2003 Pontiac Grand Am

By October 9, 2002
2003 Pontiac Grand Am

The Pontiac Grand Am’s flashy styling is toned down for 2003. Pontiac calls the Grand Am “sports car excitement with room for everyday life.” It is practical, particularly in sedan form. Obviously, this combination appeals to a lot of people because the Grand Am is one of the 10 best-selling vehicles in the U.S.

The Grand Am has long relied on overstated styling to make a strong first impression. It shouts Pontiac excitement with its road-hugging lines and extroverted styling cues. There’s no confusing this car with other compact cars and, at a quick glance, it could be mistaken for the bigger Pontiac Grand Prix.

For 2003, however, Pontiac has stripped the aggressive body cladding from the sides of the Grand Am along with the ribbed bumpers. The new look is lighter, cleaner, and more appealing in our view. We still wouldn’t call the Grand Am understated.

Also, Pontiac this year is focusing more on the four-door Grand Am sedan, less on the two-door coupe. A loaded SE2 sedan has been added this year that should appeal to buyers who want a little more luxury in their lives. All Grand Am coupes this year are GT models (SE coupes are history).

Hot rodders should not despair, however, as GT models come with aggressive body cladding, a ribbed bumper with large intakes and integrated fog lamps. More important, the GT models come with a cold-air induction setup (more horsepower) and a sports suspension. An optional composite ram-air hood and spoiler ($1100) indicate the GT’s intent in no uncertain terms.

Model Lineup

As mentioned, the Pontiac Grand Am is available in two body styles. The four-door sedan, characterized by its swoopy, coupe-like roofline, is offered in five trim levels: SE, SE1, SE2, GT, and GT1. Two-door coupes come in GT or GT1 trim. Grand Am sedans provide slightly more rear headroom than the coupes, and two more doors, but otherwise they are functionally identical.

SE ($17,030) comes with air conditioning, power door locks, six-speaker audio with compact disc and graphic equalizer, aggressive P215/60R15 tires and many other standard features. Power is provided by a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 140 horsepower at 5600 rpm, and 150 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. A five-speed manual transmission, built in Germany by Getrag, is standard. A four-speed automatic ($825) is optional.

SE1 ($18,470) adds cruise control, power windows and mirrors, remote keyless entry, four-way adjustable front seats with power height adjustment for the driver, and five-spoke cast aluminum wheels shod with P225/50R16 touring tires. Standard power is still the 2.2-liter inline-4, but a 3.4-liter V6 is optional ($715) that generates 170 horsepower. The V6 comes with a choice of the Getrag five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission.

SE2 ($20,790), new for 2003, comes standard with the V6 and automatic transmission, anti-lock brakes, traction control, programmable door locks, full instrumentation, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, interior lighting with theater-style dimming, upgraded bucket seats and reading and courtesy lamps.

GT coupes and sedans ($21,030) ride on a stiffer suspension and are fitted with four-wheel disc brakes, in place of the SE models’ rear drum brakes. A leather-wrapped steering wheel connects to speed-sensitive power steering. Improved interior amenities include adjustable lumbar support for the driver, and eight-speaker Monsoon audio with steering-wheel-mounted controls. Under the hood you’ll find the 3.4-liter V6, but pumped up to 175 horsepower with Ram Air cold-air induction and dual exhausts. GTs also come standard with 16-inch wheels and tires. Manual transmission is standard, automatic is optional ($825).

GT1 coupes and sedans ($22,325) come standard with the automatic transmission and add a power glass sunroof, six-way power driver’s seat.

Options are available, including the SE2 Solid Value Package ($1345), which dresses up the interior with leather-trimmed seating, steering wheel and handbrake handle, six-way power driver’s seat, a power glass sunroof, Monsoon audio, and 16-inch wheels. GT and GT1 can be equipped with leather seats for $595. The power glass sunroof can be added to GT or SE1/SE2 for $700.

A new option for 2003 is XM Satellite Radio, offering 100 coast-to-coast digital channels, including 71 music channels (more than 30 of them commercial-free) and 29 channels of sports, talk, 24-hour news, and children’s entertainment. Pontiac claims XM’s sound quality is close to that of a compact disc.

