By the mid-2000s, it seemed like GM executives had finally figured out a few things. Firstly, that GM’s global divisions were producing some excellent cars that ought to be sold in America: see the Saturn Astra and Pontiac G8. Secondly, that GM no longer had the lion’s share of the American market and not every division needed to have a full lineup. Thirdly, they had learned they were more than capable of differentiating products on a shared platform. Rebadging was becoming less and less common: cars like the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky had vastly different interiors and exteriors, for example. And then they go ahead and signed off on this: the Pontiac G5. A lazy rebadge, the G5 was antithetical to all GM was becoming. To add insult to injury, the G5 didn’t even fit with Pontiac’s role in the changing organization.
A Chevrolet Cobalt with red gauges and a twin-nostril grille, the 2007 G5 was a mere bone thrown to the dealers that were missing the Sunfire (axed after 2005). Pontiac in Canada had maintained a presence in the compact segment with a rebadged Cobalt known as the Pursuit, so as with the Pontiac Astre in the 1970s, Pontiac USA followed Pontiac Canada’s lead.
GM had taken steps to establish Pontiac as a niche performance brand. Bob Lutz had spoken about paring the model lineup down to a core group of sporty models, including the Solstice roadster and G8 sport sedan. But Pontiac often accompanied Buick and GMC models on dealer lots, and as those two brands took steps upmarket, dealerships must have been anxious to keep loss leaders on their lots.
The idea of a sporty compact to slot below the G6 sedan/coupe/convertible range wasn’t unwise. What that compact needed to be, though, was something more distinctively Pontiac. Chevrolet had a Cobalt SS with a turbocharged 2.0 Ecotec four-cylinder engine pumping out an impressive 260 hp and 260 ft-lbs. If they had just invested in sheetmetal as differentiated from the Chevy as the previous Sunfire had been and modified the interior somewhat, they could have had an appealing and somewhat distinctive compact.
Instead, the G5 arrived with a choice of two naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engines: a 2.2 with 148 hp and 152 ft-lbs and a 2.4 with 173 hp and 163 ft-lbs. Transmissions were a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic. Although Canada’s Delta Pontiac was available as a sedan, the American G5 came only as a coupe.
It was almost insulting that GM would release such a flimsy rebadge and that the most powerful G5 would be considerably less powerful than its Chevy twin. The Cobalt was a competent if not class-leading compact but those solid bones didn’t help the G5. The Chevy outsold the Pontiac by almost 10-to-1, and the latter was well off its predecessor the Sunfire’s volume. The G5 stuck around for three years, dying only because its brand was axed during GM’s bankruptcy proceedings. Sadly, it wasn’t even the most shameful rebadge foisted upon Pontiac at the time.