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2003 Pontiac Vibe REVIEW logo 4/5/2017

Con: All-wheel-drive version is sluggish, Toyota's version likely to have better resale value.

Pro: Crisp handling, unique features, utilitarian design.

Edmunds Say: Here's one Pontiac that looks to have hit its mark. The Vibe blends performance, practicality and affordability into a tastefully styled, but still fun, sport wagon package.

What’s New: The Vibe is an all-new model in Pontiac's lineup designed to combine the best attributes of an SUV, a station wagon and a small van. Thankfully, the result is rather attractive and hip, not to mention utilitarian.

Review: The Vibe is an all-new sport wagon from Pontiac that blends the handling of a small sedan with the practicality of a five-door hatchback. At just 171 inches long, the Vibe is slightly shorter than a Honda Civic sedan, but with a taller and wider body, it promises plenty of room inside.

Three models are offered: base, GT and AWD. Starting at $16,900, the base model comes standard with air conditioning, dual front airbags, AM/FM CD stereo, tilt steering and tinted windows. A 1.8-liter four-cylinder rated at 130 horsepower sends power to the front wheels through either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Sixteen-inch steel wheels are standard, with 17-inch aluminum sport wheels optional.

All-wheel-drive (AWD) models feature the same equipment as the base model, except for the optional five-speed manual transmission. Power is routed through the automatic transmission to the front wheels under normal conditions, but when slippage is detected, the rear wheels engage until traction is regained. AWD models also get a fully independent rear suspension for even better control on rough roads. Unfortunately, the added weight of the all-wheel-drive system combined with the automatic transmission makes the AWD version a bit sluggish. Unless you absolutely need the extra traction for bad weather, we would recommend sticking with the base version, or our favorite, the Vibe GT.

The GT serves up maximum fun with a 180-horsepower version of the same Toyota-sourced 1.8-liter four-cylinder found in the base and AWD models. A six-speed manual transmission comes standard along with four-wheel disc brakes, 16-inch aluminum wheels and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. With only 2,800 pounds to lug around, the Vibe GT moves out quickly, but the peaky engine does require plenty of revs before it makes serious power.

All Vibe models feature interiors that are both stylish and functional. Chrome-ringed gauges and metallic dash trim spice things up in front, while in back, the 60/40-split bench seat folds completely flat to create 57.2 cubic feet of usable cargo space. Other useful features include a front passenger seat that folds flat for carrying extra-long items, a 115-volt AC power outlet for plugging in household devices and adjustable tie down anchors in the cargo area.

If those features aren't enough, numerous options are available. Add the "Moon and Tunes" package to get a power glass sunroof and 200-watt six-speaker premium audio system, or check the "Power Value" package to add electric windows, locks, and mirrors along with cruise control and keyless entry. Other premium options include a DVD-based satellite navigation system, seat-mounted side airbags and an in-dash six-disc CD changer.

Built alongside its sister car, the Toyota Matrix, in a jointly run manufacturing facility in Fremont, Calif., the Vibe promises top-notch build quality in addition to sporty performance and practicality. Competition in the sport wagon segment is growing quickly, but the Vibe's combination of unique features, a proven drivetrain and tasteful styling makes it a valuable addition to the Pontiac lineup.


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