Pontiac Vibe 2009 Review

A Great Value

Now you can get a safe reliable, all-wheel drive car with standard stability control for below $18,000. The Pontiac Vibe 2009 is built in California the result of a joint venture called, New United Motor Manufacturing (NUMMI).

Toyota was smart to go into a joint venture with General Motors. They learned an awful lot about the American market, safety manufacturing, and pollution control. GM learned a lot too.

NUMMI traditionally assembles either Toyota products or substantially Toyota products like the Vibe. Deliberately designed for the North American market, the Pontiac Vibe has tremendous influence in it by GM Pontiac division. The Toyota Matrix comes standard with meaningfully less safety features. The Matrix is assembled in Canada, where Toyota is having quite a row with the Canadian auto workers union. The Corolla is built on the same line as the Vibe.

Standard Stability Control with AWD Safety

The Vibe is classified as a passenger car, and therefore offers the best safety. Standard on all Vibe models is stability control, antilock brakes, and a tire pressure monitoring system. For the ultimate in traction control it’s all-wheel drive. All-wheel drive doesn't offer any better stopping ability, but it does offer better control in wet or foul weather. Good use of your intelligence and all-wheel drive can keep you out of trouble. Slow and steady wins the race.

The Vibe AWD offers you a choice of one driveline; up front it starts with the large 2.4 L, 16-valve double overhead cam with veritable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust. The automatic transmission only has four forward gears. The gears are well spaced and the software that works the engine and transmission creates a very pleasant harmony that gives the whole package plenty of get up and go. The automatic offers a manual shift feature that raises the satisfaction level.

The all-wheel drive employees an electro-mechanical clutch that brings power as needed to the rear wheels. The all-wheel drive feels almost completely transparent. Upon acceleration, there is no pulling or tugging on the steering wheel as can so easily happen with front or four-wheel-drive vehicles. The power steering is electrically assisted and draws less engine power than slower hydraulic power steering pumps.

Future Efficient Styling, Strong Purposeful BodyThe basic shape of a Pontiac Vibe really is the shape of the future. For that matter its size and weight is future think also. This is what happened to the Pontiac Tempest wagon. This Vibe is a station wagon without a sedan counterpart. Or is this a mini SUV packaged as a passenger car? Or better yet, maybe it's a crossover classified as a passenger car, looking like a little SUV. If it was made in England it might be called the Vibe Brake or Shooting Brake, if it was built in Germany by Audi it would be called the Vibe Touring. Because the tailgate slopes off backward and is not perpendicular to the road we call it a hatchback. It's interesting to note that both hatchbacks and backpacks became popular in the 1960s and 70s.

In any case, this configuration allows you the most car-like shape to cut the wind with a large interior volume. You achieve greater space efficiency than you would in a sedan and greater fuel efficiency than a big SUV with a larger frontal area. So you might say that the Vibe is a combination of the best of a sedan and the best of an SUV. So it's a hybrid by design!

Like the safest cars in the world, the Vibe consists of a unitized body with substantial steel sub-frames supporting the engine, transmission and suspension at the front and in the rear supporting the differential and suspension. The body and structure are very strong, noticeably stiff. The Pontiac’s independent suspension is calibrated to feel sporty and nimble like the steering.

The body has all the right Pontiac styling cues yet appears to have a heavy Asian influence. This is no body by Fisher and the style is not taken from studios in Italy, yet it is purposeful and satisfying. The headlights are shiny and clear as they wrap up over the fender complementing the line of the windshield, which is more steeply raked than before. Order the optional fog lights as they are effective and well placed at the lower outermost edge of the car.

Thoughtful Communication, Ergonomic Design and Loading Touches

While the front side windows are quite large as you go backward the belt line moves upward, making the rear window smaller and creating more of a blind spot in the rear. All-around visibility is okay even for shorter drivers. Because of the tall roof getting in and out is quite easy for all and even individuals with mobility problems. When you step into a Vibe you don't climb up into a big truck or sit down low like a regular sedan or sports car. If you lift a lot of packages or children in and out of your car this style is easier on your lower back. Suburban or urban tripping in the Vibe feels less stressful as 171 inches is simpler to park.

The hatchback is easier to load than a sedan because it's designed so you can slide things in or out. The Vibe has an ingenious storage compartment in the back that we had occasion to use a number of times. It's simple. We wonder why other automakers didn't use something like this before. When you test drive, take a look at this little flip-up feature. It’s a perfect place to hold three or four or five soft or firm bags or packages in place. It even makes unloading easier and less back breaking. You may never have occasion to use the standard roof rack on the other hand, it could be a godsend.

