realized that a Comp G at full chat handles just like a Ferrari. Not the car; the logo. The one with the rearing stallion. This front-wheel-drive Pontiac simply can't put its power down from a standing start – or anything resembling a standing start. For the first few seconds, I was literally spinning my front wheels. Finally, with the smell of burning rubber wafting through the AC, with the sound of porcine torture ringing in my ears, the Comp G was off and away.
Obviously, I made it. Once the Comp G's front hooves found purchase, once the ironically named StabiliTrak system tamed the torque steer tsunami, the Comp G rocketed forward with welcome determination. It was fast enough to give credence to Pontiac's claim that their car will sprint from zero to sixty in 6.5 seconds, and finish the quarter mile .564 seconds behind a BMW 330i. Whether or not the Comp G is a credible sports saloon, well, that's another matter…
It sure doesn't look like one. In fact, the Comp G's exterior might have been cobbled together by GM's Performance Car Plausibility Testing Team. Their half-hearted designers grafted every sports car cliché known onto a rental car shape. (Tiny) red painted brake calipers, (blobby) rear spoiler, (faux) quad pipes, and side skirts and a chin spoiler that wouldn't stand out on a mountain bike. The Comp G's front end is its only distinctive feature. It resembles nothing so much as a slightly demented Pokemon character.
The interior also fails to advertise or promote the Comp G's sporting intent. Where the nifty little Mazda6 S, superswift VW Golf R32 and other Comp G enemies boast sexy brushed-aluminum dashboards, clever knobs and multi-colored dials, the Comp G has a dark plastic dash, disco era rotary controls and white-on-grey dials. On the positive side, the XM satellite radio provides plenty of distraction, and the Comp G's “heads-up” speed and radio display is exactly the kind of cool feature that gets the Playstation generation's fingers twitching.
Pontiac proudly promotes the fact that twitching fingers can use the Comp G's wheel-mounted Tapshift buttons to “transform its automatic transmission into operating much like a manual”. That depends how you define the word “much”, as most manual transmissions have more than four gears. Although the Tapshift's a slick shifter, the limited gearing options restrict its utility to changing down a gear for overtaking or “hey watch this” wheel spins – either of which you can do just as easily by simply flooring it.
Even if you baby the throttle, the Comp G is no hoot to drive. Those of you who know about such things will have already clocked the fact that the Comp G's weight transfers rearwards under hard acceleration, resulting in an inevitable and dramatic loss of front end grip and control. It's what the technically-minded call “excessive understeer” and anyone attempting to blast the Comp G around a corner would call “a bad thing”. The Comp G may be relatively safe – the front tyres squeal at the onset of an understeer slide – but it wouldn't be my first choice for a high-speed romp down an unfamiliar twisty.
Given the firepower lurking in the engine bay and the average American petrolhead's distaste for anything other than a straight road, even these handling “issues” would be put to one side if the Comp G was cheap. Thirty thousand US dollars says it isn't. Truth to tell, the only good news is that the top-end Grand Prix is a lame duck. Next year, GM will rebadge and sell the Holden Monaro: a rear-wheel-drive, V8-powered, Australian-made, 2+2 sports sedan with an optional manual gearbox. Sources suggest it will cost only slightly more than a loaded Comp G. The Pontiac GTO will go like Hell and handle like a dream. American onrampaphobics' salvation is at hand.