Pros: Looks great, roomy interior for its class, remote start, great audio, good power/fuel economy.
Cons: No side airbags, no 5-speed or 6-speed automatic transmission, long-term reliability seems poor.
Update: February 19th, 2012:
I have had my 2005 Pontiac G6 GT for more than 5 years now and while I loved the car at first, the last year has been less than ideal. Once the odometer passed 80,000 miles, several expensive repairs come about, and the future doesn't look bright. Searching the web reveals that I am far from alone with these problems; and GM's recent history from the bailout to Pontiac's untimely demise makes it all the more frustrating.
I bought my car in mid 2006, 12,000 miles on the clock, and I felt pretty proud of the price I got. I also worked the dealership for an extended warranty to cover the car up to 75,000 miles. I liked the look of the G6, and my friends agree it was one of the nicer looking cars you could buy at the time. I liked the remote start, the good audio system, and the spacious interior for a "compact" car. The long wheelbase made for a smooth ride, and the fully independent suspension made for more confident cornering. The car had decent pep and fairly good fuel economy, but the push-rod V6 lacked smoothness and refinement, and the 4-speed automatic transmission seemed archaic compared to 5 and 6-speed automatics being put into similarly priced import cars.
If I had it to do over again, I would NOT have bought this Pontiac G6. It was a good car for the first 4 years, but year 5 was frustratingly costly, and my confidence in this car has evaporated. While I still believe it can make any road trip, I'd prefer to take another car just to avoid more wear and tear on what I expect to be the G6's increasingly fragile future.
Read on for my original review, and see the very end for a summary of the failures I've run into the last year; things I expect will become commonplace as these cars age.
The car features a 3.5L V6 engine pumping out 201 horsepower, a good amount of power for freeway driving, or for playing around. The engine is coupled to a 4-speed automatic transmission with "manumatic" -- allowing you to pretend you have a manual transmission and shift gears yourself. While most people will probably ignore this feature I actually found it useful for descending mountain grades (shifting down to 3rd helps you stay off the brakes), and occasionally I'll use it in rush hour traffic when the automatic is too dumb to choose the correct gear. My friends also think it's a cool feature, even though it's not particularly useful under normal conditions. It won't give you more power or make your car go faster, ultimately it's a toy I suppose.
As for the transmission, come on America, it's the mid-2000s! Why aren't you putting 5 or 6-speed automatic transmissions in your cars?! Honda and Toyota put 5-speeds in their midrange cars. Even Ford will put a 5-speed automatic in their Explorers. And spending a few extra grand will get you a 6-speed auto inside a fully-loaded entry-level European luxury car (the same price you'd spend on a completely loaded G6 by the way). I wish Pontiac would have added at least the option for a 5 or 6-speed automatic. The extra gear or two really help with fuel economy and making the ride smoother. The G6 is positioned as a sophisticated American car, it needs a more sophisticated transmission.
Fuel economy is pretty good in the G6 GT (considering the aging engine design and unsophisticated transmission). The car is rated at 20mpg city and 28mpg highway but my experience suggests 18mpg in the city and 32mpg on the highway. I can drive from Scottsdale, AZ to visit family in Albuquerque, New Mexico on one tank and still have about 60-70 miles of fuel left. That's a 415 mile trip, meaning well over 30mpg on the highway. The owner's manual calls for regular 87 octane gas and the car likes it just fine. I've put the midgrades and premium in the car and don't notice any difference. Save your money folks, regular is all you need.
On the positive end, the car comes with a lot of features you won't find on other car in the same price range. Automatic headlights are standard on all models (seems like GM might do this on all but the cheapest cars), and the GT trim gets fog lights built-in. The headlights and fog-lights both use the same H11 bulb which put a ton of light on the road, I'll sometimes have people flash their high beams at me because they apparently think I've got my brights on. Needless to say, you'll be able to see the road fine.
The GT trim also features a Driver Information Center as a part of the center instrument panel above the CD player which gives a wide array of useful information. You'll get two trip mileage readouts, average fuel economy, average speed, estimated fuel range, and a menu with various settings (automatic door locks, horn honk for locking and unlocking door, setting the car for English or Metric units of measure, and various languages). It's well organized and easy to use, I was able to figure out all functions without the manual.
Audio entertainment is covered by the Monsoon stereo system. It includes 6 speakers, the CD player with AM/FM, and XM Satellite radio. The system sounds great and just works. Some nice features include automatic volume adjustment which increases or decreases depending on the speed you're traveling, and the display screen to list Artist, Track Title, Radio Station ID, and other info (my friends love it because they can learn the name of a song or artist if they listen to something they like). I'm disappointed that the CD-player is single-disc only and doesn't do MP3 (the Monsoon and GT package should include at least one of this in my opinion). The 2005 missed out on aux input for iPod's and the like by 2 years (and are very common now).
