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2004 Pontiac GTO - Road Test

Behind The Wheel Of The '04 Pontiac GTO

Photography by General Motors, Henry De Los Santos,

It was no accident that this new GTO hit the streets in 2004. Pontiac purists and the well-informed musclecar enthusiasts are quick to point out that 40 years ago John DeLorean and his team of Pontiac engineers stuffed a 389ci engine into a Tempest, called it the GTO, and unleashed the musclecar revolution.

The torque arm of life has made a complete rotation through the wheezy days of low-powered cars, and now we're right in the middle of another horsepower war. Perhaps the salvos are a bit more subdued this time around, but no less impressive. The other difference is the vehicle comes from Australia, where GM subsidiary Holden has been building these exciting LS1 V-8, six-speed, rear-wheel-drive lightning bolts for several years.

So it is that we find ourselves firmly entrenched between the seat bolsters, flicking off the traction control, and allowing the GTO to shove us comfortably back into the seat at wide-open throttle. Yes, in a way, it's a little like those days when a kid could own a '66 389 four-speed GTO in 1970. All he had to do was mortgage his soul to the bank for a few years. But it was worth it because it meant slammin' gears and cruising the boulevard sitting behind that distinctive GTO dash that just exuded class and power

It's clear this is a machine that's proud of its Pontiac heritage. The twin-snout grille and familiar GTO emblems don't let you forget. The 350hp LS1 has a distinctive rumble that announces that this newcomer is no poser. The all-alloy Gen III small-block is backed by the durable Tremec T-56 six-speed that adds the traditional feel bolstered with a couple of extra gears to make it more comfortable. Since the Aussies clearly like to turn corners, they bolted in an independent rear suspension (IRS) instead of a solid rear axle. The semi-trailing arm and coil spring rear suspension maintains a rather low profile until you drop the hammer hard with a spirited 1-2 gear change and then announces itself with the hammer blows of axle tramp.

The advantage of the IRS system takes place in more subtle ways in the middle of corners where it is much less likely to pitch the tail out in aggressive cornering maneuvers. Our overall impression is of an extremely well-balanced sedan that delivers on the original GTO performance promise. More importantly, it offers tremendous potential for performance upgrades that will guarantee an even stronger push in the back when you step on the loud pedal. We managed to squeeze a severely traction-limited14.0-at-102-mph pass out of our test car at LACR's 3,000-foot track. With decent traction, this car should run mid-13s easily. If the GTO has a fault, it is one consistent with Pontiac's heritage of obesity. The current GTO has a 3,725-pound curb weight-that means around 3,800 pounds in real life. With a driver, that's pushing 4,000 pounds.

Performance can be defined in several different ways. Today's definition must include handling, an excellent road feel, a hushed interior at 80 mph, and creature comforts including A/C, comfortable seats, and a solid sound system. The GTO's high-side bolster seats do a great job of maintaining your place even at the 0.80 g-factor side loads.

Unfortunately, these same bolsters prevent the seat from folding sufficiently forward to allow easy rear-seat access. A small button strategically placed by the upper seat latch allows the rear seat occupant to motor the seat forward enough to exit gracefully, and the same button can also be used to run the seat back as well-a nice touch. We tested the rear seat legroom, and with the recesses in the front seat backs, we were surprised at the sufficient rear seat legroom for a 6-footer.

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