With a 6-liter V-8 and brawny styling, the 2008 Pontiac G8 GT looks like the return of American muscle, only, it's not. The new G8, an example of International brand engineering, actually comes from Australia, where it's called a Holden VE Commodore. These origins explain some odd styling around the cockpit, such as window and mirror controls mounted on the console and a big red display showing battery charge and oil pressure.
The central point of the G8 seems to be the big engine, not really the best peg to hang your hat on these days. The car looks good, but takes some styling cues from BMW in the heavily flared front fenders complete with vents. When we first looked at the cockpit, we thought we were in for a tech treat because of the big LCD on the stack. But the car doesn't make good use of that display space, merely showing audio information. Likewise, a voice button on the steering wheel got us looking for Bluetooth or voice command, but then we found the button merely activated OnStar.
Test the tech: 60 mph runs
As there wasn't much else to do with the 2008 Pontiac G8 GT, we decided to see how fast we could get it to 60 mph. The engine produces 361 horsepower and 385 foot-pounds of torque, numbers that seemed a little low considering the displacement. This power is fed to the wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission--there is no manual transmission option. We made our 0-to-60 mph runs in normal drive mode, sport shift mode, and using manual gear selection.
After a few runs, we stop to note down the times from our performance computer.
With our performance computer hooked up and calibrated, we put the car in drive for its first run. Stomping the accelerator gave immediate results. The tires gripped with only minimal slip, the engine roared, and we were moving. Fast. Keeping the car under control was not a problem, as it uses rear-wheel-drive and a limited slip differential. The transmission let the engine speed run up to 6,000rpm before the third gear shift, and we blew past 60 mph in 5.52 seconds. The computer also told us we had reached 30 mph in only 2.17 seconds.
We reset for the second run, this time putting the transmission into sport mode, which entails pushing it to the right, into the manual shift gate. When we launched in this mode, we got more wheel slip, but not enough to slow us down significantly. As we watched the tach needle cross 12 o'clock, it didn't seem any different than our first run, but the computer proved otherwise, showing a 0 to 60 mph time of 5.33 seconds, with 30 mph reached in 1.93 seconds.
The lack of a red line on the speedometer makes manual shifting a guessing game.
For our final run, we pushed the shifter to the manual gate and pulled it back to the put the car in first gear. We waited for the computer to calibrate then hit the gas. As the tachometer passed 6,000rpm, we made ready to shift, but before we could do it, the car bogged down as we hit redline, forcing an engine cutoff. The lack of a redline marking on the tachometer made it difficult to judge when to shift. We went through with the run, but that over-revving slowed us down to 6.75 seconds to 60 mph.
We gave it another try, figuring we would have to shift before 6,000rpm, but we were too careful, and only made 6.72 seconds to 60 mph on the second run. Figuring the automatic mode could do a better job, we called the test complete. The times this car made were impressive, and we also found it interesting that manual shift mode lets you run over the redline, as most automatics will upshift once you hit a certain engine speed even if you put it in manual mode.
In the cabin
Although plastic abounds in the cabin of the 2008 Pontiac G8 GT, we found the general design, fit, and finish very good, suitable for the top sedan in Pontiac's line-up. Of course, leather seats and steering wheel wrapping, because of our car's Premium package, didn't hurt. We particularly liked the feel of the steering wheel, with its thick and easy-to-grip circumference.
Strangely, this big LCD only shows audio information, as navigation is provided through OnStar.
However, some features of the interior didn't seem to make the transition from Australia to the U.S. For example, the Blaupunkt stereo includes a 6.5-inch LCD, plenty of room for a navigation system, but navigation wasn't present and is not offered. Instead, the car relies on OnStar for turn-by-turn directions. A large LED sits at the top of the stack, but it only shows virtual gauges for battery and oil. Another waste of very usable space, and ripe for someone to hack into an in-dash pong game.
