Pontiac has an illustrious history in the world of sport coupes. In fact, it was Pontiac who were largely credited with kick starting the muscle car revolution in 1964 when they released the GTO, a mid-size two-door stuffed with a high performance V-8 engine and a number of other go-fast goodies. The GTO would become an icon of the muscle car era, and Pontiac would produce a number of other horsepower-heavy vehicles that would capture the imagination of the American public, most notably the Firebird and the Trans Am.
The mid-1970s saw the imposition of draconian emissions regulations in the United States, which combined with the burgeoning energy crisis and high cost of gasoline served to put an early end to the muscle phenomenon. Pontiac continued to solider on with its Firebird and Trans Am combo, but the vehicles where heavily penalized in the acceleration department by low-output engines. It also didn't help that their extreme weight would relegate these former SCCA-racing favorites to the status of also-rans in the stoplight grand prix.
Over the course of the next 15 years, Pontiac would struggle to recapture some of their former performance glory, moving from a succession of relatively underpowered 4-cylinder coupes to a dramatic re-birth of the Firebird / Trans Am in 1993 that would see the introduction of a new range of engines coupled with radical styling in a bid to dust off the old muscle car mantle. As the decade wore on, Pontiac would also release coupe editions of several of its more popular sedans, as well as eventually revive the GTO nameplate on a modern V-8-powered platform. While there were almost as many misses as there were hits, Pontiac once again managed to differentiate themselves from the Chevrolet division of General Motors as the brand that consumers turned to when looking for an exciting to drive ride.
This article takes a look at the 3 best used coupes available from Pontiac. The Firebird continues on in the footsteps of its historical namesake, providing low-buck horsepower in a simple, easy to drive package. The G6 is the company's new take on the mid-size coupe, aimed at those who love sporty driving as well as practical but style-conscious buyers. The Pontiac GTO is a re-imagining of the muscle legend that upgrades the original dragster's stripped down feel with a host of modern performance and comfort equipment. Each of these three vehicles is deserving of attention from anyone shopping for a fun used two-door.
1998 - 2002 Pontiac Firebird
The 1998 - 2002 Pontiac Firebird bears styling that makes it look like it is going 100 miles per hour even while its parked. With a long snout displaying aggressively-sized flared nostrils and an over the top front air dam, the Firebird's aerodynamic shape is enhanced by hideaway headlights. The vehicle's optional T-tops provide fun in the sun without the hassles associated with a traditional convertible, and the oversized rear wing mounted on the sports car's hatch wins style points from performance fan boys across the country.
Backing up the Firebird's hardcore appearance are some of the most potent engines offered by General Motors. Base model Firebirds pack a 200 horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 which can be matched to either a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission. The Trans Am and Formula editions of the car come with a much more powerful 5.7-liter V-8. Dubbed the LS1, this unit punches out 305 horsepower and 335 lb-ft of torque, and can be equipped with either a 6-speed manual or 4-speed automatic. The final year of production, 2002, saw the pony count rise to 310, and the Firehawk package further increases the number to 330. A Ram Air option also boosts power on the V-8 cars.
The passenger compartment of the 1998 - 2002 Pontiac Firebird is fairly low rent, but it gets the job done. Drivers are confronted with hardcore-looking red-illuminated gauges that offer a strange contrast to the big plastic buttons used to control the radio and heating system. The rear seats are not meant for real world use, as they offer accommodations best left to children exclusively on short trips. Power windows and door locks can be deleted in order to reduce the vehicle's weight, but most cars bear a fairly good level of equipment.
Dollar for dollar, it is very hard to match the 1998 - 2002 Pontiac Firebird in terms of sheer acceleration and performance. A used coupe that can light up the tires in a heartbeat, the Firebird is a perennial favorite amongst amateur speed demons and drag strip heroes.
2004 - 2006 Pontiac GTO
Faced with flagging sales and a huge rear-wheel drive hole in its lineup left by the departure of the Firebird in 2002, Pontiac boldly decided to re-introduce their classic GTO nameplate. Instead of developing a new platform, the automaker elected to cut costs by importing the Holden Monaro coupe from Australia, where V-8-powered, rear-wheel drive vehicles remained a strong force in that country's domestic market. The GTO's new styling, while not nearly as arresting as that of the original, was nonetheless sleek and interesting, especially after a refresh in 2005 added a more aggressive hood to the equation.
The GTO is only available in single trim level, although a host of changes from year to year help to spice things up. 2004 Pontiac GTO's are powered by a 350 horsepower 5.7-liter V-8 engine that also cranks out 365 lb-ft of torque. The following two years saw output rise to 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft, making the vehicle a formidable performer on the nation's highways. The GTO uses either a 4-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual to handle gear changes, with the manual providing the most exciting driving experience.
The 2004 - 2006 Pontiac GTO is an somewhat upscale vehicle, and as such standard equipment includes items such as leather seats, a good range of power features and a 6-CD changer. The vehicle is comfortable to ride in despite the stiffness of its suspension, and the rear seats are much more practical than in the older Firebird. Front buckets have enough bolstering to keep occupants from sliding from side to side during quick cornering, but are also quite accommodating on longer highway treks. Interior materials are also of a higher quality than previously found in Pontiac coupes, as the company has attempted to avoid drowning the driver in a sea of cheap plastics.
The 2004 - 2006 Pontiac GTO is an overlooked used coupe that is fast enough and stylish enough to put a smile on the faces of most secondhand buyers.
2006 - 2007 Pontiac G6
With the Pontiac Grand Am mid-size coupe aging in a none-to-graceful fashion, the planners at Pontiac decided to replace the vehicle outright instead of provide yet another refresh of the automobile's platform. Stepping into its place was the G6, an attractive and streamlined two-door that hit all of the right Pontiac design cues without resorting to some of the less than tasteful plastic attention-getters that had been tacked on to earlier coupes from the company.
While the sedan made its debut in 2005, drivers had to wait for a year in order to see the coupe variant hit showroom floors. Two-door editions of the G6 are blessed with one of two V-6 engines instead of the less powerful 4-cylinder that graces the entry-level sedans. GT coupes are furnished with a 201 horsepower, 3.5-liter unit that tacks on 222 lb-ft of torque. The GT comes exclusively with a 4-speed automatic transmission. A GTP edition of the car ratchets up the power to 240 ponies and 240 lb-ft of torque, thanks to the inclusion of a 3.9-liter engine. Buyers can opt for either the automatic from the GT or a special 6-speed manual transmission. In 2007, power was bumped up by 19 horsepower for the GT and 12 for the GTP thanks to the inclusion of variable-valve timing on the base model and a new 3.6-liter engine for the performance version. The GTP also lost its manual transmission option in favor of a 6-speed slushbox.
Since the turn of the century, Pontiac has steadily moved away from the thick plastic used in the buttons, dials and handles typically used in its vehicles, and with its new design the 2006 - 2007 Pontiac G6 coupe benefits from an interior which has little in common with the automobiles which came before it. Unlike other two-doors from the company, the G6 provides adequate passenger room in all seating positions, making it a viable option for those interested in a sporty-looking car but requiring functional rear accommodations.
The 2006 - 2007 Pontiac G6 makes a good used coupe choice thanks to its solid power, exceptional good looks and affordable price.