Review of the Pontiac Vibe

2005 Pontiac Vibe
By:Larry Edsall
(c)New Car Test Drive, Inc.

Base Price:$16,915.00
As Tested:$19,165.00

2005 Pontiac Vibe

Style and practicality.

The Pontiac Vibe is popular for its practicality, sporty styling and zippy performance. A new front fascia greatly improves the appearance of the 2005 models. It's a smoother look that suggests the styling of an upcoming sports car called the Solstice.

A five-door hatchback, Vibe has roomy front and rear seats, making for comfortable travel for four. Its cargo compartment features a track system with adjustable tie-down anchors for securing your stuff. The seating setup is flexible, allowing the driver to flip down the passenger seat when hauling items up to eight-feet long. That seat can be used as a desk for a laptop computer, which can be plugged into the 115-volt electrical outlet.

Vibe is best represented in the standard model. It's pleasant and comfortable to drive and offers versatility when it's time to haul something. Its four-cylinder engine delivers adequate performance and it's clean, already meeting Ultra-Low Emissions standards set for 2007. It's also inexpensive. A Vibe loaded with optional safety features, premium sound systems and cargo compartment accessories retails for about $20,000. And it can get there: All-wheel drive is available for dependable all-weather capability.

The Vibe GT is designed to deliver more excitement, but its high-performance engine seems too peaky for this application and adds considerably to the cost. Vibe comes in wild colors, and accessories are available to enhance its look.

New safety features are options for 2005 models, including StabiliTrak electronic stability control, side curtain airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags, a tire pressure monitor, OnStar, and programmable automatic door locks. The front-passenger airbag has been upgraded on all models. 2005 models get new cloth fabrics as standard equipment. Leather has been added to the options list along with an upgraded audio system.

Model Lineup

Pontiac builds the 2005 Vibe in base ($16,915), AWD ($20,240), and GT ($19,890) versions.

The base Vibe comes with a 130-horsepower four-cylinder engine. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, a four-speed automatic optional ($850). The Vibe comes standard with wind-up windows, manual door locks, and 16-inch steel wheels, but it is otherwise reasonably well equipped with air conditioning; power mirrors; a CD player; two automotive-style 12-volt outlets; plus a two-prong, household-style 115-volt power outlet.

Anti-lock brakes ($525) and StabiliTrak ($495) are optional. Also optional: side-impact and curtain airbags ($745) and OnStar ($695). We strongly recommend all of these features for their ability to help you avoid accidents, to reduce injuries in the event of an accident, and to automatically call for help after an accident.

The all-wheel-drive Vibe (AWD) is similarly equipped to the base model, but its engine is de-tuned to 123 horsepower. The AWD model comes standard with an automatic transmission and anti-lock brakes.

The Vibe GT comes with a 180-horsepower engine and six-speed manual transmission. No automatic is available. GT gets four-wheel discs with ABS, 16-inch cast-aluminum wheels, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Side-impact and curtain airbags are optional ($745). Stabilitrak ($495) electronic stability control is also optional. A Power Package ($850) adds cruise control, power windows with driver's express-down, and power door locks with remote keyless entry to all models. The optional Moon & Tunes package ($840) adds a power glass moonroof and 200-watt audio system with seven speakers and integrated subwoofer. An in-dash six-CD changer is also available as a stand-alone option ($325) or as part of a DVD-based navigation system ($1,650). XM Satellite Radio ($325) and OnStar ($695) telematics are optional. Optional 16-inch ($440) and 17-inch ($825) aluminum wheels are available.

To give all that show some go there is a dealer-installed supercharger for the base model that will deliver 7.5 psi of boost for a 35-percent increase in horsepower and torque. The supercharger can be installed on either manual or automatic Vibes, and shares the Vibe's 3 year/36,000 mile warranty.


The smooth new grille and front fascia give the 2005 Pontiac Vibe a more contemporary look and hint at the styling direction Pontiac is taking with an upcoming sports car, the 2006 Solstice.

Otherwise, its appearance is unchanged. The Vibe was conceived by General Motors and is built to Toyota assembly standards with Toyota components at a joint GM/Toyota assembly plant. Toyota sells its own version of the car, called the Matrix, with different styling cues. Traditional Pontiac styling cues distinguish the Vibe. Its wedge shape, muscular stance and cat-eye headlamps signal that you are looking at a Pontiac.