OnStar, GM’s satellite-based customer-service system, is standard on all Grand AM’s except the base SE. Among other functions, OnStar allows customers to call for directions or emergency road service. OnStar dispatches emergency vehicles to the scene if the air bags deploy and you do not respond to the operator’s calls.


2003 Pontiac Grand Am SE sedans look slimmer and more refined than before. We found the previous design heavy on the ribs. Stripping off the heavy body cladding showcases the Grand Am SE’s sensuously curved sheet metal.

The Grand Am’s wide track and long wheelbase add to its aggressive appearance. (The track is the distance between the left and right wheels; the wheelbase is the distance between the front and rear wheels.) A high hip line and arching roof contribute to the coupe-like appearance of the sedan. Body-colored door handles and side moldings support the sporty theme. The twin-port grille, cat’s-eye headlamps with round driving lamps, and that wide-track stance makes it clear this is a Pontiac. Pontiac is arguably GM’s most clearly focused brand.

GT models still wear their elaborate cladding, destined to attract attention everywhere they go. Pseudo-aerodynamic ribs are everywhere: starting at the front bumper, wrapping around the front fenders, sweeping back along the doors and rear fenders and finally around the rear bumper. The rib motif is echoed through the side mirrors and the optional rear spoilers. The air dam on GT models scrapes on abrupt driveway transitions.

Small round reverse lamps positioned on the edges of the rear bumper complement the standard backup lights, directing light at 45 degree angles from the side and rear of the vehicle. The extra lighting should help illuminate ditches and other obstructions when backing up at night. The lever-style door handles aren’t the best, requiring you to flip your hand over to use them.

Interior Features

The Pontiac Grand Am offers an interior that’s high on convenience and style. A relatively high seating position, coupled with a low cowl and thin A-pillars afford good forward visibility, something that Pontiacs aren’t necessarily known for.

The four-way adjustable driver’s seat on our SE1 was reasonably comfortable, but lacked lumbar support. Also, we would have preferred more side bolstering on the seat back to better hold us in place. We wonder how the cloth fabric will hold up over the long haul. A six-way power driver’s seat is standard on GT1 models and leather trim is available.

Grand Am coupes are, of course, not as practical as the sedans. It’s hard to get out of the back seat of the coupe. However, the spry will a find a surprising amount of legroom in the rear seat of the coupe, along with reasonably good headroom. Shoulder room and hip room are more limited.

Grand Am drivers benefit from features designed to make their lives a little less hectic. The ignition switch is conveniently located on the dash, making it easy to get going in a hurry. Automatic headlights can be set to switch on at nightfall. The headlights will automatically turn off 20 seconds after shutting off the ignition, giving the driver some time to unlock a house or garage door. Battery rundown protection automatically turns off all accessory lights after 20 minutes, in case they were left on by mistake.

A delayed locking feature can be programmed to automatically lock the doors within seven seconds of closing the last door. That eliminates the need for trusting passengers to lock their doors and permits quick retrieval of forgotten items. When the driver removes the key from the ignition, three chimes indicate the system is activated. It locks the car seven seconds after the last door is closed. If a door is opened before that time, the timer stops and starts over when the door is closed again. Exterior lights flash twice and the horn beeps to confirm that the doors are locked. A related system automatically locks the doors when the shifter is moved out of the park position. The doors automatically unlock when the shifter is placed in park and the ignition is turned off. If you don’t like the way this works, the dealer should be able to reprogram it. In any case, the inside door handles are easy to grab.

The interior features a sporty retro dashboard and a cockpit designed around the driver. Circular hoods shroud the instruments, while ventilation ducts remind us of sports cars past. It’s an attractive look that adds to the Grand Am’s appeal. Instruments are large and easy to read and are warmly illuminated in red light. Audio and climate controls are angled toward the driver for easy access. Big round knobs adjust heating, ventilation and air conditioning. An eight-speaker Monsoon stereo is standard on GT models, optional on SE models.

