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The Goat Scurries Back Looking a Bit Sheepish
The New York Times
2004 Pontiac GTO

By PETER PASSELL

December 7, 2003



SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - To millions of testosterone-infused young men who came of age in the middle to late 1960's, the Pontiac GTO was as big a turn-on as Ann-Margret. The GTO, affectionately known as the Goat, made a generation's hearts race faster.



The development of the original GTO was not exactly rocket science - although in a sense, it was rocket science. Pontiac simply took its medium-size LeMans, stuffed in a bored-out engine and other high-performance parts and bolted on rumbling dual exhausts.



The result was the quintessential American muscle car. All told, G.M. produced a half-million GTO's before stricter pollution controls, high insurance costs and oil shortages soured Americans' enthusiasm for fast gas guzzlers. In 1973, GTO decals were stuck on a lackluster LeMans, and in '74 on a Ventura compact, but the muscle-car spirit was gone. The name faded into history.



Now the GTO is back, by way of Germany and Australia. Those expecting a nostalgia trip are likely to be disappointed by the new car's bland designed-in-a-wind-tunnel exterior. (In response to appeals from GTO enthusiasts, Pontiac is expected to restore hood scoops to future models.)



But there is still plenty here to give performance buffs a buzz. For the new GTO, reincarnated as a four-seat coupe, is an explosively powerful car that handles as well on twisting mountain roads as it does in a straight line. What's more, it is a bargain at $33,000 nicely equipped, though I wouldn't be surprised if dealers devised ways to shake down buyers for a few dollars more.



While the GTO name evokes all-American images, the new car is a testament to globalization. Its origins can be traced to the Opel Omega, a midsize sedan from G.M.'s European subsidiary that came with either four or six cylinders - and, in the guise of the Cadillac Catera, made an unsuccessful trip to America in the 1990's.



Holden, G.M.'s Australian unit, subsequently reworked the Omega into a high-end touring coupe with a 5.7-liter aluminum V-8 - borrowed from the Corvette - and renamed it Monaro. Only a year and a half ago, G.M. decided that the Monaro, with additional horsepower and a performance-tuned suspension, was just the spark that Pontiac needed to give its uninspired lineup a jolt.



If your first view of the 2004 GTO is on a busy street, you aren't likely to notice it at all. With its soft, aerodynamic lines, the styling does not deviate from the flock of mainstream modern cars. The body is almost devoid of trim; indeed, G.M. went out of its way to avoid the plastic-cladded, dressed-for-the-disco look of recent Pontiacs.



The interior is another story. G.M. left the Monaro's handsome appointments pretty much intact. The luxurious (and very supportive) leather front bucket seats have eight-way power adjustments. The steering wheel both tilts and telescopes. The analog instrument cluster comes in colors that match the leather. The dashboard is nicely laid out, and made from materials that please the eye. The Blaupunkt stereo comes with a six-CD changer and more speakers than I could count.



Even rear occupants get a break. While I wouldn't want to spend much time back there, the sculptured buckets are nicely padded and the legroom is adequate for adults.



Because the GTO was rushed into production, some features typically available on American cars cannot be had for any price. There are no side air bags, no sunroof, no navigation system, no automatic climate control, no seat heaters, no integrated satellite radio and no OnStar electronic concierge.



But what counts most is under the hood. G.M. modified the camshaft, air intakes and exhaust of the Corvette-Monaro V-8 to yield an impressive 350 horsepower and a maximum 365 pounds-feet of torque. Moreover, most of the torque is available across a wide band of engine speeds.



The GTO comes standard with a four-speed automatic transmission. A six-speed manual is $695 extra - the car's only option.



Not surprisingly, the GTO comes with a four-wheel independent suspension along with antilock disc brakes and traction control. What may surprise, though, are relatively modest wheels and tires. G.M. actually chose to downsize the Monaro's 18-inch wheels to 17-inchers, largely to improve the ride. Moreover, the wheel wells will not easily accommodate the wide tires that have become commonplace on performance cars.



Behind the wheel, my first impulse - like any red-blooded American boy's - was to floor it. The acceleration is amazing, with the GTO racing from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in 5.3 seconds. And the throaty rumble of the dual exhaust, carefully tuned to evoke GTO's of yore, adds to the thrill.



The Goats of the 60's were best at moving rapidly in a straight line and radiating sex appeal. This GTO has all the muscle of the originals, but it comes into its own in demanding driving. I piloted a GTO through 250 miles of mostly deserted mountain roads in the Los Angeles and Los Padres National Forests, and I'm hard put to remember a more pleasurable driving experience.



The speed-sensitive steering provides great German-style road feel. And while the suspension is somewhat softer (and more comfortable) than the one in the BMW 3 Series, to cite just one comparison, it effortlessly tracks curves.



What's more, there is hardly a hint of understeer - the tendency to resist turning that is commonplace in modern cars. And thanks to the fact that the GTO is powered through its rear wheels, the car is immune to torque steer, the annoying inclination of powerful front-drive cars like the Saab 9-3 and Acura TL to hop around under heavy acceleration.