Vibe's hatchback design makes for a practical car, but Pontiac's designers strived to avoid a design that looked too boxy. They wanted to make sure it looked like a Pontiac. So the front and rear overhangs were kept short. (Overhang is the part of the car that sticks out past the bumper.) Short overhangs means the wheels are pushed out to the corners of the car. In addition to improving handling, this design helps uphold that traditional Pontiac Wide Track stance. More slope was put into to the rear section of the roof. In profile, the Vibe hints at a fastback shape. The encapsulated C-pillars almost look like inverted hockey sticks.

Pontiac hasn't quite broken its habit of surrounding its vehicles with lower-body cladding. But at least the Vibe's bottom fringe is relatively simple, and is available in either low-key charcoal or even less conspicuous body color ($325). We think the charcoal looks best on the all-wheel-drive version, giving it some visual elevation and a more outdoorsy look.

Buyers who want to project more attitude can purchase dealer-installed extensions for the sides and front and rear fascias, plus spoilers for the roof and tailgate. The whole package ($1890) is offered in a selection of vibrant colors, or in primer and ready for your own custom paint.


Vibe seats five. The seats are elevated for a good view of the road and the driver gets a manual seat-height adjustment. The driver operates in a cockpit-style environment. Secondary controls are easy to reach and use. Audio controls are located at the top of the center stack. Three big dials are used to control the heating/air-conditioning system. We found the handbrake lever awkward, though.

Nice touches went into making the Vibe a pleasant place for driving or even for working: The front passenger's seatback folds flat, so its back can serve as a table for a laptop computer or even a video game system plugged into the 115-volt outlet. It's a convenient setup with release levers on both sides of the passenger seatback, so it can be folded with one hand either from the driver's seat or from outside the car.

The rear seat has room for at least two full-size adults. The rear seatbacks are split 60/40 for versatility. With both rear seatbacks and the front passenger seat folded down, Vibe provides a perfectly flat cargo area shaped like Utah and almost as large: 8 feet from the rear hatch to the right half of the dashboard. With all seats folded, the Vibe can carry 54 cubic feet of cargo, which can be secured by using the numerous tie-downs, including those that lock into position in a clever pair of tracks in the rear cargo floor. Those tracks are also built into the rear seatbacks, so when the seats are folded down they extend the full length of the rear cargo floor. The hard finish used in the cargo area makes for easy cleanup, great for dealing with muddy equipment or wet dogs. However, this same hard finish means cargo that isn't secured tends to slide around. To address this, Pontiac offers accessories, including: a cargo net system ($35), a cargo gear box ($95), and a heavy-duty cargo mat ($50). An optional seatback pack ($80) attaches to the back of the front seat and includes a first-aid kit.

There's also plenty of places to tuck stuff away. Vibe provides nearly a dozen interior storage containers, nine of which keep contents out of view. There's even a compartment behind the base of the back seat, where an umbrella or fishing rods can be kept in a covered pocket. The rear window on the Vibe's hatchback opens independently, so you can reach your stuff without having to open the entire hatch.

XM Satellite Radio ($325) is a great option for long-distance traveling because the stations don't change as you drive across the country. XM Satellite Radio is nice to have around town for listening to the 24-hour news and sports broadcasts, or for staying tuned into your favorite types of music (classical, jazz, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s).

The optional DVD-based navigation system works well and has a split-screen feature so you can see both the detail of your immediate locale as well as your location in relation to a larger, metropolitan area. However, it isn't cheap ($1,650).

OnStar works like a navigation system but there's nothing to program. Press the button and a live human responds, ready to give you directions, locate the nearest sushi bar or send flowers to your mom. Through the miracle of satellite navigation, OnStar always knows the location of your vehicle. The staff will direct the rescue squad to your car if your airbag goes off and you do not respond to their calls. Or you can press the emergency button and they'll send out the troops. OnStar is good for lesser emergencies, too, like unlocking your doors when you lock the keys inside or directing you to the nearest gas station or ATM or Starbucks. If your vehicle is stolen, OnStar can pinpoint its location and direct the authorities to apprehend and recover.

