The Pontiac Grand Prix started out as a personal luxury car in the early 1960s. Back then, personal luxury meant a big coupe with a big V8 and a stylish interior, usually featuring plush bucket seats and a floor shifter. Exterior design bordered on flamboyant at times, but the Grand Prix made no apologies for its unabashed sense of American style and performance.
In more recent times, the Pontiac Grand Prix has offered consumers a sensibly sized family coupe or sedan, with plenty of performance on tap thanks to the availability of a supercharged V6 and powerful V8. Even the non-supercharged V6s that see duty in the Grand Prix offer plenty of pep along with impressive fuel economy — up to 30 mpg on the highway. Styling continues to be a draw, with a sweeping roof line and the signature twin-grille nose. Unfortunately, another hallmark of the Grand Prix is an overly plasticky interior, with various switches and knobs typically rendered in gray plastic that looks more Fisher-Price than General Motors. Pontiac has improved its interiors in recent years, though the Grand Prix’s cabin still can’t hold a candle to the high-quality interiors of its import-brand rivals.
Would the Grand Prix be a good choice for a family vehicle? That depends on what dad (or mom) wants. If performance is paramount and a smallish backseat is not a problem, then the GP deserves a look. On the other hand, if high-quality fit and finish and roomy rear quarters are more important, then the import competition will be a better match.
The current Pontiac Grand Prix debuted in 2004 and benefited from a refined engine lineup, fine-tuned ride and handling characteristics and a more driver-friendly cockpit with large gauges and, for the most part, simple controls. The coupe was dropped, leaving the sedan as the lone body style.
There are three trim levels — Base, GT and GXP. The base model comes with a 200-horsepower V6, as well as 16-inch wheels, OnStar, a CD player, cruise control, air-conditioning, keyless entry, and power windows and mirrors. The GT features a supercharged, 260-horsepower V6, 17-inch wheels, foglamps, a remote vehicle starter and a trip computer. The GXP includes a 303-hp V8, firmer suspension tuning, performance tires, a head-up display, unique trim and 18-inch alloys. Leather seating and automatic dual-zone climate control is optional.
Performance, even in the base model, is satisfying, and gets quite a bit stronger from there. Although the V8-powered GXP provides a thrilling rush of power, torque steer can be a problem with this front-drive chassis. Sadly, the abundant power infusion isn’t enough to keep the Grand Prix wholly competitive. Compared to the top sport-oriented sedans, the Pontiac feels unrefined in terms of handling dynamics and cabin fitments.
The previous generation of the Pontiac Grand Prix was built from 1997-2003. Available as either a sleek coupe or handsome four-door sedan, this Grand Prix offered brisk acceleration and a tight suspension for a relatively affordable price. The supercharged 3800 V6 debuted with this generation (in the GTP trim) and offers a great combination of power and fuel efficiency. Downsides include a somewhat a raucous power delivery, a harsh ride (in GT and GTP models) over rough surfaces, cheap interior materials and needlessly complex controls. Still, consumers have given this generation high marks in terms of performance, handling, fuel economy and style.
Prior to that, there was the 1988-’96 generation, available in both coupe and sedan body styles. This car was a bit smaller and its styling went overboard in the body-cladding area. Typical of many GM products, this Grand Prix’s strengths lay in its powertrains and performance, while weak points included cheap interior materials, overly busy controls and mediocre rear seat comfort.
From 1978-’87, the Pontiac Grand Prix was offered solely as a personal luxury coupe, which had been downsized from the excessively large cruisers of the ’60s and ’70s. But like those earlier GPs, this era’s priorities were flashy styling and plush interiors. From a collector’s standpoint, the 1962-’72 Grand Prixs are most worthy of consideration, as powerful engines (such as the 421 V8 with tri-power carburetion) and eye-catching styling make them cruise-night favorites.