Staff ReportWhen introduced for the 1997 model year, the current-generation Grand Prix was a surprise hit-its popularity even caught Pontiac off guard. The car's perennial sales strength, into its seventh year without a significant update, has defied most conventional industry marketing models.
Seven years in the auto industry these days is an eternity, but the Grand Prix has found favor with an increasingly enthusiastic group of buyers who are drawn to the Pontiac's two biggest attributes: styling and performance. But, at last, change has come to the Grand Prix. A revamped version debuts this year as a 2004 model.
Note that we said "revamped," not "all-new." In truth, the '04 Grand Prix is based on the same basic architecture as the '97-03 car-a platform with direct lineage to the front-drive layout introduced with the 1988 Grand Prix.
There will be two basic models of the new Grand Prix-the GT and GTP. Under those designations, however, will be a variety of equipment options. The GTP will continue to offer the supercharged 3800 V6, but its output has been increased to 260 horsepower. An available Competition Group package adds handling enhancements that are said to produce lateral acceleration of up to .83g (we haven't verified this claim).
Included with the Competition Group is a manually-shiftable version of the automatic transmission called TAPshift, which stands for Touch Activated Powershift. (For those with a keen memory, we reported on this device in earlier issues, but it was called TACshift at the time.) TAPshift is actuated with paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel, much like some World Rally Championship and Formula 1 racecars.
Pontiac says the '04 Grand Prix is comprised of 80 percent new parts, but building off the existing platform helps explain why the basic shape of the line hasn't significantly changed. Well, that, and with the disappointing sales that came with the more radical redesign of the Bonneville in 2000, Pontiac has learned a thing or two about messing with what works.
Indeed, the '04 Grand Prix has a more aggressive look. Its body has a wedge shape and a visual rake, but it's not unfamiliar. Pontiac has taken pains to point out there's no superfluous body cladding tacked to the Grand Prix's flanks (a problem the current-generation car never had anyway), and you'll notice that all of the photos are of a four-door model. That's because the Grand Prix, which was introduced as a coupe in 1962 and didn't offer a sedan version until 1990, won't be built in two-door form any longer-it's strictly sedans from here on out.
Although this will likely disturb some traditionalists, it's true that the market for coupes in this segment is relatively small. The '04 Grand Prix's chief designer John Manoogian (who also penned the current-generation Grand Am, says the decision to eliminate the coupe drove the shape of the new car.
"Current owners told us they loved their vehicle's styling because it didn't look like an ordinary family car," he says. "The 2004 Grand Prix has coupe-like styling, but just happens to have four doors."
UnderpinningsDespite Pontiac's claim that the '04 Grand Prix carries only 20 percent carryover parts, it looks to us like most of them are found in the chassis-particularly the rear suspension, which wears a few new aluminum components but is essentially a carryover from the previous model.
This means an independent, three-link coil-over setup that includes a 17.2mm stabilizer bar (19.4mm bar with the Competition Group). The rear track is a little wider, but it still rides on a 110.5-inch wheelbase. Rear discs are standard across the board and include 10.5-inch rotors.