Debuting in 2003, the Pontiac Vibe was essentially a Toyota Matrix with separate badging and a different level of trim. Both products were based on the Corolla platform and until it went bye-bye, in 2010, the Vibe was a brisk seller for General Motors. It was manufactured in Freemont, Calif.
In 2009, it received slightly new sheet metal and was offered with a couple of engine choices. You could choose from either a 1.8- or 2.4-litre four banger and it was available with or without 4WD. The Camry-derived, larger engine was probably the better choice of the two, as it was considerably more powerful and made much less racket underway. Transmissions were either a five-speed manual or four-speed/five-speed automatic. In '09, a vehicle stability control system also became standard equipment.
You could get the Vibe pretty bare-bones, but it had a reasonably high level of optional equipment as well and was also offered in a GT package, which included tweaked suspension and steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. Other available extras included air conditioning, tilt/telescoping steering, power sunroof, larger 17-inch alloy wheels and XM satellite radio.
Like the Matrix, the Vibe was initially aimed at younger buyers, but as it turned out, it's also become a favourite with aging boomers. As well as being a pretty decent city car, it's practical and easy to manoeuvre and carries a lot. Small and nimble enough to deal with urban traffic, it's roomy inside and extremely drivable. The back seats folded down easily to reveal 1,399 litres of storage, which was less than a Honda Element, for example, but still more than enough for most of the grocery-getting duties the Vibe was likely to see.
Unfortunately, the Vibe, like Pontiac, was history by 2010. Differences between the '09 and '10 models are minimal, and, for those who really coveted this style of car, Toyota has continued to manufacture the Matrix up to the current model year.
Three safety recalls are on file for this iteration of the Vibe. Perhaps the most noteworthy is the ubiquitous recall issued to virtually all Toyota products: the stuck gas pedal scenario. Yes, the Vibe wears a Pontiac badge, but, for all intents and purposes, it's a Toyota, and few of the Japanese company's models escaped this one. Other recalls include brakes that could act up because of a faulty PCV and the ensuing lack of vacuum, and a wonky throttle pedal that could, over time, become slow to return or get stuck "in a depressed position." These three contretemps affect both 2009 and 2010 models.
Just one technical service bulletin to report, which affects Vibe rental units. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is not happy with the way some rental car companies have been handling their safety recall campaigns and are advising consumers not to rent this and other models until the situation is resolved.
To quote NHTSA: "This information is expected to provide the agency an indication of how completely and how quickly rental car fleets, in general or individually, perform necessary recall-related repairs or other remedies on the vehicles owned and then leased for use on the roadways."
One other note: NHTSA gives the 2009 Pontiac Vibe a five-star rating (the agency's highest) in frontal crash testing for both driver and front passenger, as well as a five-star side-impact score for front occupants.
Consumer Reports is a fan of the Vibe, bestowing its "good bet" designation upon the Pontiac hatchback. "Overall," the magazine says, "this is a sensible alternative to a small SUV." Although the '09 model doesn't rate quite as highly as the '08 for some reason, the Vibe, overall, fares well with this organization. Some comments from owners: "Talk about depreciation. Never again," "Toyota quality at a GM price," "Too bad they are stopping production," A tight turning radius and surprisingly good fuel economy are common praises, and poor NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) an oft-voiced complaint.
Market research firm J.D. Power doesn't think much of the 2009 Vibe, and gives it "about average" or below marks in virtually every area. It does like its interior quality, but otherwise, not much love here.
You can expect to pay anywhere from the low 10-grand mark for a base 2WD model, up to the mid-teens for a loaded 4WD with the larger engine. Interestingly, resale prices for a Toyota Matrix of this vintage are slightly higher.
2009 Pontiac Vibe
Original Base Price: $15,995; Black Book: $13,525-$16,675; Red Book: $9,750- $12,750
Engine: 1.8-litre and 2.4-litre four-cylinder
Horsepower/Torque: 13 hp/128 lb-ft for 1.8; 158 hp/162 lb-ft for 2.4
Transmission: Four- and five -speed automatic/five-speed manual
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 7.8 city/6.2 highway (1.8-litre with manual transmission and 2WD); regular gas
Alternatives: Toyota Matrix, Mazda5, Nissan Versa, Honda Element, Dodge Caliber, Honda Fit, Kia Rondo