Driving Impressions

The standard Pontiac Vibe is no pocket rocket, but comports itself well. We found the Vibe's engine a little noisy under acceleration, but the drivetrain quieted nicely at cruising speeds. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine features Toyota's variable valve timing (VVT-i) technology and produces 130 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 125 pounds-feet of torque at 4200 rpm.

The five-speed manual transmission lets the driver extract the full measure of the engine's power. Making shifting easier is the way the shifter is mounted in an extension of the dashboard, instead of in a center console. Your right hand falls easily from the steering wheel directly onto the shift lever.

The Vibe handles well, certainly better than any sport-utility, but it doesn't handle as well as a compact sedan. It was designed to be comfortable for long drives, and we were comfortable after a full day of driving. The Pontiac Vibe is built on the Toyota Corolla platform, a solid chassis that helped engineers with sound insulation and ride control. The front suspension is designed with a leading-arm MacPherson strut with a high caster angle. The rear suspensions of the base and GT models have a twist-beam design. The suspension is designed to ensure ample wheel travel, improving ride comfort and quietness while offering responsive handling and good stability.

Vibe offers StabiliTrak as an option for the first time in 2005 and it's a terrific feature. StabiliTrak helps the driver maintain the intended path by applying brakes at any of the four wheels independent of the driver's use of the brake pedal. If the vehicle begins to understeer (snowplow), StabiliTrak applies the inside rear brake to help turn the vehicle. If the vehicle begins to oversteer (fishtail), StabiliTrak applies the outside front brake to straighten the vehicle. StabiliTrak is integrated with the traction control and anti-lock brake systems.

The Vibe AWD model with the automatic isn't as quick as the front-drive model with the manual gearbox, but it responded nicely when we needed it to kick down for passing or for pulling onto freeways. On the downside, the AWD model gets slightly lower fuel economy and has a smaller fuel tank than the five-speed base model. On the upside, it won't get stuck and doesn't add much weight. Under normal conditions the system drives the front wheels only. But if the front wheels start slipping, a viscous coupling directs up to half of the power to the rear wheels. That's a very useful feature when trying to drive up a slippery slope. All-wheel-drive models get an independent rear suspension with a compact double-wishbone design, a more sophisticated setup than what's on the front-drive models. This independent rear suspension improves ride comfort and provides outstanding handling and stability to complement the sure-footed all-wheel-drive system. The all-wheel-drive system is made of aluminum and weighs less than 200 pounds.

The Vibe GT almost qualifies for pocket-rocket status. Pontiac says the GT will sprint from 0 to 60 mph in less than 8.5 seconds, compared to 9 or 10 seconds for the base car and 11.5 for the AWD.

The GT's engine also displaces 1.8 liters, but they are arranged a different way. A massage by the performance mavens at Yamaha shortened the stroke while increasing the bore. Compression is boosted from 10:1 to 11.5:1 (requiring premium fuel), and the engine computer regulates valve lift as well as timing, a setup called VVTL-i. The payback is 180 horsepower at 7600 rpm and 130 pound-feet of torque at 6800. Coupled to the Vibe GT's engine is a six-speed manual gearbox. The GT rides on the same twist-beam rear axle as the base model, but gets four-wheel disc brakes and ABS.

Rev to 6000, and the VVTL-i system kicks in a higher-lift, longer-duration cam lobe. It feels like a turbocharger that's spooling up and pumping air. We drove the car hard and fast on canyon roads west of Los Angeles, where we found it quick, stable and predictable. We also liked the exhaust note. The engine seems an odd match for this wagon, though. It seems like it would be better in a sporty compact. At times, we wondered what this little wagon was trying to be. The suspension felt too firm and bouncy for hauling fragile items or pets and the steering was a bit darty for casual driving. The rev-happy engine seemed peaky around town. Accelerate hard from a low speed and you'll experience torque steer, a tugging sensation on the steering wheel.


The Pontiac Vibe is roomy, versatile and economical, and new safety options further its appeal. Vibe features an innovative cargo system and house current on tap for laptops and other electrical appliances. Vibe offers an extensive list of standard equipment in all three models, though power windows and door locks are extra-cost options. And it benefits from Toyota quality standards.

The standard model seems the smartest buy, while the all-wheel-drive model adds all-weather capability. We found the Vibe GT less compelling. It's nearly $3,000 more than the standard model and the engine and suspension tuning are not conducive to pleasant motoring around town.