Pontiac dinky-di looks a winner
The Holden Commodore makes a promising start in the mean streets of New York, writes JAMES STANFORD
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.