CASTROL CHINTHE AWARD FOR AUTOMOTIVE WRITING
Entry Number 1: Driving the Vibe Across (some of) Canada
(Originally appeared in The Toronto Star Wheels section)
The Driver’s Seat
by Jim Kenzie
by Jim Kenzie
Alberta - What if your company has an idea for a cool small car, but your
company’s history of making small cars, cool or otherwise, isn’t very good?
might go to a small-car specialist and get them to do it.
the Pontiac Vibe.
Motors was already a partner with Toyota in the Fremont California assembly
plant, which makes Corollas for Toyota, and Geo Prizms for GM.
GM designed and specced out the Vibe, and farmed out the engineering to Toyota.
car is built in Fremont.
Japanese company did the basic engineering, using primarily the platform and
running gear from Corolla and RAV4.
liked the idea so much they asked if they could do their own version. GM agreed,
provided it had a different look - hence, the Toyota Matrix.
said they couldn’t afford a different interior, so what you see from the
Matrix’s Driver’s Seat won’t be much different.)
Vibe is a Pontiac isn’t open to much doubt. Twin-nostril grille theme,
cat’s-eye headlights, lower body-side cladding - it’s all here.
has to be said - from certain angles, it looks like an Aztek. The cladding
least Vibe gets 16-inch wheels, which gives it a decent stance.
also looks a bit like Audi’s clever Europe-only A2 teeny-weeny; great minds...
think it looks pretty good. Some of the younger journalists who partook in a
three-team, coast-to-coast, cross-Canada “drive-the-Vibe’‘ rally, my leg
of which (Regina to Calgary) I have just completed, didn’t agree.
dealers we visited, however, were thrilled with the car - we’ll see how the
paying customer reacts.
is still a naughty word amongst North American car marketing executives, so
Pontiac goes to extreme lengths to call Vibe anything but.
Hybrid. Melange of SUV, sports car and sport wagon.
it. It’s a hatchback. End of discussion.
TALL hatchback, maybe. But if it looks like a hatchback, walks like a hatchback,
quacks like a hatchback...
also borrows clever ideas from GM’s European partner, Opel, whose Zafira
minivan sets the gold standard for flexible interiors.
split rear seat can be folded flat, virtually disappearing into the floor.
right front seat back can be folded forward too, creating an eight-foot load
platform, or a work table for the driver - hopefully NOT when she’s driving.
with all seats up, Vibe offers nearly 20 cubic feet of cargo room, more than
some full-size cars.
interior also reflects Pontiac tradition. OK, the tradition of red instrument
lighting was lifted from BMW; it’s still not very effective. In the daylight,
the dim digital odometer is virtually invisible. The round dials are deeply
recessed, their nacelles trimmed in bright distracting chrome. Looks cool; not
are storage spaces all over the place. You’ll probably own one of these for a
couple of years before you find them all.
seats are covered in durable-looking fabric, and are comfortable even on a long
neatest item on the dash is a Vibe-exclusive 115-volt power outlet - just plug
your laptop or other electronic device right in there. The bottom-hinged plug
cover does, however, prevent any adapter except a straight plug from fitting. A
small extension cord may prove useful - we had one on our drive from Regina to
Calgary. At one point, we had a digital camera, a laptop and a cell phone all
is aimed at younger buyers, who typically like high-end sound systems. You can
get a 200 watt system with six-CD changer, and even a DVD-based sat-nav system -
very rare at this price level.
problem with having Toyota do your engineering is that you end up with Toyota
engines. They may last forever, but for whatever reasons, Toyota is still stuck
in the quart-from-a-pint-pot philosophy of engine design.
versions of the Corolla/RAV4 motor are offered, all 1.8 litre twin-cam fours
displacing 1.8 litres, and featuring Toyota’s “VVT-i’‘ - Variable Valve
Timing with intelligence.
not all that smart...
base front-wheel drive Vibe gets 130 horsepower at 6,000 r.p.m. and 125 lb.-ft.
of torque at 4,200 r.p.m. A five-speed manual is your only transmission choice.
sort-of All-Wheel Drive model like we drove is strangulated, I’m guessing due
to packaging constraints on the exhaust system, to 123 horses and a meagre 118
lb.-ft. of torque. It comes only with a four-speed automatic, stirred by a handy
GT version (front-drive only, manual or automatic) offers 180 horsepower, thanks
to minor internal mods, but mostly because the engine management computer lets
it rev to 7,600 r.p.m. Torque is a puny 130 lb.-ft., at a screaming 6,800 r.p.m.
or lack thereof, is Vibe’s Achilles' heel. Especially the AWD car; it is
heavier, has only an auto-box, and yet has the least amount of grunt.
rigged the transmission to provide a sprightly off-the-line feel, but once in
motion, you’re in for a long and noisy wait to your cruising speed. You may
need to resort to Canada Post to warn on-coming motorists of impending two-lane
because you spend most of your time with the loud pedal buried firmly in the
carpet, fuel economy goes straight out the tailpipe - our team on the rally was
getting numbers in the 13 litres per 100 km range in real-world (albeit
almost pick-up truck territory.
can only imagine how much better Vibe would be with, say, GM’s own 2.2 litre
four cylinder, as used in various Saturns and the Cavalier/Sunfire duo.
independent suspension does a good job; ride quality is fine. The steering is
light, positive, and direct, and handling secure yet entertaining.
efforts to get car companies to call hearts hearts when it comes to four-wheel
drive systems have to date come to naught; Vibe’s sort-of All-Wheel Drive is
in fact front-wheel drive with part-time four-wheel drive. When front wheelspin
is detected, a centre coupling in the drive shaft directs torque to the rear
happens pretty quickly, but on snowy roads, you will understeer until the cows
come home - and if you’re not careful, you’ll run into one.
four-wheel drive - all four wheels with traction, all the time - would be
three cars that have been driving across Canada for the past three weeks were
pretty hard done by; ours had a badly-fitting right front door (then again, it
had a ding in it too - maybe it got whacked), and one of our teammates drove it
through a puddle, which caused the starter to freeze up on cold Saskatchewan
overall, they held up pretty well. The trim materials, while not quite to VW’s
standards, are better than you’d find in other GM small cars. The body felt
tight and rigid even over some pretty rough roads.
are entering dealerships as we speak, dribbling first into big metropolitan
base car starts at $19,150. Air-con, power mirrors, tilt steering and an
AM-FM-single-CD sound system are included, but you have to go to the options
list to get ABS brakes, power locks and windows.
All Wheel Drive model gets all that and more, for $26,150.
GT adds alloy wheels and some other trinkets, and lists for $26,550.
worry if you aren’t young, hip, or technologically savvy. Pontiac will still
take your money. As GM’s president in the 1920s, Alfred P. Sloan Jr., said,
“You can sell a young man’s car to an old man, but you can’t sell an old
man’s car to a young man.’‘
its combination of “eyeball’‘ (as car sales types call head-swivelling
styling), outstanding versatility and decent value, I think buyers of all ages
will step up to the Vibe.
if it is a hatchback.
Roomy, versatile interior, for people and stuff.
No worries about blandness here.
Lack of torque (actually, this could be all three of my “lows...’‘).
I wish they’d own up and call it a hatchback.
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