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Getting My Goat

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2006 Pontiac GTO (Used)

For weeks and weeks I looked for one particular car. I wanted a 2005 or 2006 Pontiac GTO, with low to average miles, and the available 6-speed manual transmission. They aren’t easy to find. The 4-speed automatics can be found here and there with some regularity, even though the car had a limited run for GM’s Pontiac division. But the manual transmission cars are truly rare, cost significantly more, and get snapped up quickly when they become available.

My new (to me) 2006 Pontiac GTOWhy this car in particular? There were a lot of things I liked about it. First it isn’t actually a Pontiac. It is an import car from GM’s Holden division in Australia, the Holden Monaro. The Aussies know how to build muscle cars right. Second was the power, which is provided by GM’s 6-liter LS2 V8 power plant from the C6 Corvette. It puts out 400 HP in stock form. Third, I wanted it because of the independent suspension and limited-slip diff in the rear. Finally, I didn’t want to pay $40,000+ for my 400 horses, nor did I want the massive maintenance and upkeep costs inherent in German cars that boast similar power. I certainly didn’t want the reliability worries and maintenance costs that come with a Jaguar XF Supercharged.

I finally found a GTO that met my specifications, at a CarMax dealership a couple of hours away: a 2006 GTO—or Goat, as the GTO is fondly known—with relatively low mileage, for under $19,000. It appeared on the CarMax web site on Friday night. I had a pre-approved loan for it before I went to bed Friday night, and by Saturday afternoon, I was driving it home from Orange County. It was a good thing I moved so fast. Right before I showed up on Saturday, another buyer walked into the dealership and offered to buy it on the spot. He should’ve called the previous night, like I did, the loser.

I’ve had it for a couple of weeks now, and can now tell you whether it’s any good.

How it looks

The exterior styling on the ’06 Goat is pretty subdued. In 2013, automotive styling has moved on to harsh, angular lines, with rows of LED lights front and back. The GTO’s external styling, however, harks back to the smoother, more organic lines of the 1990’s. Even for its time, the GTO wasn’t aggressively styled. By today’s performance car standards, it’s exceedingly drab. What hints of aggression there are, are done subtly. If you look at the wheels, for instance, you notice the huge disk brakes and red calipers in the wheels, and that the tires are noticeably wider than what you see on most cars. The sides are badged with a discrete “6.0 Liter” on the GTO name plaque. There’s also a “6.0” on the right side of the trunk. The functional air scoops on the hood are a bit of a give-away as well.

Other than that, though, the Goat looks…well…boring, really. Much speculation has been given as to the reason why the GTO didn’t sell better in its 3-year run from 2004 to 2006. A lot of it centers on the plain and unexciting exterior styling. I suspect that there’s a lot of truth in that.

Certainly younger car buyers want lots of racy-looking geegaws on their powerful cars. That’s why, for instance, the Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru WRX STI have those god-awful, boy-racer wings on the trunk, despite the fact that they provide no actual downforce. On the GTO, there’s no wing, just a discrete trunk-lid spoiler. Since I’m not 13 years old, though, the discrete styling works for me. In fact, I wish I’d found a more subdued color than fire-engine red. If you see one of these things in, say, silver, you—by which I mean a cop—wouldn’t look twice at it.

On the inside, there’s almost nothing that tells you this is a GM car. That’s because in the good ol’ US of A, we’ve gotten used to the idea that being inside a GM car is worse than being poked in the eyes with a sharp stick. While there’s still some ugly hard plastic on the GTO’s center console, the rest of the dashboard is covered by a soft-touch material, as are the tops of the doors. This doors also sport suede leather panels along their entire length. Instead of a run-of-the mill Delco radio, the GTO has a 9-speaker Blaupunkt stereo system with 6-CD changer.

GTO InteriorSince it’s a 2006 model, there’s no satellite radio or sat-nav, though the top of the center console runs into the top of the dashboard, giving you a smooth, convenient mounting place for an XM Unit or Garmin. The center console also has a storage compartment below the armrest, which is fitted with a 12-volt power outlet.

