Could've Had the V8 The base G8 looks virtually the same as the more powerful GT. By Daniel Pund, Senior Editor, Detroit Email Date posted: 07-22-2008 256-hp 3.6-liter V6 - 5-speed automatic - 0-60 in 7.6 seconds - 3,945-pound curb weight As we consider the 2008 Pontiac G8 Sedan with its V6 engine, we would like you to follow along with us in this rite of American pop-culture passage. First, raise your right hand in front of your face until your fingertips are slightly higher than the top of your cranium. Now, with your palm facing you, bend your hand backwards at the wrist until it is nearly perpendicular with your forearm. Finally, with a ramming action, deliver a quick, glancing blow to your forehead with the heel of your hand. For comic effect, try mimicking the sound of a percussionist hitting a woodblock when your hand impacts your head. That's right: You could've had the V8. For the sake of this story at least, however, you didn't. You got the 2008 Pontiac G8, the base model with the 256-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6. You did it because you are sensible. And because gas costs more than four bucks a gallon, certainly the high-octane stuff that Pontiac recommends that you feed the V8 G8. You still get the trim, lightly muscled look of the V8 version. You get the same size wheels and tires as the standard V8 version. And what power your car has is still routed to the rear wheels. And you save a little coin on the purchase price. That's all true. Yet, it's oh, so wrong. The Numbers The base G8 comes with a 256-hp, 3.6-liter V6. Unfortunately, the V6 is rather noisy and harsh compared to the GT's V8. A 2008 Pontiac G8 with the V6 like this one starts at $27,595 (including destination charge). This represents a $2,400 savings compared to the V8-powered GT version. For that $2,400, the GT buyer got 105 more hp, 137 pound-feet more torque, another gear in the automatic transmission, a limited-slip differential, automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a six-disc CD player (instead of a single) and an upgraded audio system. That's $2,400 very well spent in our books. For '09, Pontiac has broadened the price gap between the two models to $3,365, primarily by pushing the GT past the $30,000 threshold. Even so, the GT still represents an excellent bargain starting at a bit over $30K. And the V6 model, well, it's still just the V6 model. The Other Numbers Yes, the interior is relentlessly black — but in a good way. We are not immune to the charms of budget-friendly versions of various vehicles. But the 2008 Pontiac G8 GT is a pretty unique proposition on the market. It's a (more or less) American car with a powerful V8 and rear-wheel drive and a chassis tuned to make excellent use of those things. The Dodge Charger R/T has the V8 and rear-wheel drive but remains more a boulevard cruiser than sport sedan. The G8 V6 sedan has a tougher battle in the marketplace. By virtue of its middling 256-hp 3.6-liter V6, relaxed suspension tune, overall size and sub-$30K price tag, it is likely to be cross-shopped not just with the Dodge Charger V6 but also with a raft of midsize cars including high-end versions of the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. Just up the ladder one rung is the Acura TL and Nissan Maxima SV. We're missing the point, you say? The Accord and Altima are gussied-up, everyday front-drive appliances, you say? True, but they're also more powerful and quicker than the relatively heavy G8 V6 sedan. Despite a more advantageous weight distribution and rear-wheel drive, the hefty 3,945-pound G8 can muster only a 7.6-second sprint to 60 mph. The 270-hp Altima 3.5 can crank out runs a full second quicker. Even the less overtly sporty 268-hp Accord EX V6 (with a five-speed automatic) has the G8 beat by half a second. And just in case you needed reminding, the only slightly more expensive G8 GT sprints to 60 mph in a smokin' 5.4 seconds. But since the front-wheel-drive Japanese sedans carry more than 60 percent of their weight over their front wheels, they get their Kobe cooked by the G8 in handling tests, right? Not necessarily. Even wearing 17-inch all-season tires that provide only fair grip on the skid pad, the Altima SE can still whip through the slalom at 67.1 mph, more than 4 mph faster than the ruffled G8. The Accord is slower through the slalom than both, but we suspect with grippier tires it might at least match the G8. The G8 base sedan is a challenge to get through fast transitions because of its lack of roll stiffness and damping control. Some of this roll-prone attitude limits the G8 GT's runs through the slalom as well. But with its (optional) 19-inch summer-only Bridgestones, the GT still manages to slip through the cones a couple of mph quicker. Whoa, Whoa, Whoa... You'll get no complaints from rear-seat passengers — not legitimate ones anyway. Those big, sticky tires also help the 2008 Pontiac G8 GT grab hold of the pavement when it comes time to stop. Despite a mushy pedal, the GT halted from 60 mph in 109 feet — exactly the same as the BMW 335i we tested most recently. With the same mushy pedal, the G8 base sedan returns a stop of 123 feet — which was still good enough to beat the Japanese sedans by several feet. All things considered, going head-to-head with the Accord and Altima is no small feat. Various experiences with Grand Ams in the past indicated that such a thing would never happen. It's just that if you were expecting to smoke the Accord and Altima in your rear-drive sport sedan, well, you won't. Unless, of course, you pony up the extra few grand for the GT. But the GT's a big gas-sucking pig that will steal the