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Road Test: 2009 Pontiac Vibe GT

It’s not like the Toyota Matrix and Pontiac Vibe have been hidden away from view at private boarding school.  No, these two have been out in prime time.  You may have noticed that when you squint they look an awful lot alike.  Sharing platforms is not a new idea in the automotive world.  Many of the vehicles on the road today share some sort of a basic structure with a similar vehicle under a sibling brand; for example the GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook and Buick Enclave. This cost sharing strategy is always limited to brands within a single company, not multiple brands among top rivals. This makes the Vibe/Matrix duo a unique shared engineering example.  While Toyota and GM are an unlikely set of parents, we do know these mega-star offspring should have some seriously refined DNA.

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The Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix first entered the scene in 2003.  While never superstars, each became extremely appreciated and loved by their owners. A small hatchback with plenty of room, decent fuel mileage, and an economical price resonated with buyers.  As economic conditions today persist towards asinine in the US and fuel prices soar to $4 a gallon, we’d say it wouldn’t be risky to conclude the same recipe can only get more popular.  It only made sense to send the pair to finishing school in preparation for prime time. Intrigued by the duo and their new digs, we got a chance to pull the new 2009 Vibe aside for a few questions.

Most noticeably apparent in the makeover is that what started as a cute wagon is now an aggressively cut hatchback.  For any issues we’d ever had with the previous generation’s generic styling, the 09 model makes up for it and then some. Our Red Hot Metallic Vibe GT came rolling in on 18-inch machined aluminum rims, aggressive skirting, clear tail lens, and sporting a tasteful rear spoiler.  Sure the faux venting in front of the rear wheels may be a tad much but the overall look stays surprisingly clean and attractive.  There’s even a touch of femininity to the G8 inspired front fascia if you catch the right angle.  A sweeping side profile peaks in height along the front seats, drifting slightly downward towards the hatch.  By keeping the profile height moving, visual length created by four doors is kept in check. The overall look is kept neat, short, and compact. The low profile wheel and tires that come equipped on the GT are aggressive and look decidedly more detailed than one might expect on any vehicle at this price.  We’re impressed with the small touches, most noticeably the grill-style hatching in the headlights and real bolt-heads used in the rims.  Just a few years back, economical and stylish (let alone Pontiac and stylish) would have never gone hand in hand.

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With the outside making no apologies for its clearly Pontiac-inspired face, the interior is of a less decisive origin. For many the Toyota sourced switch-gear, steering wheel, and climate controls mixed with a General Motors radio and rear view mirror will never get a second look. For the enthusiast it’s quite the head-scratcher.   A mix of GM and Toyota part used together in one interior is at first odd but work well enough together that it’s hard to knock the combination.  Our GT was equipped with OnStar,  Sunroof, XM radio, and avaliable Monsoon Stereo system.  Included below the gear selector is a switchable 115-volt ac outlet- ready to power your laptop, cell phone charger, or MP3 player on the road or in a parking lot.  During our nearly 850 miles driving the Vibe including one 6-hour stint to Cape Cod and back, only the seats stood out as potentially stiff for long drives. With that said- they were properly bolstered and during normal commutes owners should have no trouble.

It goes without saying the exterior and interior are giving us nothing but good vibes. Starting the engine and heading out on to the road, we found everything to be nicely in check. A Toyota sourced 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine lays down 158-horsepower through a 5-speed automatic.  This is the same top-level engine and transmission package from the venerable Toyota Corolla.  But even with all the refinement in style and accommodations, if a car can’t get your heart racing a bit on the road the package isn’t complete. We found extremely favorable manners in the Vibe. It handles corners precisely but a semi-numb electric steering boost does make it difficult to feel exactly what is going on up front.   The four-cylinder power plant isn’t exciting but offers more umph than its rating would suggest.  Even a little nudge off the line quickly explodes as variable cams switch over.  Four wheel disks offer strong grip and are effectively paired with traction and stability control for emergency maneuvers.

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The most noteworthy characteristic of the Vibe is its merge of impressive fuel mileage and utility.  There are many low fuel consumption options popping up each model year but many come in sedan form. Configured as a four-door hatch, there’s an abundance of room in the Vibe for people, stuff, or a combination of the two.  The 2.4-liter paired with a 5-speed automatic earns an EPA rating of 29 miles to the gallon highway although we experienced 25.7mpg during our stint in highway and rural driving. Although we could have tried harder to get closer to the EPA rating, an even easier way to get increased fuel economy is base Vibe. It comes standard with a 1.8-liter engine rated at 32mpg on the highway and starts at just over $15k. That’s nearly 6-grand cheaper than our test example and easier on your wallet at the pump.
While we found a few things that we would have changed (hard plastic interior, uncomfortable seats), the as-tested price of $21,645 left smiles all around for this new iteration of a vehicle that owners have been praising for years. With fuel prices increasing and many of us refusing to give up the need to carry our stuff around, the 2009 Pontiac Vibe is without debate a surprising and refreshing option.  We liked it so much, It’s made my personal short list for vehicles I’m going to seriously consider when buying a new car this fall. How’s that for an endorsement?

Conclusion:
An impressively executed vehicle that melds the best from Toyota and General Motors into one useful, beautiful, economical,  and solid ride.

Click to view our original 2009 Pontiac Vibe GT Road Test photo gallery

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