The Pontiac Grand Am - smaller than the X-car, larger than the ''J'' - is aimed squarely at the imports with its European dress and level of performance, especially with the optional V-6.
Clearly the car has class - that's for sure.
With the upscale Pontiac Grand Am LE ($18,150 in the test model) - a 2-door 5 -passenger sports specialty - Pontiac is after the ''baby boomers'' who are moving upscale and have their hearts set on a BMW or its competition. If General Motors can pull one more buyer away from a BMW, Peugeot, Volvo, Saab, or high-level Japanese car, it figures it's been worth the try.
With a low nose and high back end, the all-new Grand Am proves itself as a solid road car with plenty of zip, road control, and class. It offers a choice of two transmissions and two engines, a 5-speed manual as well as a 3-speed automatic with GM's electronic-fuel-injected, 2.5-liter Tech IV ''4,'' plus a 3 -speed automatic with the multiport, fuel-injected 3-liter ''6.'' A manual 5 -speed West German Getrag transaxle is expected sometime in the spring.
In performance, the smaller engine with stickshift moves the car from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in 12 seconds, according to Pontiac. The automatic-transmission V-6 is a bit better and is rated from 0 to 60 in 11.9 seconds.
Why call it the Grand Am? Pontiac says the name has a clear ring with potential buyers of the new car. Some drivers link the Grand Am name to the high-performance, sporty cars of the past, the carmaker says. It also brings up an image of personal-type driving, an idea Pontiac wants to encourage.
While it is still too early for flush-type, aerodynamic headlamps, the kind used in the new Ford-built Continental Mark VII, the front end of the Grand Am identifies the car as thoroughly modern in design and execution. A finely sculptured hood, for example, slopes back to the flush-fitting windshield, while the rear glass is flush-fitting and convex, looking a lot like the back end of a Mercury Cougar.
Things I don't particularly like: First, I'd like a little more legroom in front; but that, of course, depends on the driver.
Then there is the location of the control buttons for the electric-powered windows. The buttons are much too far to the rear on the console, and it takes somewhat of an effort to reach them. Is this the only spot for the buttons?
As for the instrument panel, it could be improved. The test car lacks a tachometer, although very few drivers probably use the tach to their advantage, anyway. But why doesn't the odometer also include a trip meter? It was especially hard to read the precise speed on the speedometer.
But the car feels good, and that's what's important.