Pros: Exterior styling, rear legroom, power
Cons: Torque steer with FWD, general lack of refinement, unsettled chassis
When it was introduced three years ago, the Chevrolet Equinox led the compact SUV segment in a few aspects, most notably exterior styling, rear legroom, and (perhaps) ride quality. But a driving machine it was not, with an antiquated 185-horsepower 3.4-liter V6 the only engine, numb electric-assist steering, and a mushy suspension. Pontiac received its own version, the Torrent, a year later, but the engine was the same and the suspension was little if any stiffer.
For 2008, both Chevrolet and Pontiac are introducing new performance variants of their compact SUVs, the Equinox Sport and Torrent GXP, respectively. Both are powered by a 264-horsepower DOHC V6 teamed with a manually-shiftable six-speed automatic. They also toss the electric-assist steering system in favor of a conventional hydraulic unit, and benefit from lowered and stiffened suspensions and performance tires (specifically Goodyear Eagle RS-As).
Do these changes transform the Equinox and Torrent into driving machines? I took a Pontiac Torrent GXP for a test drive to find out.
I've been a fan of the Equinox' and Torrent's exterior styling from the start. The shape is sleek without being overly car-like, and the proportions are spot-on. The tweaks for the performance variants, chiefly sportier fasicas and larger alloy wheels, further improve the SUVs' appearance. Which of the two is better looking is entirely a matter of personal taste. For me, the Pontiac has a slight edge.
The interiors were revised for 2007, with the largest change being a revised center stack. I like how the center stack sweeps down into the center console, and the piano black trim that now graces it in the Pontiac. The center stack's appearance is considerably classier than before, but these interiors remain a bit behind the class leaders in terms of interior materials. Like other Pontiacs, the Torrent has red instrument panel lighting. I like this, but some people don't. Ditto the window switches on the center console. More of an ergonomic issue for me: the knob to tune the radio is on the right side of the head unit, where it isn't easy to reach.
The driving position in the Pontiac Torrent is lower relative to the instrument panel than in many competitors, but still somewhat higher than in a car. This probably strikes a good compromise between forward visibility and a feeling of safety for most people. Thick A-pillars can partially impede visibility in turns.
The seats are more heavily bolstered in the GXP, but lateral support remains marginal for those of average or lesser build. Seat comfort is just okay even with the manually adjustable lumbar support; the seat seemed to bulge a bit in the center of my upper back. On the other hand, the headrest does not jut too far forward for comfort as it does in many vehicles these days.
At 188.8 inches, the Torrent is as long as many midsize SUVs. But the width of 71.4 inches clearly qualifies it as a compact. The similarly moderate shoulder room lends front passenger area a compact but not overly tight feel.
The second row remains a Torrent strength. The second row split bench can slide back and forth six inches or so to maximize rear legroom or cargo room. When all the way back rear legroom is an extremely plentiful 40.2 inches. Even all the way forward there's just enough legroom for the average adult. The seat could be a bit higher off the floor for thigh support, but the large amount of legroom compensates, as you can stretch out.
Cargo space is up with the class leaders. There's some space under the floor around the spare, but unlike in some competitors there are no finished compartments down there. The rear seat folds, but the resulting floor is not flat. Instead, the folded seat is a couple inches higher than the rest of the floor. I suspect this is the trade-off for the fore-aft adjustment, as the cushion does not tip forward before folding the seatback. Which, on the other hand, does make folding the seat simpler. The cargo shelf can be set at multiple heights, so it can serve to either conceal cargo or stack it in two layers.
In the regular Torrent the front passenger seat folds to enable long objects to be carried. This feature is not included on the GXP, probably because of the larger seat bolsters.
On the Road
The Pontiac Torrent GXP I drove was front-wheel-drive. Putting 264 horsepower through the front wheels alone is always an iffy proposition. Even in a car torque steer--a pull to one side under acceleration--is likely to result. In an SUV, this problem is magnified. Torque steer tends to increase the further the halfshafts that connect the transmission to the wheels get from level. In a raised vehicle like an SUV, these halfshafts are far from level. Under acceleration the tires fight for grip and the nose gets very light and seeks to pull this way and that. All-wheel-drive ought to be required with this engine.
