1994 Pontiac Grand Am
With its, sporty look, responsive power plant appealing standard features such as a driver-side air bag and four-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS), the Pontiac Grand Am is poised to challenge its primary competitors, namely the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. And at a base price significantly lower than both sedans, the Grand Am is a good value.
Pontiac's leading seller with more than 200,000 units moved in the 1993 model year-should expect to grab the attention of those not already loyal to the import competition.
Although little has changed for 1994, Pontiac is now offering an optional 3.1liter V6 engine, coupled with a four-speed automatic transmission. We chose this power train for our test vehicle, a Grand Am SE Sedan. Other options we selected included air conditioning, cruise control, an electric rear-window defogger, power windows, 16-inch cast aluminum wheels and touring tires, all of which brought the total price to $16,813, up from an MSRP base price of $12,614.
Our test vehicle was painted Bright White and looked very snazzy. The hood of our Grand Am SE sloped sharply to meet the front bumper, which was part of a protective housing that totally encased the car. Under the front, the bumper extended back with a cover to protect the engine from road debris. The bumper was made of tough polyurethane plastic, but it was a little softer in the front and back to better absorb the little bumps often encountered in parking lots.
Our Grand Am SE's molding was topped off by a neat chrome strip, but unfortunately the molding and chrome disappeared entirely over the wheel housings, thereby exposing the bodyside at those points.
The most arresting styling feature of the Grand Am's exterior, though, was the tough plastic bodyside cladding that was painted to match the body metal in a monochromatic paint scheme. At the top, near the middle of the door, the cladding had a kind of rippled design. The smoothness of the line was interrupted by a depression midway back, no doubt to permit the rear door to swing open.
In front, familiar wraparound headlights flanked the traditional Pontiac split grille, with the turn signal inserted on the outside bend. Fog lights and bumper-mounted sidelights added to what may sound like a busy design, but the total effect was impressively stylish.
The front and rear wheel housings were cut high into the side body, exposing the wheels entirely. In other words, we didn't even have to lean over to check for tread wear on the tires.
The massive taillights formed the rear corners of the vehicle and were separated by the trunk lid. Reverse lights were embedded below in the rear bumper, as was the license plate niche. The whole rear trunk arrangement looked to us like a pro football player complete with shoulder pads. The trunk was big enough to hold plenty of luggage and golf clubs, and it came equipped with a compact spare tire.
The manually adjustable front bucket seats of our Grand Am SE were snug, designed to discourage squirming. They moved back far enough to provide plenty of room for tall people and were easy to get in and out of There was also adequate headroom up front.
The instrument panel was easily visible through the steering wheel. Considering the rest of this car, though, it came as somewhat of a surprise to find the panel to be rather low-key and straightforward with the standard gauges arranged in a half-circle and displaying white analog figures.
Most of the controls were easy to reach-cruise control on a stick to the left of the steering column and wipers to the right. The gear shift was on the console, as were the conveniently placed window controls. The hood release, though, was a tough reach under the dash.
Our test car's seat belts, mounted at the top of the door posts, rested across our chests rather than over our shoulders, which we found very comfortable and unobtrusive.
The doors were large, curving up to form the edge of the roof. The rear doors swung open a full 80 degrees for easy entry and exit. Seating three in the rear would be a bit tight, but two passengers should find it quite comfortable with adequate knee room.
The Grand Am SE's 3. 1 -liter V6 was certainly a responsive engine. Acceleration was excellent both from a standing start and when passing. We entered expressway traffic easily and with confidence.
Shifting was provided by an efficient four-speed automatic transmission. In addition to an overdrive top gear, it boasted a brake/transmission interlock, which prevented the transmission from shifting out of park unless the driver's foot pressed firmly on the brake pedal. Also, once the vehicle was placed in drive, all four doors locked-unlocking once again when the ignition was turned off.
Our Grand Am SE maneuvered crisply in city traffic. The power rack-and-pinion steering was firm and responsive, though it did have a tactile quality-we definitely couldn't turn corners with just one finger against the spoke.
While the ride did seem to smooth out at higher speeds, we certainly experienced a feel for the road.
We drove our test Grand Am SE over various surfaces, some quite bumpy, and the suspension handled them all adequately.
Stopping was easy with the vehicle's standard four-wheel ABS. With the ability to pump brakeline pressure 15 times a second to a skidding wheel, the system handled our sudden stops with ease.
We were greeted by a full, throaty roar from the engine upon acceleration. That sound of power may be a distraction to some, but it's music to Grand Am loyalists. At higher cruising speeds, however, the engine did seem to revert to a more docile hum, thanks to an enhanced induction system that's new for 1994.
We found the Pontiac Grand Am SE a worthy challenger to its more-publicized counterparts, the Accord and Camry. Though it lacks their styling and performance reputations, the Grand Am SE Sedan is impressive with its sporty, angular look and formidable engine. This sedan also offers both a driver-side air bag and ABS as standard equipment, something neither the Accord nor Camry can claim. And most important to new-sedan buyers, the Grand Am SE's base price is the lowest of the three.