Pontiac's Grand Am SE offers improved performance

January 19, 1992|By John R. White | John R. White,Boston Globe

The 1992 Pontiac Grand Am 4-door test car I drove was a nice surprise even though it exhibited a couple of glitches.

The Grand Am has been around since 1984, a family of front-drive cars powered by four-cylinder engines and priced so that it is not necessary to be a millionaire to own one. For those who care about such trivia, the Grand Am is Pontiac division's N-car, N being GM's internal designation for the platform.

This year, the Grand Am offers a choice of four-cylinder engines -- the plain vanilla 2.3-liter Quad 4 with single overhead cam; a double-overhead-cam 16-valve version of the 2.3; the high-output horsepower) version of the 2.3; and the new 3.3-liter V-6.

Prices begin somewhere just beyond the $10,000 mark and proceed upward, but not too far upward for a lot of car. The tested model was the Grand Am SE with a suggested list of $11,999 and a $475 destination charge. This one came through with three option packages that brought the delivered price to $15,365, still not a lot of money these days when you total all the extras. Performance items included the 3.3-liter V-6, variable effort power steering and touring tires.

The other stuff included power everything, automatic transmission, air conditioning, tilt wheel, stereo, etc., etc.

The V-6 offers decent acceleration even married to the juice drive. The car gets up to 30 mph quickly, to 60 respectably; there is plenty left over for passing. The handling seems to have improved, too. The SE corners well, changes lanes quickly without giving cause for worry and handles the bends and curves of rural byways with more grace than previous models tested.

The interior is not exactly spacious but it isn't cramped. There's good headroom up front and more than enough legroom for most of us. In back, knee room varies from just barely enough to pretty good (with somebody smaller than the writer's 5-foot-10, 181-pound bulk up front). The gauge cluster is well organized, the necessaries visible even with the wheel in the low position, where I prefer it.

The glove box is a pullout drawer, not exactly roomy but at least what space is there is useful and the owner's manual fits. There are bins in the front doors. The trunk is roomy for this size car, and the sill is low for ease of loading/ unloading. Under the hood, things are well organized, with the oil dipstick right up front and the various fluids easy to reach.

None of the Grand Am models is a gas hog. The base model with four-cylinder and five-speed manual transaxle is credited with an EPA rating of 24 miles per gallon city, 33 highway. The tested top-of-the-line SE is EPA-rated 19 miles per gallon city, 29 highway.

On a a 300-mile trip, the car swallowed 10.96 gallons for a highway rate of 27.48 miles per gallon. Over the next 222.4 miles of mostly short commute, city and some highway, the Grand Am SE delivered 21.61 mpg. For the entire 523.6 miles checked, the car delivered 24.71 overall, not exactly shabby economy in the hands of an aggressive driver.

In light of some of the other GM '92s I've seen, one could look at the improvement in Grand Am as a milestone on the General Motors comeback trail. The SE is a nice car that will serve as family transportation and still offer a little kick for the driver who wants a bit more than humdrum motoring.

The front seat occasionally seemed to be rocking, and there was a thrumming noise from under the hood, a low rhythmic beat that after a while faded into the background. It didn't go away; I just got accustomed to it. And, more often than not, the car would stall immediately after start-up. After about 15 seconds of warm-up, no more stalling.

I had already been informed by Pontiac that the front passenger-side window will need repair. For some reason, a small batch of early builds had part of the window regulator installed backward. Eventually, the window will fail, maybe drop into the door, I am told.

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