CC Capsule: 1994 Pontiac Grand Am SE – All In The Eye Of The Beholder

Extensively covered before, GM’s N-body needs no formal introduction. First introduced as 1985 models, the original GM N-body Buick/Oldsmobile/Pontiac trio debuted to lukewarm reception. Critics panned their sleep-inducing styling, stubby proportions, elderly powertrains, uninspiring performance, cramped interiors, and cheap finishes. In light of this, Pontiac’s Grand Am quickly proved quite popular, becoming Pontiac’s best selling model with over 225,000 examples sold in 1986. Although Pontiac did make meaningful improvements here and there over the course of its run, by the end of the first this first generation N-body Grand Am’s run in 1991, it was still a rather dull and uninspiring car that lacked the refinement of rivals.

Pontiac made further strides to address this, well at least the dull part, with a redesigned Gran Am for the 1992 model year. Gaining some seven inches of length, the 1992 Grand Am sported rounder, more expressive styling, largely by way of plastic lower-body prosthetics and cladding. Its 103.4-inch wheelbase was the same as before, but redesigned front and rear seats boosted interior dimensions by a marginal amount.

Among notable improvements was the addition of standard antilock brakes, something Pontiac heavily touted, even going so far as to add “ABS” badges to the decklid. The track was widened, giving the Grand Am slightly better handling ability and visual appeal. The trunk and rear doors also opened wider, to 90 and 80 degrees, respectively. V6 power also returned for the first time since, 1987, giving buyers more ample power over the base I4, without the coarseness of the Quad 4.

Yet despite improvements, overall refinement was still lacking, especially compared to the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, both of which Pontiac frequently benchmarked in its advertising. The Grand Am’s chassis and suspension were unchanged, the latter meaning it retained its twist-beam rear suspension. A redesigned interior still looked and felt cheap. Unfavorable levels of NVH were still prevalent, something especially true of Grand Ams equipped with the Quad 4. Then of course, there is the fact that its rambunctious styling was highly subjective.

Regardless of its shortcomings, the 1992-1998 Grand Am still proved very popular for Pontiac, typically selling over 200,000 units per year, even if many were steeply incentivized and sold to fleets. For better or worse, it was the car that most people soon came to associate with Pontiac, and the Grand Am is likely one of the reasons GM kept Pontiac around for as long as they did.

Photographed in Washington Square, Boston South End – December 2018


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