Aft of the roof rack, standard are two antennas. One is on the passenger side for XM radio and OnStar and in the center one for AM and FM radio. As you may know XM radio is broadcast from two geosynchronous satellites hovering over the equator. OnStar uses the Verizon cellular network to communicate directly at the touch of a button with a highly trained, specialized operator. As you know from prior reading OnStar automatically calls emergency vehicles and communicates with you directly if you are capable, immediately after an airbag deployment. No other automaker has yet to invest in such technologies that offer such control and observation of your car.

Interior Integration

Behind the wheel is typically good comfort in a nicely supportive seat. Cloth is standard and leather is not available except on the steering wheel and gear shift. The gauges are large and easy to read. Air conditioning and heating controls were clear with no special air filtrations. The tachometer is pleasant to have as it allows you to use the engine and transmission to have the most fun and efficiency. A temperature gauge is mandatory and sensible. The framing of the driver’s gauges looks heavy while the center console seems lighter.

The audio controls are well integrated with big easy sensible dials that allow you to program your favorite buttons. In one row of buttons you can have an AM station next to an FM station next to an XM station all just one touch away. On most car audio you first must press the FM band to see your list of FM stations. We didn't see this ergonomic device on the last Mercedes E class we drove.

The Pontiac Good Vibrations

Driving is enjoyable whether you are accustomed to a smaller or larger vehicle you'll quickly feel comfortable with the size of the Vibe. The 2.4 L engine is quieter and more responsive than the 1.8. The suspension on the Pontiac is definitely a step ahead, and more European in nature and feel. Considering that gasoline will probably climb to over $5 per gallon during ownership of your next vehicle the Pontiac Vibe is the new Suburban. It's perfect for running lots of errands in a loop.

If you spend lots of time driving distance on the highway say 60 miles an hour noise will become more of a factor. Take the Vibe out for a test drive, while it's one of the quietest of its type, see what you think. No small car yet offers active noise canceling of the passenger compartment.

If you're considering a small SUV you should test drive the Pontiac Vibe and make it a standard in which to compare others against. It is the newest of the type and hasn't yet enough time on the market for proven reliability or safety studies. The indicators are that it will be very safe and reliable, but there is little evidence to that yet.

Comparing Vehicles and Values

After your evaluation of the Pontiac Vibe, examine and drive the Subaru Impreza wagon. You loose the whole high roof concept and gain sportiness. The Dodge caliber is a couple of inches longer, and a few thousand dollars more expensive, yet appears to be worthy competition. The Caliber has a completely different feeling.

If you're going to spend a lot of time in the car or this is below the budget you originally planned on spending or you're getting better fuel economy than you ever thought then get all the options and load up your Vibe. So for a moment you think you have an Escalade. Order the Sun and Sound Package for the sunroof and monsoon audio together. Then order the Preferred Equipment Package which gives you remote keyless entry and power everything else including the optional fog lights for the best safety and the optional 17 inch aluminum alloy wheels. You'll be hard-pressed to spend over $21,000.

Strategize Your Family Carbon Footprint

we've found that most families in the healthcare field have at least three cars. In these times of expensive scarce fuel your strategy should include a wagon configuration high mileage vehicle. For the ultimate in fuel economy you can drive the same configuration of body with only front-wheel-drive and a 1.8 L engine. Some indications already exist showing the 1.8 L engine having only slightly better fuel economy than the substantially more powerful 2.4 L.

Call at least an hour before you head to the Pontiac dealer and let the sales person know exactly what car you want to drive. Have them call you back to let you know your time slot and car availability. If you can't wait for the next shipment because they don't have it now, well, call the next Pontiac dealer. Pontiac has 2,700 dealers nationwide, that's a lot. Pontiac mechanics are now more skilled at working on these systems so it's easier to find a better mechanic.

Pontiac’s Rockin’ www

When you visit the Pontiac web site you might be alarmed by its youthful rock and roll loud music on the Vibe page; you can turn it down while you build your vehicle or change to one of three different tracks, #2 seemed most palatable. Apparently Pontiac is marketing the Vibe to a younger crowd but don’t let that stop you from getting one; this is a purposeful vehicle for any age buyer. Rock on.

2009 Pontiac Vibe: Fast Facts


171.1 in.


69.5 in.


102.4 in








2.4L/144 cc’s

Hp @ rpm

158 @ 6000

Ft-lb @ rpm

162 @ 4000


Automatic 4-spd



Gas Requirement



Fremont, CA

Safety Score


Real Price

Base: $18,000;

Loaded: $23,000