Keyless entry is standard on the all G6 models, I believe (which includes a remote with lock/unlock/trunk and panic buttons) but my GT model comes with REMOTE START! This is AWESOME! I can fire up the car from across the parking lot and get AC going and the car cooled down well before anyone hops in! It's also great for the winter so the car is warmed up and ready to go before you leave the house. This is a nice feature which I wouldn't want to live without now. I'll definitely want to buy all my future cars with this feature.
All G6 models can comfortably fit 4 adults, or up to 5 people in a crunch. The back sets fold down (60/40) giving some more cargo flexibility in the trunk. The truck is fairly generous for a "compact", enough to fit luggage for 4 adults on a weekend trip (but probably not enough space for a full-fledged vacation). The truck can easily accommodate a full load of groceries however.
Storage inside the car is decent in the front, and lacking in the back. The glove compartment is smaller than what I'm used to on Pontiacs (I've had 3 of them so far) but it is very capable of holding the car manual and your registration and insurance info, (which is all I keep in there anyway, and all anyone really needs I suppose). The doors also have pockets molded in for maps or other items. You'll get 2 cup holders for the front seats in the center console (one is well suited for common medium-size soda cups and the other works well for large size). There's also a storage compartment between the seats with ample room for CDs or your cellphone and charger (there's also a power outlet in there too!). The back seats are definitely lacking in storage, just two tiny cup holders fold down from the back of the center console, and they can only accommodate soda cans or perhaps kid-size beverage cups (and they're so shallow that water bottles more than half full can fall out of them in a turn).
Happily, driving the car is a joy! The ride is smooth, the engine is quiet enough that you won't notice it when driving 35mph or less, and some folks comment that they don't even hear it running when parked (though the pushrod tech does come with some virbration that you don't see in more high-tech engines), the AC is blows cold and is powerful enough for summer days (not that you'll need full blast if you precool the car with remote start). The heater is usually ready to go after 4 mintues of idle during winter. Windshield wipers are fast enough for all rain or snow conditions I've come across. Interior lighting has what Pontiac calls "theater dimming" a nice fade as the lights go down after shutting the doors or locking the car. The driver seat has a powered vertical control (6-way is an option). You'll also get a manual lumbar support (although I find the lumbar quite comfortable in it's lowest position) This allows the driver's seat to be positioned in pretty much anyway you'd want, great for small and large drivers alike. I'm 5'11" and find the car perfectly roomy, more than enough leg room (I actually have my seat moved up two notches so there's a bit more space for taller drivers). Several of my lady friends feel the car is actually "too big and open" and don't think it's cozy. All of my guy friends like the room and feel it's very comfortable. The backseat is suprisingly comfortable for a car of the "compact" class. The long wheelbase of the car contributes to this and also helps smooth out the ride.
The car has good safety ratings, due to its design along with dual airbags, adjustable seat belts and adjustable headrests. The earliest models are missing the side-impact airbags which drop the side-impact rating to "fair". Later cars has those airbags standard which gives you 4-stars or 5-stars across the board. The car has the aforementioned fog lights which puts more light on the road, and the rear of the car has very bright lights for backing up. My brakes also put out more light than other cars on the road. The car has fully independent suspension and the aforementioned traction control to help keep you on the road. You'll get a small "donut" spare tire in the truck and a few extra fuses in fusebox as well as a puller if you need to do a quick fix on the road.
UPDATED: I originally felt the build quality to be superior to other American cars of the era, but I suppose that only counts toward other GM cars of the time. The G6 did feel more refined and more sophisticated than previous GMs I had owned, and certainly beat the cheapest cars no matter their maker. Still, during my ownership there have been problems that you shouldn't see on cars that were below 100,000 miles and only 5 years of age. I'll explain those problems at the end of this review.
More on the build quality of the car, the exterior seems to be well built, but there is a LOT of plastic on the interior and much of it feels cheap. The door panels and the plastic lining the front seats have picked up numerous sratches (I don't abuse the cars) but just normal everyday wear and tear will do a number on some of the surfaces inside. Happily the cloth seats are very durable, and haven't faded even though the car spent 4 years in direct Arizona sunlight. The dashboard has also survived intact. One causality of the summer heat in AZ though: the mirror. Several bits of plastic on the ball joint cracked and the mirror couldn't hold position after that. Replacement (regular - non-Onstar) mirrors are outrageous, $90 from the dealer and typically price-fixed at $80 on eBay. I ended up getting a cheapo replacement from Autozone for $15. It's not as nice as the OEM mirror but the price was right.
UPDATED: I originally praised the car for super-easy maintainence but I'm not so sure about those feelings now. The manual calls for oil changes at 7,000 miles, and it does seem all manufacturers - domestic and imports - are saying 5,000 to 7,000 as well, but I wonder if that's safe. I've only run the car on fully-synthetic oil so 7,000 miles is easy (and the oil does come out clean), but after having owned the car I think it does need to be babied.