Driving Impressions

The Pontiac Grand Am comes standard with a newly developed four-cylinder engine called the EcoTec, which delivers good acceleration around town and on freeway ramps. It is one of the most compact four-cylinder engines built in the world, and the lightest engine GM builds in its displacement class. All-aluminum construction contributes to its ultra-light weight of only 305 pounds, while twin balance shafts are designed to provide smoother operation. It still doesn’t feel like the smoothest engine available, but it does offer lively performance, a benefit of dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder for good breathing.

The four-speed automatic transmission on our SE1 shifted smoothly and positively.

Drivers who want more exciting performance should opt for the V6, which delivers 170 horsepower at 4800 rpm, and 195 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm to SE models. The GT model’s cold-air induction and less restrictive exhaust boost output even further, to 175 horsepower and 205 pound-feet, at the same engine speeds.

The Grand Am offers competent ride and handling. Like most compact cars, it lacks sophistication. The suspension does not filter bumps that well. This car takes a moment to settle after going over big bumps, it leans in corners, dives under hard braking, and squats under hard acceleration. Only enthusiasts are likely to notice this behavior, however. Most drivers will be fine with it.

The Grand Am handles reasonably well. When driven hard, it’s a little slow to turn in to corners, perhaps due to a lack of grip in the front tires. It’s stable once it takes a set in a corner. Its wide track and a relatively long (107-inch) wheelbase provide stability in corners, at high speeds, and in cross winds.

Big front disc brakes stop the Grand Am in a reasonable distance. Aluminum brake calipers reduce unsprung weight, which improves handling in bumpy corners. We recommend optional antilock brakes (ABS) and electronic traction control because they make this front-wheel-drive car easier to control in slippery situations.


The Pontiac Grand Am is slimmer and trimmer this year, something many of us would like to say. However, it’s no wallflower, with bold styling that ensures you won’t look Toyota bland everywhere you go. Grand Am GT coupes and sedans, meanwhile, flaunt their increased performance with ribbed body trim. Coupes and sedans are the same price. The two-door coupe is more stylish, while the four-door sedan is better for rear-seat passengers.

Regardless, the Grand Am is loaded with convenient interior features. It’s easy to jump in and out of this car and getting it going requires a minimum of fuss. Once underway, it offers competent road manners. It isn’t the most refined car in the class, but delivers style and value.

Model Line Overview
Model lineup:SE ($17,030); SE1 ($18,470); SE2 ($20.790); GT ($21,030), GT1 ($22,325)
Engines:140-hp 2.2-liter dohc 16-valve inline-4; 170-hp 3.4-liter ohv 12-valve V6; 175-hp 3.4-liter ohv 12-valve V6
Transmissions:4-speed automatic; 5-speed manual
Safety equipment (standard):dual airbags
Safety equipment (optional):ABS, traction control
Basic warranty:3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in:Lansing, Michigan
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSPR):Grand Am SE1 sedan ($18,470)
Standard equipment:air conditioning, AM/FM stereo, power door locks, intermittent wipers, rear cornering lamps, tilt steering column, power windows, power mirrors, cruise control, AM/FM/CD stereo, four-way adjustable driver's seat, split folding rear seats
Options as tested (MSPR):automatic transmission ($825) includes enhanced traction control
Destination charge:$610
Gas guzzler tax:N/A
Price as tested (MSPR):$19905
Layout:front-wheel drive
Engine:2.2-liter dohc 16-valve inline-4
Horsepower (lb.-ft @ rpm):140 @ 5600
Torque (lb.-ft @ rpm):150 @ 4000
Transmission:4-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:24/32 mpg
Wheelbase:107.2 in.
Length/width/height:186.3/70.4/55.1 in.
Track, f/r:59.0/59.1 in.
Turning circle:35.1 ft.
Seating Capacity:5
Head/hip/leg room, f:38.3/52.6/42.1 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r:37.6/52.4/35.5 in.
Cargo volume:14.6 cu. ft.
Towing capacity:N/A
Suspension, f:independent, MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Suspension, r:independent, tri-link, Chapman struts, anti-roll bar
Ground clearance:N/A
Curb weigth:3116 lbs.
Brakes, f/r:disc/drum with ABS
Fuel capacity:14.1 gal.
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle. All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSPR) effective as of October 9, 2002.Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable. Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-762-2737 - www.pontiac.com

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