Acceleration is among the best in this class, though the Toyota RAV4 V6 feels quicker. Of greater concern, the Toyota's V6 also sounds and feels more refined. Despite its contemporary DOHC design, the Torrent GXP's powerplant evokes a surprisingly traditional roar when pushed, and it sounds unrefined.
The hydraulic steering is heavier than the electric-assist system in the base Torrent, but doesn't provide much more feedback. Instead, the feel through the wheel is one of bulk and mass, with an early onset of understeer. Lean in hard turns has been reduced, but that's about the extent of the benefits of the lowered, stiffened suspension. The new steering system and stiff suspension do not make the Torrent GXP feel agile. The larger Lambda crossovers feel more lively and fluid through the curves.
The GXP's ride quality is noticeably firmer than the base Torrent's. It's not so much harsh as busy, clunky, and clompy. In general, the Torrent GXP's ride and handling feel unsettled and imprecise. It's GM's 1980s approach to a "sport suspension," all over again.
Aside from the engine roar and tire clomping, interior noise levels are moderately low. As long as the highway is smooth, the Torrent GXP should do fine on long trips.
Pontiac Torrent GXP Price Comparisons and Pricing
The equivalent Equinox Sport lists for $375 less than the Torrent GXP, and the difference at invoice is $311. So unless you're pinching pennies buy whichever looks nicest to you. Both top out around $33,000, which is quite high for a compact SUV.
When the Torrent GXP and RAV4 Limited are similarly loaded up, the Toyota lists for about $2,200 less at MSRP, and about $2,700 less at invoice. Incentives will likely reduce the gap, but not close it entirely.
A VUE Red Line lists for about $1,500 less than the Torrent GXP, but Saturn dealers don't discount. So the actual transaction prices are likely to be close.
Prices change frequently, and differences will vary based on feature level. To quickly generate these and other comparisons with the specific features you want, visit my Web site, www.truedelta.com. (It's the only site that provides true "apples-to-apples" price comparisons.)
TrueDelta's page for the Pontiac Torrent GXP:
The Pontiac Torrent is an attractively styled SUV with class-leading rear legroom. Fans of it and the Equinox have been wanting a performance variant. Unfortunately, the Torrent GXP does not seem to have been ready for prime time. The engine could use more refinement, and the suspension also is in need of further development.
I'll still recommend the vehicle because of the strengths carried over from the base version. But overall the GXP is a disappointment. Even GM enthusiasts are likely better off in the Saturn VUE Red Line, which I hope to test soon. Based on a test drive of the VUE XR, handling isn't much more agile than in the Torrent GXP, but the Saturn generally feels much more refined. The downside: the Saturn's interior isn't as roomy, and its toy-like exterior appearance likely suits some tastes much better than others.
A Note on Pontiac Torrent GXP Reliability
I cannot practically cover reliability within the context of this review. However, many people are interested in such information, so I started collecting my own data in the fall of 2005. Results are posted to my site, www.truedelta.com, with updates every three months.
Unlike other sources, TrueDelta clearly identifies what difference it will make if you buy a Torrent GXP rather than another vehicle by providing "times in the shop" stats (with others coming in the future). You will eventually be able to specify the number of years, annual miles, and types of repairs to include in Pontiac Torrent GXP reliability comparisons.
To report results, I need reliability data on all cars--not just the Torrent GXP--from people like you. To encourage participation, those who help provide the data will receive free access to the site's reliability information. Non-participants will have to pay an access fee.
For the details, and to sign up, visit www.truedelta.com.
A link to this website and alphabetized links to my other vehicle reviews can be found on my profile page.
Some of my reviews of related vehicles:
Chevrolet Equinox review
Ford Escape review
Hyundai Santa Fe review
Mitsubishi Outlander review
Toyota RAV4 review