Pontiac dinky-di looks a win­ner

The Holden Com­modore makes a promis­ing start in the mean streets of New York, writes JAMES STAN­FORD

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

NEW York City is fa­mous for wel­com­ing mi­grants, and among the hud­dled masses who have made it their new home is an Aus­tralian who has been ab­sorbed into the mad hus­tle of the Big Ap­ple.

The for­eigner sits qui­etly out­side Fat Sal’s Pizza in 10th Ave amid the wail­ing po­lice sirens and blar­ing horns of the Man­hat­tan traf­fic.

The new boy in town is the Pontiac G8, for­merly Aus­tralia’s best-sell­ing car. It has a new nose and a new name, as if it is part of a wit­ness-pro­tec­tion pro­gram.

Most Aus­tralians would still pick it as a Holden Com­modore, but those two words mean noth­ing on the streets of New York.

The last Holden to mi­grate to the US failed. Pontiac sold the Aus­tralian-sourced Monaro as a new-age GTO from 2004-2006, but the coupe couldn’t win over enough Amer­i­cans.

The let­ters GTO turned out to be a curse. Fans of the iconic mus­cle car felt the rel­a­tively smooth Monaro didn’t live up to the orig­i­nal big-bore car’s brash, tyre-fry­ing rep­u­ta­tion.

The G8 is a big, bold sedan, with a big V8 and an even big­ger boot.

With a start­ing price that trans­lates into $33,000 in Aussie, it’s such a bar­gain that Amer­i­cans can take it or leave it.

‘‘Hey man, now that’s cool,’’ says a young man with a big cap and ear­phones, who looks as if he had just loped off the set of a 50 Cent mu­sic video.

‘‘Is that the new GTO?’’ he asks. An ex­pla­na­tion fol­lows, but it doesn’t mean much to Devonne.

‘‘Do you know of the Holden Com­modore?’’ I ask. ‘‘Naa, not re­ally,’’ he says. How about Holden? ‘‘Naa, but this thing is cool man. It has a lot of horse­power.’’

He’s right on that score. A 270kW, 6.0-litre V8 from Mex­ico sits un­der the vented bon­net.

It’s ba­si­cally the same as the V8 avail­able with the Com­modore in Aus­tralia, ex­cept it runs dis­place­ment-on-de­mand tech­nol­ogy, which shuts down four cylin­ders when the car is cruis­ing.

Ap­par­ently Amer­i­cans have be­come more wor­ried about the price of petrol, even though they pay less than $1 a litre for their Texas tea.

Be­fore you jam the switch­board at Holden, it is plan­ning to in­tro­duce the fuel-sav­ing tech­nol­ogy in Aus­tralia soon.

A V8 is wasted in the grid­lock of New York, where driv­ers are more likely to use their horn or a fin­ger than their indicators.

My Amer­i­can GM guide has al­ready abused two driv­ers with words and ges­tures I can’t de­scribe in a fam­ily pa­per be­fore we cross the Hud­son River on the way to New Jer­sey.

Away from the mad­ness of New York City, it’s pos­si­ble to get a feel for the car.

It’s all very familiar, though the sus­pen­sion feels slightly softer and many of the di­als and in­stru­ments look dif­fer­ent.

The main thing I no­tice is the dis­place­ment-on-de­mand sys­tem. GM says it’s seam­less, but for a split sec­ond you can feel a de­lay be­fore the other four come back on line.

You’d get used to it, though, es­pe­cially as es­ti­mated fuel sav­ings of 4 to 12 per cent should come in.

The wind­ing roads of New Jer­sey and Orange County, and a be­wil­der­ing nam­ing sys­tem, soon re­sult in a group of blokes stand­ing around a map on the bon­net, ut­terly lost.

No one asks for di­rec­tions, but some­how we make it to the des­ig­nated diner for a tra­di­tional meal of some­thing greasy doused in cheese and served with chips.

We soon come across West Mil­ford, which one of its res­i­dents de­scribes as be­ing right in the mid­dle of nowhere. I sug­gest we stop at the lo­cal flag shop to buy a US flag for some pho­tos.

‘‘Maybe we could drape it on the bon­net?’’ I sug­gest to the pho­tog­ra­pher as we browse. The shop­keeper twitches. ‘‘Ex­cuse me, sir. Are you are aware of flag eti­quette?’’ he says, pre­sent­ing a pam­phlet on the sub­ject.

‘‘This flag is a sym­bol of free­dom,’’ he says em­phat­i­cally.

We pay and ease out of the shop, hold­ing the flag care­fully to make sure we don’t drop it.

Out­side, an old man named Joe hears my for­eign ac­cent and men­tions he was posted to Lon­don dur­ing World War II. This means he says the word ‘‘bloody’’ a lot.

Joe didn’t make a lot of sense, but he made a shrewd anal­y­sis of the G8.

‘‘A V8? Oh, peo­ple are go­ing to be ask­ing about mileage,’’ he says. ‘‘They’ll be wor­ried about the gas.’’

I told him there was a V6 avail­able, but Joe’s mind was made up: Amer­i­cans didn’t want more than four cylin­ders th­ese days.

He’s right to some ex­tent, but some peo­ple here still crave horse­power.

A few kilo­me­tres up the road, we find a Monaro-based GTO at a ser­vice sta­tion. John, who works there, is keen to see the new Aus­tralian im­port that’s rolled up.

The GTO be­longs to his boss, who is re­plac­ing its 5.7 V8 with a 6.0-litre fit­ted with a rear-mounted ex­haust tur­bocharger .

John re­sists the temp­ta­tion to sit in the G8 — he has grease on his clothes — but ad­mires the ex­te­rior.

‘‘This thing looks way bet­ter than the GTO,’’ he says. What about fuel use? ‘‘Who cares about gas? he says. ‘‘It’s all about the horse­power.’’

With that we fire up the V8 and tear off back to New York City. The gleam­ing red G8 stands out against the win­ter back­drop, the steel bridges, the dull con­crete of the build­ings and the dark sky.

Soon we are back at Fat Sal’s Pizza, where the G8 catches the eye of an­other New York mi­grant.

Hec­tor, from Cuba, and his dog Nena, in an orange jumper, sur­vey the smooth sheet metal. Hec­tor opens the door and Nena hops in, makes her­self com­fort­able in the driver’s seat and waits ex­pec­tantly for a ride.

‘‘I think she likes it,’’ Hec­tor says.

I didn’t think to ask if Nena was wor­ried about fuel con­sump­tion.

An Aussie abroad: the Pontiac G8, for­merly a Holden Com­modore, leaves be­hind the rau­cous Man­hat­tan traf­fic and heads into quiet coun­try­side in New Jer­sey.

Watch the eti­quette: the new Aussie ar­rival sports a US flag.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.