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2004 Pontiac Grand PrixFor decades now the Pontiac brand from General Motors has favored racy cars with sporty styling and muscular powerplants in a collection tagged with legendary nameplates like Bonneville, Grand Am and Grand Prix.

That tilt toward sporty design intensifies this year as Pontiac works up a complete make-over for the mid-size Grand Prix sedan series.

Revamped versions of Grand Prix with 2004 tags are rolling out of a Canadian assembly plant in Oshawa, Ontario.

The wide-track Pontiac gets a smooth new shell and a cabin design with fold-flat seatbacks that create surprising space for cargo.

There's no two-door coupe edition with the new design, although a pair of back doors on the sedan blend discreetly into the sleek flanks and merge into a fastback roofline so this new Pontiac looks more like a smooth coupe than simply another oh-hum family sedan.It doesn't act like a conventional sedan, either, thanks to innovative features for a flexible cabin design and the performance posture of a sport-tuned Pontiac.

The original Grand Prix coupe appeared in 1962 bearing the name of motorsport's ultimate series of open-wheel formula races, the Grand Prix -- or grand prize. At the end of the Sixties, Pontiac's car packed a huge V8 engine pumping out 390 hp.

Downsizing came during the 1970s, while a wedge-shaped design emerged in the 1980s, as well as NASCAR racer versions as driven to the winner's circle by Richard Petty. By 1988 Grand Prix was reworked into front-wheel-drive (FWD) coupe as well as a four-door sedan.

More aerodynamic designs followed in the 1990s -- including the last re-do as a 1997 edition with the shapely figure of a curvy Coke bottle -- and NASCAR victories also continued, such as topping the Driver's Championship Winston Cup series in 2000.

Yet the make-over for Grand Prix as a 2004 model goes further than previous generations and transforms this car into a stylish and fun-to-drive vehicle that's also practical and easy to use.

2004 Pontiac Grand PrixThe Grand Prix of 2004 continues to use GM's G-body platform and retains the FWD format with a 110.5-inch wheelbase. However, the structure and components are new, including updated powertrains and more safety features.

Check the face and find a curvaceous low fascia with wide mouth and round foglamps set below bold corner headlamp clusters flanking the dual-port mesh grille.

A curvy long hood has a pronounced powerdome design, but flanks look smooth in the absence of any superfluous plastic body cladding that decorated previous editions.

A wedge-shaped profile is still apparent, although it seems downright slinky due to the smooth line of a fastback tapering down to the curt tail fitted with a subtle spoiler.

The new design for Grand Prix's cockpit brings innovations like flexible flip-and-fold seats and a generous cargo compartment in the rear plus back doors that swing wide -- virtually at a right angle -- to forge broad portals that accommodate big loads of shopping gear such as a crate containing a television or desktop computer.

The plan at first seems conventional with a pair of bucket seats up front and a bench for three in back.

2004 Pontiac Grand Prix backHowever, the back of the right front bucket folds forward to form a flat horizontal surface, and backs of the rear bench, split into two sections of 60/40 percent, also fold flat on the same plane as the folded front seatback.

Long cargo items like 2x4 lumber, or a rolled up rug can be stacked on top of these folded seats and extended from the dashboard rearward to the trunk's back bulkhead.

Large round analog gauges dot the dashboard instrument cluster, et the driver may also view instruments as reflected off the windshield in a head-up display that includes digital data indicating the vehicle's speed and compass direction, real-world clock time and functions of the audio equipment.

Two trim designations with different powertrains work for the new Grand Prix as the GT and GTP, but the latter also offers a Competition Group ('Comp G') package with suspension tweaking and sporty paraphernalia.

The GT draws from GM's 3.8-liter V6 cranked up to 200 hp at 5200 rpm with 225 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.Transmission is the efficient and familiar 4T65-E automatic with four forward speeds.The GTP goes further through supercharging of the 3.8-liter V6 to pump up the action.
It hops to 260 hp at 5200 rpm with torque numbers ripped to 280 lb-ft at 3600 rpm.

The GTP's Comp G suspension package also includes StabiliTrak Sport, a four-wheel vehicle stability system that enhances tire traction during cornering maneuvers.Further, two thumb-sized paddles -- labelled TAPshift for Touch Activated Power -- are mounted on right and left spokes of the steering wheel.

A shift-it-yourself kind of driver can use the thumb and forefinger to move the paddles forward or backward and step up or down the powertrain's gear ladder in the same way race drivers control their open-wheel machines with finger-flicking upshifts and downshifts.

2004 Pontiac Grand Prix InteriorWe get to play those paddles while pointing a tester version of the GTP Comp G Grand Prix down Page Springs Road, a narrow band of blacktop shooting off Arizona 89A and wiggling around sandstone spires and rust-red buttes in the canyons near Sedona.

TAPshift paddles put sporty controls in a driver's hands -- and you don't have to let go of the wheel to work out a downshift before charging into a string of curves.New brakes enhance the stopping power with stiff calipers and big brake rotors. Electronic brake force distribution (EBD) also operates to maximize the back brakes, while an anti-lock brake system (ABS) is included in all but the entry-level GT1 version, where it's optional.

Grand Prix GT provides many standard features, including climate controls and power motivation for windows and mirrors, remote-activated door locks, cruise control, and an audio system with AM/FM stereo radio plus CD deck.The GTP with supercharging adds power to seat controls, OnStar telecommunications and alloy wheels at 17 inches.

Pricing: GT $ 21,760; GTP $ 25,860; Comp G: $ 27,255.

Click here for more information on the Pontiac Grand Prix.
For the Pontiac 2004 Model Guide: Click Here