We're scooting down narrow and winding Old Talking Rock Highway through the hills of Georgia while putting the pedal down on a curvy new compact-class sports coupe called G5 from Pontiac, the performance-driven division of General Motors.
New G5 shapes out as a slickback two-door in a size category that's one step smaller than Pontiac's G6 series of mid-size cars. Its architecture - GM's Delta platform - is shared with the Cobalt coupe and sedan at Chevrolet and Saturn's Ion series of coupes and sedans. Pontiac's treatment hones this vehicle strictly in coupe format but offers two trims, each with a different Ecotec four-in-line engine.
Entry-level G5 the base model packs a twin-cam 2.2-liter Ecotec four-cylinder plant which produces a robust 148 hp at 5600 rpm plus 152 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm. The sporty G5 GT edition scores a dual-cam 2.4-liter Ecotec four-pack with VVT (variable valve timing) to deliver 173 hp at 6200 rpm and torque of 163 lb-ft at 4800 rpm.
A tight-geared manual five-speed transmission by Getrag of Germany is the standard shifter for either Ecotec engine, with a four-speed electronically controlled automatic also available on the option sheet.
G5's squatty stance sets up a flat-footed posture in the manner of a sports car with favored components aboard: A stiff chassis with elongated wheelbase, brief overhangs in front and back, good weight distribution with the engine positioned up front, independent suspension with specific tuning for each trim and fast-to-respond electronic rack and pinion steering that's speed-sensitive with variable assistance.
Then there's that fluid shape for the sheetmetal and glass: G5 looks as slick and smooth as a well-lubed cylinder piston. It's a daring design influenced by the elongated wheelbase, squatty stance and sensuous skin stretched tightly around wheelwells.
Oversize composite headlamp clusters sparkle on front corners of the face, while the twin-port metal-mesh grille that's a Pontiac signature mounts front and center. Side view reveals the stretched wheelbase and a long cabin door with aerodynamic lines of a low-arched roof sweeping down to the fastback tail. There's a fixed glass panel in back that resembles a hatchback's rear gate window.
From experience in the driver's seat, we're impressed with the way G5 handles a curvy road. There's power at the pedal when you request it, the manual shifter stick feels tight and controllable, steering's quick in response to the slightest flick of driver's wrist, as various hardware of the independent suspension system evens out road bumps and checks body roll through corners on our zigzag route through the Georgia hills.
The suspension design, consisting of independent front elements with MacPherson strut-type suspension and a semi-independent torsion beam in back, also shows stabilizer bars fore and aft. Different tuning for each model includes the feel of the steering as well as changes in spring rates and stabilizer bar diameters.
For G5's base issue, the FE1 suspension incorporates a front stabilizer bar at 19 mm and the rear one at 16 mm, plus 15-inch wheels and touring tires. For G5's GT edition, the FE3 suspension delivers a firmer ride quality by increasing the diameter of front and rear stabilizer bars to 22 mm and adding monotube shocks plus 17-inch wheels capped by performance tires.
Brakes on base G5 utilize discs in front and drums in the rear, while G5 GT puts a disc at each wheel. An anti-lock brake system (ABS) is optional for base G5 but it's standard on GT.
Safety systems begin with the Delta architecture that has a safety cage wrapping the passenger cabin with crumple zones fore and aft to absorb the energy of a collision and reinforcements for rocker rails and roof pillars. Then apply passive safety items like dual-stage frontal air bags for front seat riders, plus seatbelt pretensioners and a steering column structured to absorb energy. And the list of optional gear shows curtain-style side air bags tucked into the ceiling above front and rear outboard windows.
The passenger compartment in monochromatic treatment provides a pair of bolstered buckets up front flanking a center floor-mounted console with padded armrest attached. An instrument panel forward of the leather-wrapped steering wheel features round white-faced analog gauges wrapped with chrome rims.
The rear bench has room for three, although there are two positions molded to fit like buckets. The back of the front passenger bucket folds forward to form a flat horizontal surface, and backs of the rear seat, divided into two separate sections, also fold on the same plane as the floor of the tail-side cargo compartment. Long cargo items like lumber or sports gear such as skis or snowboards can be stacked on top of these folded seats and stretched from the dashboard to the tailgate.
G5 the base edition stocks a lot of standard gear. Items include air conditioning, power controls for windows and door locks, carpeted floor mats, a keyless entry device, driver-seat height adjustment, four cupholders (two up front and two more in back), and an audio kit with CD/MP3 player and auxiliary input jack.
G5 GT upgrades to 17-inch alloy wheels with sport suspension tun-ing, plus body add-ons like sport rocker moldings, foglamps, a chrome exhaust tip, and more cabin equipment like leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, cruise control and steering wheel mounted audio controls.
The list of options shows the automatic transmission, curtain-style side air bags, leather seat upholstery, a remote starter and sunroof, XM satellite radio service, OnStar telecommunications and a seven-speaker Pioneer Sound System with 10-inch subwoofer and a six-disc CD changer in the dash.
Pontiac drives the price points down to $14,380 for a base G5 and marks the GT version at $17,180.