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Torrent gives Pontiac an entry in the SUV market

September 09, 2005|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

It has no doubt been a trying time for Pontiac dealers, who, up until the launch of the 2006 Torrent, have had to make do without a sport-utility vehicle . . . in a world that has mostly revolved around sport-utility vehicles.

It's safe to say that Pontiac stores will be better served by the attractive and well-engineered Torrent.

Heavily based on the Chevrolet Equinox and Saturn Vue (all part of GM's family), the Torrent is built alongside them at the Canadian GM/Suzuki joint-venture plant.

The 2005 Equinox was the first GM vehicle engineered and built in Canada. The Canadian team was also responsible for about 60 percent of this new Pontiac. They spent considerable time and effort on improvements, including developing a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system that offers better side-window defrosting and better performance from less engine coolant. The team specified laminated side glass and additional sound absorbing materials throughout the vehicle.

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The Torrent might share a platform with its Chevrolet and Saturn siblings, but it has a style and attitude all its own. There is no mistaking it for anything other than a Pontiac, thanks to the signature twin-port front grille, aggressive lower intake and projector-beam fog lamps. The rear is dominated by a satin-finished skid plate and the sides by large flared fenders wrapped around 16-inch five-spoke wheels (17-inchers are optional). Topping it off is a functional tubular roof rack.

Inside there's more refinement - and self-control - than we've come to expect from the Pontiac design studio. Artful use of pseudo metal and chrome, soft-touch plastics and quality materials project a refined nature. The signature three-spoke Pontiac steering wheel fronts a full array of highly legible instruments and the controls, both minor and major, are easy to reach, decipher and operate.

The Torrent enters the market as a value-laden compact sport-utility vehicle available in both front and all-wheel drive. All models get a 185-horsepower 3.4-liter V-6/five-speed automatic transmission and plenty of standard equipment including anti-lock brakes and traction control (on front-wheel-drive models). Side-curtain air bags are optional.

There are three interior trim choices: base cloth; premium cloth; and leather. All are available in two colors: ebony; or ebony with light cashmere inserts and door trim.

Santo Giardina, marketing manager for the Torrent, said the vehicle was designed to be low, wide and "planted." As one of the largest vehicles in the segment it also boasts more interior space than the rest. One area of particular advantage is rear-seat legroom. The Torrent tops the pack with limo-like space in the aft compartment. With the rear seat at the rear-most limit of its travel, there's enough leg room for a seven-foot-tall person . . . wearing big boots. The rear seat will also accommodate three child seats.

The engineers are especially proud of the "Multi-Flex" rear seat and multi-function cargo area behind it that offer numerous combinations for people and package storage. In addition, the back of the front passenger seat can be folded flat to accommodate long loads.

The standard "FE2" suspension has been tuned for a sporty feel with unique bushings, spring rates and shock-absorber valving. The setup is complemented by lightweight aluminum wheels while the speed-sensing, variable assist electric power steering has been specifically tuned for the Torrent.

Pontiac showrooms have been a lonely place in a market literally spilling over with sport-utility vehicles. With the arrival of the Torrent, the neighborhood - and Pontiac's prospects - look a whole lot brighter.

Copyright 2005, Wheelbase Communications

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