SAN DIEGO – Good old-fashioned American motoring. That may be the most apt way to describe the ’08 Pontiac G8, which, ironically, arrives to the U.S. this year from about as far away as possible.

Designed, engineered and built by General Motors Corp.’s Australian subsidiary, GM Holden Ltd., the all-new G8 upper-midsize sedan injects some much-needed excitement into the Pontiac lineup.

To carry the requisite sports metaphor a step further, the G8 is to Pontiac’s portfolio as Albert Pujols is to the St. Louis Cardinals’ offense – a complete package boasting the elusive combination of power and consistency. Both can make game-time adjustments, too, depending on the situation.

But two things the G8 is not, say Pontiac officials – a replacement for the smaller, midsize Grand Prix sedan, which ceases production after the ’08 model year, or a transient offering like the latest incarnation of the GTO, another Aussie-born, V-8-powered rear driver that lasted a scant three years in North America.

Instead, it fills a spot atop the Pontiac range left vacant by the Bonneville, which ended production in 2005.

GM expects a long life stateside for the G8, which likely will include a more sensible manufacturing location alongside other future Zeta platform mates in Oshawa, ON, Canada. Once production ramps up, GM expects to sell 30,000 units annually.

The G8 also marks the first rear-wheel-drive application for a Pontiac sedan since the Reagan administration. The setup combines a near-50/50 weight distribution with a robust chassis and a performance-tuned, MacPherson-style front and multi-link rear suspension system to deliver the sort of nimble, sure-footed driving dynamics typically reserved for more expensive European sedans.

Along the narrow, twisty county roads near here, the solid underpinnings allow drivers to confidently throw the G8 in and out of corners, despite its girth. And it’s a hefty beast, with V-8-powered GT models tipping the scales at 3,995 lbs. (1,812 kg) and stretching 196.1 ins. (498.1 cm).

G8 GT models equipped with GM’s 6.0L L76 V-8 absolutely devour pavement. Even the steepest grades encountered along the drive route here are no match for its 361-hp engine, which GM mates to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The powertrain’s 385 lb.-ft. (520 Nm) of torque leaves plenty of rubber at intersections.

Pontiac drops a real hammer later this year with the ’09 G8 GXP, which boasts a 402-hp, 6.2L LS3 small-block V-8 and 6-speed manual transmission.

The engine debuted on the ’08 Chevy Corvette, and stuffing it inside the G8 would seem logical. But the 6.0L in the GT version hardly lacks for power, and cylinder deactivation keeps fuel economy out of the basement.

The 6-speed auto on GT models features both a more economical standard mode, a “sport” mode for optimizing shift points and a manual option for total driver control. Shifts in the manual mode are quick, and the software won’t override aggressiveness until the very last second near red line, which helps the car take down those elevation grades.

But the G8’s dual-exhaust system with chrome tips doesn’t belt out quite the throaty call we’d expect from Holden, a division that covets its muscle cars as richly as its parent. Heck, the Cadillac CTS has more rumble.

Base models equipped with a 3.6L V-6 and 5-speed automatic transmission are pleasantly surprising, as well, and provide a 2-mpg (0.85-km/L) boost in fuel economy vs. the GT to 17 mpg (13.8 L/100 km) during the city cycle. Its highway number edges up 1 mpg (0.4 km/L) to 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km), but don’t expect much in the higher gears, where engineers sought that fuel-economy boost.

Excellent stopping power is provided via a pair of ventilated, 12.6-in. (32.1-cm) front rotors with twin-piston calipers and two ventilated, 12.7-in. (32.4-cm) rear rotors with single-piston alloy calipers.

The G8’s hydraulic steering system is nicely balanced and spot-on, contributing to refined handling and a pleasurable ride. Coupled with 8-in.-wide (20-cm) performance tires and a nearly 75-in.-wide (190-cm) track, the car insists on tracking grooves in the roadway. Consider it a minor trade-off.

’08 Pontiac G8 GT
Vehicle type Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, 5-passenger sedan
Engine 6.0L OHV V-8
Power (SAE net) 361 hp @ 5,300 rpm
Torque 385 lb.-ft. (520 Nm) @ 4,400 rpm
Compression ratio 10.4:1
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase 114.8 ins. (291.6 cm)
Overall length 196.1 ins. (498.1 cm)
Overall width 74.8 ins. (190 cm)
Overall height 57.7 ins. (146.6 cm)
Curb Weight 3,995 lbs. (1,812 kg)
Base price $27,995
Fuel economy 15/24 (16/10 L/100 km)
Competition Dodge Charger
Pros Cons
Performance styling Blocky static headrests
Adjustable suspension Silly center stack gauges
V-8 sedan under $28K! Where’s the rumble?

The G8 also boasts one feature not found elsewhere in the segment: Camber, caster and toe are fully adjustable. That means owners can tweak their car for the track or the street, whatever the driving situation.

The G8’s RWD setup also lends wonderful proportions, and designers added big fender flares and a high beltline to convey pent-up power. A hood bulge with a pair of semi-functional air scoops hint at the car’s performance bearing. Cat-like headlamps and a menacing intake beneath Pontiac’s signature dual-port grille provide additional aggressiveness to the design. Clear rear lamp elements add European flair.

The G8’s modern, no-nonsense interior design ranks among the best at GM and certainly within Pontiac, although a dust catcher above the center stack that measures battery level and oil pressure is just silly.

So silly, in fact, GM axed it for ’09 models, which due to a quirk in the production cycle arrive at dealers soon. The instrument panel is a welcome exercise in simplicity, with only the four most important gauges: fuel level, engine temperature, tachometer and speedometer. Interestingly, the odometer reads to the 100th of a mile, instead of the typical 10th of a mile found on most U.S.-built cars.

The G8 receives new, larger head restraints that meet new U.S. safety regulations calling for better head protection for front-seat occupants. The restraints are awfully blocky and limit sightlines for rear passengers.

Seats in the base-model G8 are impressive. They’re as snug and well-bolstered as GT seats, fashioned from high-quality woven cloth and comfortable enough for an entire day behind the wheel.

The headliner also receives a finely textured material, while generous legroom greets rear-seat passengers. The trunk is cavernous; although the rear seatbacks do not fold flat, a ski hole provides trunk access for long, slender objects.

It would be a stretch to mention the G8 in the same breath as some tonier German performance sedans. But few auto makers can match the G8’s combination of V-8 power and refined driving dynamics for under $30,000.

In fact, a fully loaded GT won’t eclipse $32,700. Now that’s good old-fashioned American value.

jamend@wardsauto.com