The relatively narrow all-season tires never complained. Nor does the car's considerable weight (3,700 pounds) overwhelm the handling. My experience, by the way, has been confirmed by slalom-course testing.



The GTO is noisier and transmits more vibration to the interior than today's designer coupes. But the effect is not pronounced enough to make conversation difficult or to make long drives wearing. It is the price you pay for the finely tuned burble of the exhaust.



G.M.'s wonder from down under is not perfect. While the brakes and manual gearbox are adequate, neither sets a standard for high-performance cars. Getting into the rear seats is awkward. And in repositioning the gas tank to the liking of safety engineers - in Australia, it was set between the rear axle and bumper- engineers sacrificed almost half of the Monaro's trunk space.



The GTO's market niche is hard to define. For roughly the same price, one could buy the much-better-looking Infiniti G35 coupe or the somewhat better-handling BMW 330Ci. But the GTO's monster V-8 will blow the doors off either of those six-cylinder cars. The Subaru WRX STi is actually quicker than the GTO, and with all-wheel drive it corners better, too. But the Subaru's interior is not nearly as refined.



G.M. says it can build only 18,000 GTO's in Australia for 2004. That should be enough lure affluent boomers back to Pontiac showrooms, but it probably means that the new Goat will be hard to corral for anything close to the sticker price.



INSIDE TRACK: More fun than a barrel of Mustangs.
 

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WOW! I'm surprised the NY Times covered such a non-conforming anarchist car. Compared to their Lexus's and Beemers anyway.
 

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For roughly the same price, one could buy the much-better-looking Infiniti G35 coupe or the somewhat better-handling BMW 330Ci.
Better looking is arguable I suppose - but much better looking? If by better you mean more gaudy, I suppose. Personally I think that the G35 is horrible looking - and a sad continuation of the Skyline name.
 

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I concur, but appearance is a subjective measure. I for one don't care for much of Nissan/Infiniti's attempt at Caddy's crease and fold theory. For some reason, the lines just don't "flow".
 

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They all seem to continue with the "plain on the outside" complaint. I like it, as do all the folks on this forum. If that is a bad thing there are a whole bunch of other cars out there that "they" say are nice that are similarly "plain" in my opinion. You don't have the have the crease and fold CMNTMXR notices ( and dislikes) or other stuff to have a nice looking car. What do these people want anyway?:confused:
 

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Personally, I like the G35 styling, and would prefer the GTO to have a LITTLE more visual excitement, like the Autocross show car version. I'm afraid that it is going to look a little too much like my teenage neighbors new Stratus coupe, especially since both cars are silver. However, the GTO is a good looking car, and nothing else can touch it's combination of looks, handling, power, interior, and price.
 

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If the car looks better with scoops and my car doesn't have them, then I'll just buy the hood!! In the meantime I'll enjoy the car. If I had the patience to wait for 2005 I would but I can't. But boy, I sure hope my dealer sticks to msrp like he swears he will.
 

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hada64 said:
They all seem to continue with the "plain on the outside" complaint. I like it, as do all the folks on this forum. If that is a bad thing there are a whole bunch of other cars out there that "they" say are nice that are similarly "plain" in my opinion. You don't have the have the crease and fold CMNTMXR notices ( and dislikes) or other stuff to have a nice looking car. What do these people want anyway?:confused:
I'm starting to get the impression most people want a '70 judge body with an LS1, all interior comforts, updated suspension - indepent rear that you can lock it electronically for drag racing, free bj's any time you get service done - oh and it should cost less than 20k.
 

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rfan, I would take that in a minute, but I don't think it will happen anytime soon.
 

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rschumacherfan1 said:
I'm starting to get the impression most people want a '70 judge body with an LS1, all interior comforts, updated suspension - indepent rear that you can lock it electronically for drag racing

That's what the pro-touring craze is for!:D
 

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rschumacherfan1 said:
I'm starting to get the impression most people want a '70 judge body with an LS1, all interior comforts, updated suspension - indepent rear that you can lock it electronically for drag racing, free bj's any time you get service done - oh and it should cost less than 20k.
Nail Meet head!! Exactly!!
And what did everyone say about Pontiac when they had the body cladding and radical styling??? they got made fun of...nOw they take that away and people still beotch!! Cant make everyone happy! :)
 

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...Concerning the styling, let me repeat what I mentioned in another thread...I love my 1996 SS, big, black, fast and intimidating. But I don't love the State Troopers plastered to my ass everytime I'm out on the Interstate.

With the GTO's rather plain styling, I'm looking forward to less conspicuous motoring in the near future. In my case, I *like* the fact that the new Goat is rather plain, thank you!
 

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Exactly! That's why I chose a regular Z28 over a nostril flaring, winged, body cladded WS6. I like it, but too much for me.
 

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I bought my gto 6 months ago and love the styling. I have owned a bmw m3 and a large lexus neither had the fun and power I enjoy. It is easy to be a critic I would like to see these guys design a car. I think this car is a winner and I am glad I turned in My lexus it was very boring.
 

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The styling argument is so friggin lame. I love how you have to down right search for something to ***** about and all you come up with is it's too "NOT RICE", hahahhaha.

I love the comment about being more fun than a barrel of mustangs, so true, so true.
 
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