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Kyle's Kars

2009 Pontiac Vibe: Gung Ho!
Posted by Kyle Quesnoy on May 4, 2008 - 9:50:08 AM

2009 Vibe GT Courtesy of Pontiac

        Few people are aware that the creation of the Pontiac Vibe’s birth center was, at best, a precarious undertaking between two culture-clashing Titans of the automobile world. In fact, by the time the factory was operational, it had already inspired Hollywood to begin work on the blockbuster comedy Gung Ho.

         The word “Gung Ho” is a Chinese (not Japanese) expression that means “work together” and is exactly the motto General Motors and Toyota were driven by when in 1984 they decided to create NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc.), the first automotive joint venture factory in the United States.



Today, it would seem a paradox that GM would actually be in cahoots with what has become its most aggressive rival, but as the saying goes, “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” All repartee aside, MUMMI has been a remarkable success. People come far and wide to tour the facility, which spans roughly 88 football fields. So how does a product of this amalgamation of Japanese and American virtues stack up to the competition? And even more importantly, how has it been improved from its last incarnation? Well, the Pontiac Vibe is considered a compact sport utility vehicle. So this year, it appears that the key word is “utility.”

From its exterior, however, the increase in utility is not as apparent as it is else ware. Designers of the small Pontiac’s sheet metal wanted to emphasize the “sport” side of its personality. Therefore, the body-cladding love handles have been shed to reveal a much cleaner physique than that of last year’s model. To further enhance the new car’s sleek lines, the rear tailgate was redrawn without a license plate cavity. I.D. tags are now relegated to the rear bumper. The result: a smooth, clutter-free Swiss Army Knife just waiting to be used.

Inside you’ll begin to realize that this multi-tool has some very useful improvements over its forebear. Among the notable features are a grocery bag hook next to the glove box, rubber grip strips on the wipe-clean rear cargo floor, a stow able grocery bag compartment with mesh dividers in the rear cargo area, standard XM satellite radio, eight cup holders, a dual-tier center console, an over-head console, and last but certainly not least, the signature 100 watt, 115 volt power outlet. This year the outlet is designed for three-pronged plugs, not two. You can now plug in a more serious assortment of appliances, including laptop computers. And when you opt for the larger engine, you also get a fold-flat front passenger seat to increase cargo volume.

2009 Pontiac Vibe Cargo Bay Courtesy of Pontiac

You’ll also notice an increase in efficacy between this year’s model and last year’s model when you get the Vibe out on the road. The top of the line engine now displaces 2.4 liters instead of 1.8. And, while the new engine does relinquish a few ponies on paper when compared to the hot-blooded 8,000-rpm-reaching unit it replaces (158 hp vs. 164 hp for last year’s model), the power it does have is much more usable. Higher displacement means more torque and less fiddling with the joystick when more power is required. This came in handy through Malibu Canyon when our tester found itself climbing a steep grade caught behind a slow moving dump truck. As rpms dropped below 2,000 the Vibe’s new “four banger” pulled itself up to the top of the hill without needing to be downshifted to a lower gear. In fact the engine rarely bogged down despite being given a less than ideal gear in many situations. When you do get a chance to let the Camry-derived power plant stretch its legs, it does so with a much more muted growl than previous Vibes thanks to improved sound and vibration isolation.

To assist in wet-weather conditions, the all-wheel-drive model comes only with a five-speed automatic transmission whereas a Vibe GT can be equipped with a five-speed manual for more spirited driving. Each of the three trim levels has a different steering feel thanks to slight adjustments made to their respective electric power steering systems. None of the settings feel too heavy in parking lot scenarios. The GT’s steering feels the most sporting in character on the Highway. All three Vibe’s benefit from increased gas mileage afforded partly by this very same electric power steering set up.

            Not everyone will love the rally-inspired placement of the gear lever when it happens to be a manual one. Although it has the advantage of being placed closer to a driver’s peripherals, when a passenger wishes to cross his or her legs in an effort to get comfortable on a long road trip, said passenger might have to fight the shifter in its fifth gear position for knee or foot space depending on which leg is crossed. The only other request would be a ventilation system with more fan speed settings. The provided blower only has four.

            All in all, the 2009 Pontiac Vibe competes very well against other cars in its class. It is prettier than a Dodge Caliber, more useful than a Chrysler PT Cruiser, and can be ordered with all-wheel-drive while a Mazda 3 five-door cannot. Compared to its predecessor, the Vibe is just as sporty, better looking, and has stepped it up a notch in terms of utility features. Once again, the Gung Ho adage proves to be a success as the best of both worlds combine to form a vehicle with the practicality of a Toyota and the performance of a Pontiac.



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