This is from a magazine that, almost without fail, hates any car American and loves all cars British. I have never read a more positive review about an American car from this source. And I've heard they do not like the C5 Corvette at all so overall I have very little respect for them but at least this is a nice review.
About the time a certain GM engineer named John Z DeLorean launched the original 325bhp V8 Pontiac GTO in 1964, my mother was driving me around Buckinghamshire in a decrepit Austin A30. At the age of seven I couldn't have begun to grasp what it was like to have several hundred horsepower at one's disposal. For me it was a good day if that wheezing 30bhp Austin managed to heave itself over the Chilterns without having to stop to cool off.
Across the ocean, lads my age were riding around in brand new GTOs, probably thinking things could scarcely get much better. And for Pontiac they couldn't. GM's 'performance' division sold 32,000 GTOs in the car's first year, six times what was expected, and went on to shift more than half a million. For 10 years the GTO was the classic American muscle car - a hulking two-door coupe rippling with ever-increasing V8 grunt. Then, as the GTO neared its demise in 1974, the muscle shrivelled dramatically as insurance considerations, petrol crises and emissions rules took their toll.
Meanwhile, back at the McCormick homestead, there was progress of sorts, when the sad Austin was dumped in favour of a Mini. It was better, but still light years from 325 horsepower.
Fast-forward 30 years and I'm finally driving a GTO - not an original, but an entirely new edition that has come to life through an odd set of circumstances and the determined prodding of GM top executive, Bob Lutz. One person not involved this time is DeLorean, who spectacularly botched his career after GM and was last believed to be selling watches.
The born-again GTO started life as the decent but unremarkable rear-drive Opel Omega, travelled to Australia where Holden toughened it up, dropped in the US-made Corvette engine and created a two-door coupe called the Monaro. Not long into his tenure at GM, Lutz went to Holden, drove the Monaro and decided it would be a perfect vehicle to pump some new life into Pontiac, whose performance image had lost its shine.
It took 18 months to re-fettle the Monaro for the US market and also prepare a version for UK consumption. The outcome of this unusual blend of German, Australian and American input is a muscle car with a twist. The muscle is there for sure: 350bhp from that torquey 5.7-litre Corvette motor is actually equivalent to over 400bhp, rated by the optimistic standards of the 1960s.
What's different is that, unlike the old GTO (or the Goat, as Americans nicknamed it, as no-one could pronounce DeLorean's Gran Turismo Omologato reference), this one actually does more than go bloody fast in a straight line. Its handling is great too. Not in a sports car sense, but impressive considering it is a weighty coupe measuring the same end-to-end as a Bentley Continental GT.
From a standing start, you will find the 2004 GTO rips past 60mph in the low fives (in the six-speed manual version; add a couple of tenths for the four-speed automatic). The gearshift of the manual 'box is a bit ponderous compared to some rival coupes, but few of them are dealing with such high torque output.
Full acceleration turns the engine note from a relaxed burble to a hammering beat, reminiscent of, but not as intense as the Corvette. Pontiac's engineers listened to tapes of the original GTO when tuning the exhaust. And the new version does sound great, plus if you turn off the traction control you can spin the rear tyres and go into full Dukes of Hazzard mode.
Aside from traction control, there's a distinct absence of electronic gizmos on the GTO. That's probably a reflection of Aussie disdain for computer nannies, but the GTO is none the worse for it. The sturdy chassis (beefed up for Australian backroads) and fully independent suspension are perfectly set up for fast, flat cornering.
The Goodrich tyres are wide and sticky, and enhance the car's planted feel. Speed-sensitive, variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering is a touch slow to respond, but works with an accuracy owners of old Goats could only dream of. Mild understeer is the order of the day. Flinging the tail out at will is not on, unless you floor it mid bend. Given the stable cornering attitude, the ride quality is surprisingly compliant. You have to hit a pretty serious bump or pothole to upset the chassis.
In short, this Pontiac is the polar opposite of its ragged-handling ancestor. Modern tyres, brakes, steering and decent suspension have caught up with the powertrain in a manner that wasn't possible back in the Sixties. That's not to say you can't have fun in the GTO. With 365lb ft of torque up for grabs, it will burn rubber all day and leave similarly priced coupes like the Mazda RX-8 or BMW 330Ci standing at the lights.
The GTO's new-found civilised air is evident inside its cabin, which, while lacking possibly expected features like satnav, sunroof or heated seats, is designed for serious driving. The elegant leather-trimmed front seats are comfy and give good side support. The thick-rimmed 'wheel frames a no-nonsense analogue instrument pod, with cool red or blue colour-coded dials, and the centre of the dash is taken up with just the essentials: a decent CD player and aircon controls. There are few fripperies inside the GTO, partly because there wasn't enough time for the Pontiac people to add them. Which is fine by me, although I will say that a foot rest would be a nice addition in the driver's footwell.
The GTO has four seats, and adults in the rear will be quite comfy, but getting there is a problem. The front seatbacks tip forward as expected, but then the seats power forward electrically at an agonizingly slow pace. Those asked to sit in the back will not be impressed. In one other area, boot space, the practicality of the Pontiac is challenged compared to the Monaro, because US crash regulations necessitated moving the petrol tank up behind the rear seats, which effectively halved the luggage room.
This, however, will not be debated nearly as much as the more fundamental question over the car's styling. Few expected Pontiac to do a J Mays-style recreation of the original GTO, but the extremely clean - some would say plain - design of the newcomer is meeting resistance in some quarters. Pontiac execs admit that a good deal of advance website chatter has focused on the pros and cons of the shape. Certainly by the standards of 1990s Pontiacs, which were slathered in ribbed, plastic body cladding, the new GTO is positively understated. But the fact is, GM didn't have enough time (or the desire to spend the money) to change sheet metal, if it was to get the car to the US as fast as Lutz wanted.
Personally, I don't think the sober styling is that big a deal. The lively aftermarket business in the US will go into a frenzy over this car. Body kits and engine performance tweaks can be expected in short order. In any case, Pontiac only expects to sell 18,000 GTOs annually. Sedate design or not, for about $32,000, I can see this car flying out of showrooms. And if it proves a big enough hit for GM, we could see more resources thrown at a successor a few years on. A future GTO/Monaro with 400bhp and bolder styling? I wouldn't doubt it.