food right from your children's mouths, right? Well, not really. The small-block is, by the standards of large-displacement V8s, a relatively efficient engine. By bolting it only to a six-speed automatic, Pontiac has been able to fit the 6.0-liter with the company's cylinder deactivation system which shuts down four cylinders under light throttle loads. The end result is a not-embarrassing 15 mpg city and 24 mpg highway estimate in EPA's tests and no gas-guzzler penalty. With one fewer gears, the same axle ratio and no cylinder deactivation, the V6-powered G8 returns an estimated 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. If you bought enough gasoline to travel 15,000 miles and paid four bucks for each gallon, you'd save about $333 by driving the V6 instead of the V8. Either way though, you're going to spend $3,000 or more annually on gas. Incidentally, the Accord V6 and Altima V6, both with automatics, get better fuel economy than the G8 V6. In fact, they're about as much better as the G8 V6 is better than the G8 GT. Huh? What? Also, the G8's V6 at wide-open throttle grinds away at a most unpleasant timbre. And it's not just the character of the noise; it's also louder than the V8 by three decibels at full whack. We are a little shocked by this, given that other applications of this "high feature" GM V6 (such as the Cadillac CTS and the Lambda three-row crossovers) haven't sounded so bad. They might not sound like they were made by Alfa Romeo, but neither do they sound as if they were built by the Waring blender folks. Either way, the G8's version of the V6 should come with the direct-injection system that brings with it roughly 50 additional horses. The base 2010 Chevy Camaro will be fitted with the direct injection version. Why not the heavier Pontiac sedan? Falling Between Two Stools Like the rest of the G8, the look of the 18-inch wheels is decidedly unfussy. Maybe we expected too much of the base model 2008 Pontiac G8. Maybe, its V6 engine makes it good enough to beat up the Charger V6 and smack around the stodgy Ford Taurus. This is some level of success, we suppose. But if the G8 can't demonstrate dominance over V6 family sedans in the handling and performance traits that we expect of a rear-wheel-drive performance sedan, then what's the point? And something is out of balance in the Pontiac G8 lineup. With the V6 model it seems like we're giving up too much in excitement and performance without gaining significantly enough efficiency or cost advantage to make it worth serious consideration. We'll have a V8, thank you. The G8's huge 17.5 cubic feet of cargo space means you can carry a wallabee, koala bear and Yahoo Serious in one trip. MSRP of Test Vehicle: $28,390 What Works: Agreeable styling without the ribs and fangs characteristic of past Pontiac sedans; better-than-average interior quality. What Needs Work: Down two cylinders and a whole lot of fun compared to the GT without a proportional increase in efficiency or value. Bottom Line: After much experience with the GT model, the V6 version of the G8 fails to match our inflated expectations. Second Opinion If our story has given you the impression that the G8 isn't a huge improvement over the Grand Prix and Bonneville it replaced, then we've mislead you. Managing Editor Donna DeRosa says: Do you remember the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers where aliens came down and took over people's bodies? Well, that's what it was like getting into the Pontiac G8 V6. It looks almost identical to our long-term V8-powered G8 GT, but something took over its brain and now it's just not the same. If you're interested in the 2008 Pontiac G8, the V8 GT is the way to go. All of the backslapping that GM has been receiving for producing its best car in years is because of the V8-powered version of this rear-wheel-drive sedan. The V6 base model of the G8 will leave you saying, "This car isn't half bad." But the GT version with the V8 engine will get you saying. "Hey, I really like that G8." The base model comes with a 3.6-liter V6 capable of 256 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. That's considerably less muscular than the GT, which packs a 6.0-liter 361-hp V8 with 385 lb-ft of torque. And it matters. What comes off as discretely powerful in the GT sounds wheezy in the base V6. After spending time in our likable Pontiac G8 GT long-term car, getting into the less exciting V6 was a disappointment. The V6 is so similar with its masculine design and comfortable interior but without the game. You can get a lot of the fixings as optional equipment on the V6 but you can't get the punch. So, before you buy into the best Pontiac in decades, sample both and feel which one is really getting all of the praise Performance How do you know it's not a GT? Base models get red tail lenses and dual exhaust tips while the GT has quad outlets. 0 - 30 (sec): 2.9 0 - 45 (sec): 4.9 0 - 60 (sec): 7.6 0 - 75 (sec): 11.0 1/4 Mile (sec @ mph): 15.6 @ 89.6 0-60 with 1-ft Rollout (sec): 7.3 30 - 0 (ft): 31 60 - 0 (ft): 123 Braking Rating: Average Slalom (mph): 63.9 Skid Pad Lateral acceleration (g): 0.84 Handling Rating: Average Db @ Idle: 43.2 Db @ Full Throttle: 80.2 Db @ 70 mph Cruise: 68.0 Edmunds Observed (mpg): 16.1 combined average (16.9 best; 15.5 worst) Acceleration Comments: Uninspired acceration, the V6 is noisy and the sound isn't good. Thankfully the transmission is crisp and consistent. Handling Comments: Very good balance but plenty of understeer. Lacks composure in fast transitions, lacks roll stiffness. Braking Comments: Mushy pedal even on the first stop -- doesn't inspire confidnce, lots of dive under hard braking.