The only real tech feature in the cabin is the Blaupunkt stereo, an impressive sounding rig with a six-disc in-dash changer and an auxiliary input on the face plate. Satellite radio or iPod integration isn't available, but the disc changer reads MP3 CDs. The interface for selecting music from an MP3 CD is decent, if a bit busy. You can see folders and tracks listed on the LCD, but it's not a touch screen. The tuning knob lets you scroll through choices and select music.
You can choose from a variety of preset equalizer levels.
This audio system uses 11 speakers, including a centerfill and two subwoofers that get power from a 230 watt amp. The stereo lets you choose from a variety of equalizer presets, such as rock and jazz. We found the audio quality to be very good, with tight bass that didn't rattle the speakers and clear highs. It's not the best system we've heard, but it is substantially better than what we've heard from most six speaker systems.
Despite the voice button on the steering wheel, you can't get Bluetooth cell phone integration on the G8, although OnStar has a hands-free calling service. You can access OnStar by either pushing the steering wheel button or using the traditional OnStar button mounted on the mirror bezel.
We found one other feature we assume to be unique to the land Down Under, a break reminder. You can set a specific amount of drive time in the car, at the end of which it sounds a chime and pops up an image of a tree and a bench, with the words Rest Reminder, on the instrument cluster display. Likewise, you can set speed warnings in the same display that will chime if you go over whichever speed you've indicated.
Under the hood
The engine in the 2008 Pontiac G8 GT gives some bragging rights; you can boast 6 liters of displacement for its V-8. But you might get a little quieter when it comes to horsepower. Its 361 horsepower is substantial, but doesn't really compare with the 400-plus horsepower some automakers, such as BMW, squeeze out of lower displacement engines. The 385 foot-pounds of torque is a more impressive specification, and helped the near 4,000 pound car hit the 0 to 60 mph times we achieved.
This big engine generates plenty of torque, but it is thirsty.
Similar to vintage American muscle, the G8 isn't the best handling car around. In cornering, the car leaned pretty seriously, but we didn't feel tire slip. Unlike that American muscle, the G8 uses a thoroughly modern suspension, including a four link independent design in the rear. The limited slip differential will also keep the power flowing to both wheels while cornering. The suspension also absorbed the bumps well without feeling soft, although we felt some float.
The steering felt reasonably responsive, although it wasn't really tight. We didn't notice an excessive amount of understeer, just the normal amount for a road-going sedan. Pontiac includes its Stabilitrak traction and stability control with this model.
We noted the difficulty with finding redline when using the manual mode for the six-speed automatic transmission. In normal drive mode, this transmission shifts early, trying to keep the engine speed low the fuel economy high. This tuning resulted in very noticeable shifts. It's smoother in sport mode as the rpms are better matched to the gear shifts. Manual shifts had that slushbox feel, and the transmission wasn't particularly tuned for sport driving. We didn't notice any aggressive downshifting on our approach to corners.
The biggest drawback with the G8 is the fuel economy. We didn't expect much from such a high-displacement engine, and our expectations were generally met. The EPA rates it at 15 mph city and 24 mpg highway. In our mixed city and freeway driving, we only made 16.4 mpg, and that was with a bias toward the freeway. For emissions, it merely meets the minimum LEV II requirement from California's Air Resources Board.
The base price for our 2008 Pontiac G8 GT was $29,310. We added the Premium package for $1,250 and the Sport package for $600. These packages added no significant tech, just many niceties such as leather and power seats. Along with the $685 destination charge, the total for our test car came out to $31,845, not a bad price if you want a big engine. In fact, there aren't too many V-8s available at this price, but there are some very nice V-6es that afford much better tech and good driving characteristics, such as the Mercedes-Benz C300.
On the cabin tech front, we can't rate the G8 very high. The one bright spot is the Blaupunkt stereo, but that is missing some key features, such as iPod integration or satellite radio. We give it credit for offering navigation and hands-free phone support through OnStar, but not as much compared with a good in-dash system. For performance tech, we like its suspension and its 0 to 60 mph times are impressive. But its poor fuel economy hurts, along with the cornering feel.