My Next Car – Last Hurrah of the W-Body

I’m not actually sure how seriously I would consider a 2006-09 Impala SS, 2005-08 Grand Prix GXP, or 2004-05 Bonneville GXP for my next purchase.  These were the last high-performance variants of GM’s “W” chassis, which dates back to 1997 (and originally debuted in 1988).  In a perverse sense, these cars are interesting because they represent the (hopefully) last vestiges of the old, “bad” GM – basic platforms prostituted and copied to within an inch of their lives in an attempt to amortize tooling costs and maximize profitability, but in the process destroying any real autonomy or uniqueness between GM’s divisions.  See this for a breakdown of the various cars GM built on the W-body frame.

The Impala is the last car still built on this chassis, and is the roomiest and most comfortable of the three.  The SS model is powered by a front-wheel-drive version of GM’s 5.3L LS V8, which is basically the same engine in most GM pickups.  Straight-line acceleration is great and GM had 20 years to perfect the suspension design, so these relatively large cars handle quite well, especially when equipped with higher-rate springs and shocks on the performance models.  The Impala also benefits from a more restrained (if a little sterile) interior treatment, making it feel quite roomy.  The Grand Prix GXP also comes with the 5.3L V8 and is more aggressively styled, although the “cockpit” style dashboard, angled toward the driver in an attempt to emulate the groundbreaking 1969 Grand Prix, leads to a claustrophobic feeling from the driver’s seat.  The Bonneville GXP actually utilizes the same 4.6L Northstar V8 as my current Cadillac DTS, so I’m familiar with this great (albeit older) engine design.  It is also afflicted with the same closed-in dashboard effect and Pontiac’s desire to fill the dash with ovoid tchotchkes in an attempt to differentiate itself from other brands.  Since these cars typically represent the top of their respective model lines, used cars are usually well-equipped and cared for.  And since GM churned out a couple billion of them in an attempt to stave off their own demise, low-mileage examples are easily found.

At the end of the day, these cars are hampered by their older 4-speed automatic transmissions, dated styling, and the stench of flop sweat that emanates from GM’s flailing attempts to keep afloat at the end of the last decade.  However, they are relatively cheap, durable, great in the winter, and reasonably fast.  They have excellent interior room and would make a perfectly suitable daily driver with enough oomph to make freeway onramps and country roads fun.  If my primary choices aren’t viable when I actually sit down to buy a new car, I could do worse than one of these three.  Faint, if damning, praise, but that about sums up the domestic auto industry during this period.

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