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2006 Pontiac GTO Test Drive Review

Picture of 2006 Pontiac GTO Coupe Built for aging Baby Boomers nostalgic for a different era, the 2006 Pontiac GTO employs the traditional muscle car recipe of a big engine, two doors, and four seats.

5.8 /10
Overall Score

Like the original, the modern 2006 Pontiac GTO puts a big engine in a midsize coupe. This time around, the GTO is based on the Holden Monaro, the only suitable rear-drive model in the global General Motors product arsenal. It’s built in Australia and shipped to eager Pontiac performance aficionados in America.

Look and Feel

8/ 10

A hallmark of GTO design has always been subtlety. Aside from hood scoops, bigger and flashier wheels, and, for a time, “The Judge” stickers, the Pontiac GTO has been what’s commonly referred to as a ‘sleeper,’ or a performance vehicle that looks like anything but. That’s true of the 2006 GTO, too.

The car looks good, wearing a tastefully restrained body kit, chunky 5-spoke aluminum wheels, and Pontiac-signature honeycomb grille inserts. Visually, it conveys the muscle lurking beneath the scooped hood without ripping off its shirt, flexing until its veins pop, and screaming with menace.

Inside, the GTO displays a level of quality and design detail missing from other Pontiacs, giving the car a look and feel commensurate with its price tag. The plastic on the lower portion of the cabin is somewhat glossy and inexpensive looking, but the rest of the 4-seat cabin is done right.

Performance

7/ 10

Pontiac equips the 2006 GTO with a 6.0-liter V8 engine generating 400 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. A 4-speed automatic transmission is standard, powering the rear wheels with the help of a limited-slip rear differential. Acceleration to 60 mph takes about 5.5 seconds, and if you know how to use a clutch pedal, a 6-speed manual transmission is available.

In addition to the monstrous motor, Pontiac tunes the GTO’s suspension for improved handling, upgrades the brakes for more rigorous duty, and installs 17-inch aluminum wheels with fairly aggressive rubber wrapped around them. A set of 18-inch wheels is an option.

Like GTOs of the past, the 2006 version is best when used in a straight line. When the road gets kinky, the car’s 3,725-pound curb weight combine with a rather soft suspension and dissatisfying steering to make it a bit of a mess to drive. However, the buyers who are most likely feeling nostalgic for the original GTO will love how effortlessly this big coupe drives on the highway, how forgiving it is over crumbling roads, and how comfy the oversized leather seats feel.

Form and Function

5/ 10

When you buy a 2006 Pontiac GTO, there are two options: bigger wheels and a manual gearbox. That’s it. Everything else is standard. Highlights include remote keyless entry, 8-way power-adjustable front seats, leather upholstery, and a premium sound system with a 6-disc CD changer.

Because it’s a coupe, long doors can make it harder to enter and exit the car in cramped parking situations. Once they’re in, the people sitting up front will be quite comfortable. The back seat is designed for just two people, and the more generously dimensioned they are, the more unhappy they’ll be. Trunk space is meager, measuring just 7.0 cubic feet of volume.

Clearly, this car is meant for people without children and who travel light.

Tech Level

6/ 10

Because it comes with every feature as standard equipment, what you see with the 2006 Pontiac GTO is what you get. On the technology front, that includes remote keyless entry, a trip computer, and a premium sound system with a 6-disc CD changer. Increasingly available features (especially on cars that cost more than $30,000) like Bluetooth and a navigation system, are conspicuously absent.

Safety

2/ 10

Important safety features are also missing in action. You cannot get stability control on a Pontiac GTO, a feature that some of this car’s drivers will undoubtedly require when they run out of driving talent. And if a crash does happen, there aren’t any side-impact airbags or side curtain airbags to help protect occupants.

Unfortunately, given the GTO’s low production volumes, neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has performed crash tests on this car.

Cost-Effectiveness

7/ 10

A 2006 Pontiac GTO costs $31,990 and is EPA-rated to get 16 mpg in combined driving (18 mpg with the manual transmission). That makes the GTO more powerful and more affordable than luxury sports coupes like the BMW 3 Series and Infiniti G35. But both of those vehicles feel more refined and are better to drive when the road is curvy, rather than straight, and they get better gas mileage.

In terms of its retro-themed muscle-car mission, the GTO’s closest direct competitor is the Ford Mustang GT Premium, which starts at just over $27,000 and gets 18 mpg with either of its two transmissions. Are the 100 extra horses, fully-loaded equipment list, and exclusivity of the Pontiac GTO worth thousands of extra dollars? Only you can decide.

Updated

Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.

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