American muscle cars are back in style, but while the Ford Mustang GT is hot, Pontiac’s reborn GTO has been a showroom dud, mostly because of its slick but rather bland styling. But take the GTO to the racetrack, and you quickly learn that you can’t judge a book by its cover. The GTO is an awesome performer, made even more so for 2005 with a bigger, badder V8, and yes, a dose or two of visual flair.
New cosmetic touches for the 2005 Pontiac GTO may not be enough to change its milk-toast image, but we do think the changes are right in line with the mission of this piece of American muscle. There’s something to be said for a little subtlety in this world of megaphone exhaust tips and wild wings, as a car made for performance-minded adults shouldn’t have to scream ‘‘Bad to the Bone!’’ from every angle.
For 2005, GM designers have added a more aggressive twin-scoop hood to the GTO’s option list, and polished outlets for the new split dual exhaust poke out from a revised rear fascia. Unchanged are the GTO’s smooth body lines, inherited from the Australian-built Holden Monaro on which our car is based.
The GTO rides on 17-inch aluminum wheels wearing 245/45 Z-rated Goodrich touring tires. They may be a bit small by the latest performance car standards, but what they lack in grip, they make up for in four-wheel drifting fun. Brake rotors are larger for 2005: 11.7 inches up front and 11.3 out back, and now sport red-painted calipers. The stance is low and muscular, not bulging at the seams like a weightlifter, but rather a powerful track runner in street clothes. You can sense the power is there, it’s just not on display for everyone to see.
But you need only to open the hood or crack the throttle to discover this GTO’s secret. Gone is last year’s 5.7-liter small block. In its stead is the new 6.0 liter LS2 V-8 engine that powers the C6 Corvette. Horsepower bumps up 50 to an even 400 at a low 5,200 rpm, with 395 pound-feet of torque at 4,000. That’s useable power, made more so in our car by a long-throw Tremec 6-speed manual gearbox, which we worked hard at our winter testing venue of Savannah’s Roebling Road Raceway. Our test car ran from 0 to 60 in a swift 5.1 seconds, and covered the full quarter mile in 13.5 seconds at 108 miles per hour. While only a few tenths improvement over last year, the LS2 V8 feels much more willing. The clutch and shifter work in unison flawlessly. A four-speed auto trans is available if you must.
Cornering is by way of a fully independent suspension, with rear semi-trailing arms, power rack and pinion steering, and electronic driving aids ABS and traction control. Pushed to the limits around Roebling’s eight high-speed turns, the LS2 V-8’s great power is put to good use. As in our earlier test, we found the GTO to be well balanced and very predictable, with only modest amounts of push. The steering is a little on the slow side, but exhibits good weight and decent feel. The larger brakes also go a long way in quieting some earlier concerns.
But the GTO is first and foremost a straight-line muscle car, and while it tackles this 2-mile road course gamely, it’s just a bit out of its element. Body roll is moderate, and initial understeer can be quickly countered by liberal use of the throttle. However, after a few laps, the GTO’s soft springs and 3765-pound curb weight start to take their toll. Our tester’s all-season touring tires were not able to keep up the pace. Grip was adequate, but heat and track conditions caused early wear, sending the GTO into the pits for an early retirement from track work.
During the brief periods we weren’t focused on using the drilled pedals, we could really appreciate the excellent, well equipped cabin of the new GTO. Large conjoined gauges are clearly visible past the fat steering wheel, and are color-matched to the exterior and interior hues. The uncluttered center stack holds controls for the standard A/C and Blaupunkt in-dash 6-disc CD stereo, and curves into a console with plenty of small item storage. The leather covered, high bolstered seats are coddling, yet supportive. Both driver and passenger get eight-way power. The two fixed rear buckets are 2+2 tight, suitable for adults only in a pinch.
And you won’t have to pinch pennies all your life to enter the new GTO generation either. Base price for the 2005 edition is $32,495.
To GTO critics we say, don’t forget that the original was little more than a big motor inside stealth bodywork. Still, the improved 2005 Pontiac GTO is making progress, and with a few more tweaks, it just might turn its awesome performance into impressive sales.
Engine: 6.0 Liter Ls2 V-8
Torque: 395 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5.1 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 13.5 Seconds @ 108 MPH