The OEM AC Delco battery lasted 4 years before needing to be replaced (a good lifespan here in Arizona). The sparkplugs are platinum and will last you 100,000 miles according to the manual, unless you're a very "passionate" driver or the car sees severe duty. The antifreeze and transmission fluid will last you that long as well (though both are recommended at 75,000 in very hot or severe environments). My brake pads lasted 60,000 miles before I changed them (even though they still probably had another year of life left to them).
The only irritating common maintenance I've come across are the exterior lights. They are genuinely a pain to change. The taillights aren't that terrible, but they require that you open the truck, remove the trunk covering, unscrew and remove the entire taillight assembly and then to finally replace the bulb. The headlights are a whole different animal. You''ll need to unscrew the headlight assembly, remove the 5 plastic retainers from the front facia, pull back the facia (AKA pull back on the plastic bumper), remove the headlight assembly from a ball joint (this took about 30 minutes of grunting and frustration) and then replacing the bulb and reversing the process. Why oh why couldn't they put a simple plastic flap atop the headlight assembly like my '96 Grand Prix had? Oh well, don't let me frustration with the headlights disuade you, I haven't a clue what the other manufacturers do. The G6 truly was an easy car to own and maintain the first 4 years. If you go to a dealer or a shop you won't have to worry about anything.
UPDATED: Now onto the unpleasant stuff from "year 5". A couple thousand dollars in repairs is what it amounts to. And it seems like most G6's might have at least one or two of these issues at some point in its lifetime (I can only speak for the 2005's but the design didn't change much in 2006, and there were many carryover elements for 2007 and beyond).
Problem Number 1: (And potentially the most dangerous but happily the easiest to repair). The brakes lights can develop an issue where their operation is basically reversed, they'll illuminate when you're parked or driving and turn off when you depress the brake pedal. Most people notice this problem because the cruise control will also fail and cannot be used.
The problem is caused by corrosion of the connectors on the Body Control Module. To fix this is easy, just disconnect your battery and then apply dielectric grease to the offending connector (there are several Pontiac forums that cover this issue and show pictures to help with this fix). Total cost is about $7 and 10 minutes of time, but a potential accident would be much more costly. GM did a small recall of about 6,000 cars (mine wasn't included in the recall because GM says only first-run cars are affected. Guess again GM!). Hopefully a wider recall will be made in the future.
Problem Number 2: A coolant leak developed in the timing chain cover gasket. This doesn't seem all that common (yet) but if you should experience this problem the repair is very involved and costly. I haggled a repair shop down to $600 and got a "free" new water pump. But the range for repair is estimated to be $650 to $850!
Problem Number 3: This one is slightly more common, and potentially quite dangerous (again). A defective design on a plastic elbow joint of plumbing from the fuel tank/pump will result in the plastic cracking and pressurized fuel leaking out onto the top of the fuel tank. Googling this issue revealed that several other owners had this problem, and naturally there is no recall (yet) so I had to foot the bill on this one too. You'll know if you have this issue as you'll always smell fuel when standing near your car and the car will take longer to crank up than it should). This was about $600 to fix as well (the tank needs to be dropped, and the fuel pump must be replaced because the plastic fuel line and pump are a single piece).
I've written GM about these issues and filed reports with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration so hopefully proper recalls will be issued and all cars will receive repairs.
So, having said that, the G6 is really a mixed bad. The first 4 years I had it I loved the car. It was fine to drive, it looks nice, it had some features that weren't common at the time, and the price was right. The maintenance was low at first, but as the car ages some expensive repairs were needed to fix potentially dangerous issues. As I said earlier in the review, if I had it to do over again I wouldn't buy the G6. But hindsight is 20/20 and we now know that GM went bankrupt and the Pontiac brand was dissolved; and now I've got a car that's getting older and needing pricey repairs.
When it was new the G6 was a better-than-average GM car, and one of the nicer cars you could get in that price range at the time. Now however, as the car ages, you'd probably be better served by a used Ford, Honda, Toyota, or something German. For the same price as a used G6 with 75,000 miles you can get a nicely equipped Honda Accord with a more powerful V6 and 5-speed auto. It's not an exciting car but it is a safer and more practical car. Or you can get a 2006 Ford Fusion which is very comparable in size, features, and fuel economy but the V6 engine is more powerful and all models can have a 5-speed automatic for a similar price. There are many other options with similar features and performance these days, and many have better safety and long-term reliability ratings.
The bottom line is that the G6 was a great car the first 4 years, if I had a time machine I would hands down recommend a 3-year lease, or even a purchase to someone that likes to trade in every 3 or 4 years. But as an aging used car I have to tell you to steer clear. Unless you got one for an amazing price I don't feel it's worth the potential headaches or even the possible safety issues. I thought about suggesting that buyers look to the newer models of the G6, but ultimately the car didn't change THAT much in it's 5 years of life, the 2009 models are very similar to mine, save for the more advanced drivetrains and the HIDEOUS body cladding, so I expect the long term issues might exist there too. Again, there are just so many other options out there with better track records (and ultimately made by companies that didn't need to go through a bailout and bankruptcy to survive).