Pontiac Vibe: A sporty hauler with Toyota touches

The redesigned Pontiac Vibe GT starts at $15,895, including shipping. A Vibe GT is shown.
ATLANTA — Pontiac hopes its redesigned 2009 Vibe will attract buyers who want the spaciousness of a small SUV or mid-sized sedan with the fuel economy of a compact car.

The Vibe shares a platform with the Toyota Matrix but starts at $15,895, compared with $16,850 for the Matrix. Both prices include shipping.

The front-wheel-drive Vibe comes with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. An optional all-wheel-drive version has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder.

"We give you the choice — for instance, do you want fuel economy, do you want all-wheel drive or do you want the highly stylized GT," Jennifer Nardicchio, marketing manager of the Torrent and Vibe, said at a press event here last month.

The Vibe offers buyers a number of different looks: five wheel types are offered, plus other content options.

Pontiac brags that the small, five-door car will fit three child seats in the back seat. The Vibe has a wider mouth to the rear cargo area with a lower lip than most hatchbacks in its segment, making the cargo area easier to load. It has cargo hooks and divided compartments for loading versatility, Nardicchio says.

Vibe vs. Caliber
How the 2009 Vibe stacks up against the 2008 Dodge Caliber
 2009 Pontiac Vibe2008 Dodge Caliber
Wheelbase102.4 in.103.7 in.
Length171.1 in.173.8 in.
Width69.5 in.68.8 in.
Height61.0 in.60.4 in.
Curb weight2,856 lbs.2,966 lbs.
Base engine1.8-liter 4-cylinder1.8-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower132 @ 6,000 rpm148 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque, in lbs.-ft.128 @ 4,400 rpm125 @ 5,200 rpm
Base price*$15,895$14,560
*Includes shipping

The basics: The sporty small wagon is fun to drive. It's bigger than a typical hatchback and much more sporty in its handling than an SUV or a typical sedan. The manual transmission shifts nicely, and the car has good acceleration for a four-cylinder engine.

The Vibe offers a 1.8-liter with 132 hp and 128 pounds-feet of torque that gets an estimated 26 mpg in the city and 32 mpg highway with a manual transmission. A consumer also can choose the awd 2.4-liter with 158 hp and 162 pounds-feet of torque. The fuel economy of the 2.4-liter is estimated at 21 mpg city and 28 highway for a manual transmission.

The Vibe has a four-speed automatic transmission and a five-speed manual.

"We think there is a wide breadth of opportunity out there with this vehicle," Nardicchio says. "With fuel prices as they are, we think we will tap into the sedan market and those ready to move up to the small SUV market but just can't afford it either from a price point or fuel costs."

Pontiac says a wide opening and low lip provide easy access to the Vibe’s cargo compartment.
Notable features: The gear shifter comes out of the instrument panel rather than sitting on the floor, creating floor storage room. It takes a few minutes to get used to but makes shifting easier on the driver's wrist.

The instrument panel is easy to read. Visibility is good from all angles.

Compromises and shortcomings: The engine is adequate, but no more. If the Vibe is loaded down with cargo or people, it might struggle.

Nuts and bolts: This vehicle is designed by Toyota and built in a joint-venture Toyota-GM plant — and it feels it. The fit and finish of the interior components and panels are outstanding.

The skinny: For buyers on a budget looking for a versatile, fuel-efficient small hauler, the Vibe is a credible entry. 

You can reach Jamie LaReau at jlareau@crain.com

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