Behind the fully-adjustable, telescoping, leather steering wheel sits a quartet of red-backed instrument gauges, with white analog dials for engine temp, tachometer, speedometer, and fuel state. The bottom of each gauge is taken up by a backlit LCD screen which shows additional trip computer readouts that you can toggle through various modes. In addition to the regular trip computer and odometer displays, there’s a stopwatch timer, display increments settings, and a digital speedometer. Various fuel efficiency readouts are also available, though they mainly just tell you that the GTO’s gas-guzzling, 6L V8 isn’t very fuel efficient at all. Because the Monaro was a world car, sold also in the UK as a Vauxhall as well as a Pontiac in the US and Canada, the speedometer has a lit MPH/KPH indicator, and the analog needle changes its behavior to properly reflect the setting for Imperial or Metric units.

Room in the back seats is fairly spacious, and seats two adults quite comfortably. The back seats even have their own air-conditioning vents. This is a sports coupe, however, so despite the ample room in back, getting into it is a bit problematic. The front seats do slide forward, of course, with an electrical system that returns the front seat to the driver’s desired position. Despite this, getting in back requires that you be rather spry.

Seating is perforated leather all ‘round, with very comfortable and well-bolstered front seats that have stitched “GTO” badging. The front seats also have 6-way electrical adjustment, so there’s a driving position to suit everyone. The bolstering is also put to good use in spirited driving.

By modern standards, the interior of the GTO is just…OK. Honestly, Any recent-model Ford or Dodge has a better interior. The Kia Rio has a better interior. Every Chevy built today has a worse one. By 2006 standards, the GTO’s interior was on par with many European import cars. By today’s standards, however, it’s a bit Spartan. Especially now that even entry-level models have sat-nav, satellite radio, iPod/USB ports, voice command, and Bluetooth connectivity. The GTO has none of this. It does have automatic headlights, and cruise control, but it has nothing at all that would frighten or confuse a driver who teleported in from 1982.

How it drives

Of course, you don’t buy a 2006 GTO for the consumer technology. You buy it because under the hood it has a great, stonking V8 motor with 400 HP and 400 lb-ft of torque. You buy it because it will do 0-60 in 4.6 seconds, and hit the quarter mile mark in 13 seconds. That wasn’t just fast for 2006, it’s fast for now. Seriously, the LS2 engine may be one of the best V8s ever made. Knowing a car is fast in a straight line, though, really isn’t all that impressive, and it tells you nothing about how the car will perform outside the drag strip, on real roads where you drive every day. How does the GTO do at that?

First off, the GTO’s extremely rigid frame allows it to be coupled with a softer suspension. This provides a firm ride, but a surprisingly comfortable one, as the suspension is still able to soak up road imperfections without transmitting them directly to your spine. It certainly more comfortable than the Audi S4 I tested a few weeks ago. Someone really needs to go to Ingolstadt and beat Audi engineers with a stick until they realize that you don’t need to make the ride as harsh as an unsprung milk-wagon.

The ride of the GTO—while not as soft—reminds me quite a lot of the Jaguar XF. Though the GTO’s ride is a bit harsher than the modern Jag—which, to be fair, is a luxury car more than a sports car—the Goat has the same feel of firmness, without the punishingly hard ride quality of the S4. There’s enough give in the GTO’s suspension to give it a bit of body roll in hard turns, but not enough, really, to matter. Ride quality falls somewhere between a grand tourer and a full-on track car.

Steering is another highlight to the GTO. Not only does the delightfully thick wheel feel good in the hands, the plain, old-school hydraulic power steering system provides the road feel and feedback that are missing from modern, electrically powered units. It’s also delightfully direct and responsive. It turns in eagerly, and responds to steering inputs exactly like you expect it to. It’s confidence-inspiring in the way it responds to your inputs. You get the feeling that it really does want to turn into corners as much as you want it to.

