by Joe Duarte
posted November 2, 2004
GM is doing some great stuff with their mid-sized sedans, but we're left to wonder if the people who would buy them would even want the improvements, let alone appreciate them.
The trio of Buick Regal, Chev Malibu and Pontiac Grand Am are being replaced one by one, by versions of the Saab 9-3, as will the yet-to-be-named replacement for the Saturn LS. Maybe that's oversimplifying things, but they are all built off the same architecture -- a German developed car for the European market.
Malibu was first off the line, with a bigger and better sedan as well as an inspired 5-door. Regal (and eventually Century) is being replaced by Allure. Grand Am is replaced by the G6 (though the coupe soldiers on for at least one more year), and I think Pontiac buyers will appreciate the improved dynamics of the car more so than Chev and especially Buick buyers would.
The G6 is marginally bigger than the Grand Am, with a big increase in wheelbase. That serves two purposes -- it forms the base for a more stable stance to improve handling manners as well as smooth out ride over minor surface irregularities; and, makes a roomier cabin.
The Grand Am was no slouch in terms of cabin space, though it was spartan in many areas. And although the G6 gains only marginally in overall legroom, the entire interior is much more comfortable.
The seat padding is firmer, and the seats are contoured to better hold occupants during handling manoeuvres. The front seat backs are contoured to provide more kneeroom (especially evident when entering and exiting the car). And the rear seat cushion supports thighs much better.
But the big difference is really in the driving. The G6 feels lighter and more nimble, despite weighing nearly 300 lbs. more than the Grand Am. Turn in is a bit crisper and there is little transfer of weight. The ride stays quiet and composed over most driving requirements, though there is that constant feeling of firmness due to tire bump and thump.
Power is abundant, with the new 3500 V6 supplying 200 horsepower for quick launch and passing manoeuvres. A sequentially-shiftable automatic puts direct control in the driver's hands and unlike most such transmissions, it will hold onto a gear until a redline tells it to stop.
All of which adds up to a delightful driving experience. The dynamics are akin to a handful of entry-level sport sedans in this world, but we still wonder if the people shopping in this segment would want a sport sedan (especially really good name-brand sport sedans are only a couple of grand away).