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1997 Pontiac Grand Am REVIEW logo 4/5/2017

Con: Aging platform, poor handling, uncomfortable seats

Pro: Cheap thrills, sporty image, fun Twin Cam engine

What’s New: Very minimal changes this year as Pontiac concentrates on Grand Prix and Trans Sport launches. Air conditioning is now standard. Also, three new colors are added.

Review: Last year, Pontiac gave the Grand Am a fresh exterior look and an all-new interior. This year, changes are limited to the addition of air conditioning to the standard equipment list for the SE, and the addition of three new colors. Despite the Grand Am's six-year-old design, and decade old chassis, it is one of the hottest sellers in the GM stable. We doubt the dearth of updates will cause sales to nosedive in 1997.

Under the hood, a twin-cam 2.4-liter engine is standard on all models. A 3.1-liter V6 is optional, but requires an automatic shifter. Traction control is included with the automatic transmission. Antilock brakes are standard equipment. Daytime running lights were added to the Grand Am last year, and they remain for 1997. You can defeat them by pulling up the hand brake handle one notch, though when we did this during a recent test of a Saturn SL2, the brake engaged ever so slightly. Be sure you aren't damaging your parking brake using this method. PASSlock theft deterrent is standard on all Grand Ams. Variable effort steering is available on both trim levels.

We drove a Grand Am SE sedan last year, and weren't impressed. Nose-heavy handling, uncomfortable seats, and a generally displeasing interior were to blame for our malaise. The twin-cam engine, though boomy at higher revs, was a fun engine, even when connected to an automatic transmission. We came away from our test drive non-plussed, unable to understand what makes this car so popular, aside from its low price.

In its sixth year on the market, the Grand Am is sure to remain Pontiac's best-selling model. It offers stylish good looks and reasonable performance, yet remains a decent value. These attributes combined can be the only explanation for the Grand Am's continued popularity. The SE model is our pick, because it can be equipped to GT specs without the false performance pretensions and higher price of that premium trim level. Budget minded shoppers may want to investigate the twin-cam Sunfire, which offers more equipment and better performance for less money.


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