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2003 Pontiac Vibe

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SAN FRANCISCO: Every once in a while the advertising people get it right and produce ads that portray the realness of the product they are selling. The ads for the 2003 Pontiac Vibe showed "real" people on the street that had just gotten a look at the new Vibe up close and personal. Their reactions varied from "That’s cool" to "What an awesome car!" And we wholeheartedly agree.

One of the first things you notice about the Vibe is its wagon-like appearance, not unlike the Chrysler PT Cruiser. Once you get past that, though, the Vibe stands on its own as a newly designed, totally hip people mover with style and panache.

This thing swoops and snarls and can carry you and three close friends and some great tailgating paraphernalia to a game or hiking gear out to the foothills that lead to your favorite trail. And if it’s just you and a close friend, there’s even more room to haul stuff.

The Vibe, at 54.1 cubic feet with the 60/40-split rear seats folded down, doesn’t have enough room as a Ford Escape (69.2 cu ft) or PT Cruiser (64.2cu ft) but that doesn’t matter because the Vibe is more stylish, has more aggressive styling than either and has a 110-volt outlet, for a blender or vacuum or whatever else you can plug in, on the center stack of the dashboard.

Like the PT Cruiser, the Vibe is more wagon than anything else. Unlike the Cruiser, the Vibe was designed as a modern vehicle through and through. Pontiac’s engineers took the basic shape portrayed by the underpinnings and gave us a rakish design that screams "I am Pontiac" with every curve of the plastic body cladding that, thankfully, will go by the wayside over the next few years thanks to GM Product Czar Bob Lutz.

Practicality is a top priority of the Vibe…and it’s one of the most practical vehicles around. We counted three cubbyholes in the center console alone, not taking the two in the armrest into consideration. And all this is from the first five minutes behind the wheel. The rest of the car was as organized…at least, if you like to be organized, it’ll help you out a lot.

What can we say about the look of the Vibe? It isn’t nearly as hideous as the Aztec, it’s downright attractive, really. The lines from the front wheel arches into the rear rise slightly giving the impression of a more rakish design than it really is; it almost looks like the rear glass isn’t as tall as the top of the windshield…a very cool design element. And it works very well. The Vibe looks fast in a boy-racerish sort of way. Think of it as "tasteful" cladding, if we can get a little existential.

The rear cargo area is outfitted with a track system to assist in tying down cargo with metal loops on the walls and floor to give you the ultimate flexibility. It’s more convenient than having a Chinese laundry and restaurant all in one…and that delivers.

Though the Vibe doesn’t have as much cargo space as a regular SUV, it does benefit from its low center of gravity. When you take a corner in the Vibe, it doesn’t tip like the taller SUVs do and you still get the benefit of a tall driving position, it’s truly the best of both worlds.

We had the Vibe during one of our many hot spells this summer and found that the air-conditioning system seemed to falter when we asked for more cold air. It may have been the extreme heat but we really expected more from the Vibe, or any modern vehicle.

On the braking front, we felt the brakes could have been more helpful in telling us exactly what they were doing. Like most corporate curmudgeons, communication and feedback were not a priority.

We enjoyed driving the Vibe around town and on the highway. The suspension kept most expansion joints quiet (the 200-watt stereo helped as well) and was adept at holding a line in fast corners. Again, the low center of gravity of this SUV made it feel like a smaller, shorter vehicle than what it really is.

The 130 horsepower four-cylinder had enough pep to feel sprightly but wasn’t overbearing, which wasn’t all that bad considering that we were looking good and could haul almost anything we needed to. Of course, we would have preferred the manual transmission to the four-speed automatic, but the transmission shifted cleanly and never felt like it was hunting for the right gear; it choose a gear and stuck with it.

On the safety front, the Vibe got five out of five stars on frontal impacts by the National Highway Traffic Administration. In addition to good crash-worthiness, the Vibe comes with dual front airbags and three-point belts for all three rear seat passengers.

Our Vibe came nicely equipped and was just shy of $20,000. The base price for the standard Vibe (There’s the Vibe and Vibe GT with a 180 horsepower engine) is $16,340 with the obligatory destination charge of $560. Our Vibe came optioned with the $1000 power package (power locks/with remote entry, power windows and cruise control); the $800 "Moon & Tunes" package (power moonroof and 200-watt premium stereo); automatic transmission ($800); and 16 inch aluminum wheels ($400). And somebody really liked us because they gave us $700 off the "Moon & Tunes" package, bringing our grand total to $19,200.

Pontiac says the Vibe is a skillful blend of the best attributes of sports cars, sport wagons and SUVs. We think the Vibe is the best all-around car-van-wagon thing going and for the price, versatility and fun-to-drive factor, it can’t be beat.  By James E Bryson AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  The Coolest New Kid on the Block
Topic:  2003 Pontiac Vibe
Word Count:   1022
Photo Caption:  The Pontiac Vibe
Photo Credits:  Pontiac Internet Media
Series #:   2002 - 35

Download the Microsoft Word version here:   2003 Pontiac Vibe

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