General Motors and Toyota have engaged in joint ventures for years, especially in terms of the factory in Fremont, California. That plant currently turns out both the Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix. Both compact crossover wagons debuted for the 2003 model year. Each has been redesigned for 2009.
On the Pontiac side, the 2009 model is called "all-new" and features fresh sheetmetal, as well as revised interior styling. All-wheel-drive (AWD) and GT models have returned, after an absence at the end of the prior generation.
The base model's 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine gains some power, now rated at 132 horsepower. Either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission may be installed.
GT and AWD models contain a new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 158 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. That engine is optional for the base Vibe. Base and GT models with the 2.4-liter engine may have manual shift or a new five-speed automatic transmission that incorporates Driver Shift Control for manually-selected gear changes. The AWD Vibe comes only with a four-speed automatic.
Pontiac claims fuel economy has not suffered, despite the power boost. With manual shift, the 1.8-liter base engine earns an EPA estimate of 26 mpg in city driving and 32 mpg on the highway. Automatic drops the estimate to 25/31 mpg. The EPA gives the 2.4-liter engine with manual shift an estimate of 21 mpg in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway, versus 21/29 mpg with automatic. The AWD Vibe manages only 20/26 mpg, likely due to that model's additional weight.
Six airbags are standard, including curtain-type airbags and side thorax airbags. Also standard are antilock braking and GM's StabiliTrak stability-control system. GM's OnStar communications system also is included on all Vibes.
Overall, the 2009 Vibe comes across as more substantial than its 2003-08 predecessor. Improvements are evident right away. Vibe still doesn't rank as a great car, but it's an acceptable example of compact wagons.
An AWD Vibe delivers modest if enthusiastic performance with an automatic transmission, coupled with spirited maneuverability. Nimble and agile, with fine steering feel, the 2009 Vibe qualifies as easy and fun to drive. Engine buzz is an issue, though - one that tends to keep you holding back a bit.
This Vibe rides a little harsher than expected, hitting some bumps rather hard. Overall, though, the ride isn't bad. Gauges are well-lit, with red pointers and white numerals, but zero is at the bottom of the speedometer, which can be confusing to some drivers.
Vibe prices start at $15,895 (including destination charge). An AWD Vibe runs $19,495, while the GT edition commands $19,895. Sales of the 2009 model began in February 2008. Toyota's 2009 Matrix also went on sale early in the season.
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