Pontiac has been trying to rebuild excitement in the waning midsize coupe market by sprucing up its Grand Prix. The 1991 model sports its first face lift in four years, and General Motors' first multivalve V6 engine.
It has also repositioned the Grand Prix by adding much of the "show and go" of last year's Turbo Coupe but for thousands of dollars less. The Turbo Coupe sure went fast, but it sold slowly because of its $26,000-plus sticker.The "ultimate" Grand Prix coupe is now the GTP, which has the same appearance and performance as the late Turbo Coupe for about $2,000 less.
Driven for this review, however, was a Grand Prix SE coupe retaining nearly all the goodies of the GTP but for about $19,000 - or a whopping $7,000 less than the Turbo Coupe.
The secret? By carefully choosing the right extra-cost options, one can transform a relatively pedestrian Grand Prix into a fully equipped sports coupe that is both stylish and fun to drive.
Standard fare in all Grand Prixs for 1991 is the 160-horsepower Quad Four, GM's 2.3 liter, 16-valve four-cylinder engine introduced several years ago. But wedged under the louvered hood of all GTPs, and offered for $995 extra on the SE coupe, is GM's first 24-valve V6 engine.
Displacing 3.4 liters and featuring four overhead camshafts - hence the name Twin Dual Cam V6 - it produces 200 horsepower at 5,000 rpm when coupled with GM's optional 4T60-E 4-speed automatic transaxle.
Those who prefer to row their own gears will find a 5-speed manual as standard with slightly more engine horsepower - 210 at 5,200 rpm.
The test car also had what Pontiac calls its "BU4 Aero Performance Package," adding wide fender flares and farings, fat P225/60R Eagle GT+4 radials and 16-inch alloy rims.
That also costs $995, but only if ordered with "1SD Package No. 3," which adds electric windows, seats, mirrors and door locks, cruise control and adjustable steering wheel for $428 more, including an $800 discount under a "Focus Option Group Discount" - whatever that is.
A $953 "Value Option Package" upgraded the interior and instrumentation, and added an AM-FM stereo cassette with redundant controls in the steering wheel. A 4-speed automatic ($200), rear defogger ($160) and stiffer suspension ($50) were also added.
Air conditioning, AM-FM stereo and four-wheel disc brakes are standard on all models.
The only notable styling change to the Grand Prix coupe this year is in its snout, which now has deeply recessed miniheadlamps the size of credit cards.
GM's new Twin Dual Cam V6 seems a perfect match for the Grand Prix, and has that elusive "dual personality" absent in many other so-called performance cars.
It is docile and well-behaved about town. But one shove of its accelerator transforms it into an aggressive performer.
Fuel economy ranges between 17 and 26 mpg, depending on driving conditions and driving style.
The stiffer suspension and wide tires give this front-drive, 3,400-pound coupe commendable manners, even when flogging nearly all 200 horses down a twisty two-laner. It also has a smooth, compliant highway ride, and dampens rough pavement well for such sporty underpinnings.
There are some shortcomings, however.
Its steering gear ratio of 14:1 is a real arm buster at low speeds and leaves one wondering why GM does not offer a variable effort system now common in nearly all "performance" cars.
Also, the meaty tires on the test car scraped against the fenders nearly every time it was pointed into a driveway.
The Grand Prix SE's interior gets mostly high marks, with sensibly arranged analog instrumentation, fingertip "flippers" to operate the lights and wipers, and supportive front and rear seats.