The original Holden Monaro in its native plumage

The original Holden Monaro in its native plumage

The GTO also has fully independent suspension, with a limited-slip differential in back. Combine this with a curb weight of 3,725 lbs.—compared to the 4,100 lbs. of, say, a Dodge Challenger or Chevrolet Camaro—and all of the ingredients for surprisingly good handling in the curves are present.

The big ABS disc brakes are a treat, too, as they haul the GTO to a stop from 60 MPH in 121 feet. Indeed, the only problem with driving the GTO in a spirited fashion is that you have to rid yourself of the tendency to brake too early, coming to an embarrassing stop before you even enter the corner.

I got an unexpected test of the brakes just a few days ago, when an idiot in an oncoming lanes tried a sudden U-turn right in front of me on a 4-lane street—and just stopped. My biggest worry quickly transferred from the idiot in front of me, to wondering if I was going to be hit from behind. The previous-generation ABS system isn’t as smooth as current-generation braking systems, and there was a fair amount of juddering, but the GTO stopped quite quickly, without any side-to-slide slewing or other unnecessary drama.

Put all this together, and you can pretty much drive the GTO like a race car. Brake late and hard entering a turn, dial in your line on the wheel as you let up off the brakes, drop a gear, then release the clutch and power your way out of the apex.

You’re assisted in this by the traction control system, which only cuts in when the GTO really senses that you’re losing it. It allows you a fair bit of fun before stepping in, allowing you to get a little tire squeal in at will, without getting all fanatical about saving you. Really, in daily driving, you don’t even notice the traction control unless you turn it off. The GTO warns you that the traction control is off by having your tires emit very loud squealing noises and voluminous quantities of expensive tire smoke every time your foot touches the accelerator. It’s not all that obvious when the traction control system is on, but it’s impossible not to notice when it’s off.

Sadly, not all is sweetness and light when driving the Goat. The 6-speed Tremec manual transmission is depressingly average. The way everything else about the GTO feels, you expect the mannie trannie to have these short, tight, precise little throws, and it’s nothing like that at all. It’s clunky and notchy, and you have to wrestle with it a bit to push it through every gate. It has a beefy feel that never lets you forget you’re channeling really quite a lot of torque through some really heavy bits of metal. It’s like the engineers at Holden just threw up their hands and said, in their ridiculous Aussie accents, “Oh, just throw a Tremec tranny in it, mate. Everybody’s gonna buy an automatic, anyway.” The transmission could’ve used a little more attention. It’s a disappointment, though, honestly, I’d still rather have the clunky Tremec unit than the automatic 4-speed that most GTOs have.

What’s good about it

The GTO handles very well. The steering and braking are great. The leather seats are comfortable. The stereo sounds good. The ergonomics are well thought-out. It’s a hoot to drive.

What’s bad about it

The technology is dated, though this is obviously something you should expect in an eight year-old car. The interior materials and design are a bit bland by modern standards. Most people will think the exterior design is drab and dated as well. The manual transmission is disappointingly average.

Conclusion

As an aside, there were a few niggling things that needed to be addressed, as there usually is on a used car. The previous owner had tinted the rear windows—badly—causing the view through the rear window to be excessively blurry and it was impossible to see anything. This is not a car in which you don’t want to be able to see a police car behind you. One of the key fobs for the keyless entry system was broken. The front storage tray in the center console was missing the rubber piece that is supposed to line the bottom. The aluminum GTO badge on the dash had fallen off. It was just little things that were easily repairable. Those things aside, the car was in very good shape. It’s obviously been fairly well taken care of.

So, the 2006 GTO is a rather drably styled car that’s thoroughly capable and fun to drive in a sporting fashion. Owning it is like being married to a rather average-looking girl who wears plain, frumpy clothes, but who does amazing things with her mouth and has an inconceivably small vagina. I guess the only question remaining is, now that I’ve had it for a few weeks, would I buy it again?

Oh, hell yes.

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