2009 Pontiac Vibe AWD Review

Small car, big carrying capacity

By Brendan Moore


If we (the American car-buying public) continue to shun SUVS, the next logical step down in size are the crossovers. Almost everyone that bought an SUV didn’t need a vehicle that large, and now the question is whether buyers now believe they need something the size of a crossover. I am testing a crossover right now, and believe me, it’s still a very large vehicle.

For people who decide that a new crossover is still too much vehicle for them, there are cars like the Pontiac Vibe AWD, which I had on loan from GM last week. The Pontiac Vibe is the platform cousin of the Toyota Matrix, which itself is merely a station wagon version of the Toyota Corolla. Both the Vibe and the Corolla are built at the NUMMI plant Toyota and GM share in California. As you know, the Toyota Corolla from whence the Matrix and Vibe spring from is not a large car, in fact, it’s a small four-cylinder economy car.

But the Pontiac Vibe is not a small car inside.

The tall roof and large glass areas in the Pontiac Vibe give the occupants a feeling of spaciousness. There is ample interior room and the large hatch in the rear, combined with the rear seat folding down flat, gives the Vibe excellent cargo capacity (1399 cu ft). In fact, during my time with the Pontiac Vibe, I needed to take my big cruiser-style bike over to the bike shop for some regular maintenance, and I was able to fit the whole bike in the back of the Vibe without taking the front wheel of the bike off. And I didn’t have to push the driver’s seat up, either. I was surprised, to say the least. The cargo area just didn’t look that big.

The 2009 model year marks a return of AWD to the Pontiac Vibe after a couple of years’ absence. The all-wheel drive system has been revised for better performance, and Pontiac expects a better take rate on the AWD model this time around.

The little Vibe is stingy with gasoline for an AWD vehicle that has a lot of cargo capacity, with EPA mileage ratings of 20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. Happily, it does not require anything other than unleaded regular gasoline. The Vibe, like the Matrix, has the excellent 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine that produces an adequate 158 hp driving all four wheels. Alas, the Vibe does not come with GM’s efficient six-speed automatic transmission, but the antediluvian four-speed automatic that Toyota has been using for years. It’s okay if you drive almost exclusively in town at low speeds, but is definitely inferior to a six-speed automatic transmission out on the open highway.

Speaking of driving performance, you would be hard-pressed to wring a lot of motoring joy out of the Pontiac Vibe. It’s nothing hateful, it’s just not anything too special. This is a all-weather grocery-getter that will also fill in admirably as a four-seasons commuter car, just like the Matrix/Corolla out of the same gene pool.

Looks? Hmm, kind of in the same vein as the driving performance, although I like the Vibe’s looks better than the Matrix’s appearance, that’s for sure. But neither one is going to be at The Pebble Beach Concours thirty years from now.

Combine the looks and the driving experience of the Pontiac Vibe and you have a blend that makes its personality strictly dullsville. However, there’s nothing wrong with being a solid citizen that eschews flash; and on the side, this car just oozes dependability, and a distinct lack of fussiness. With the AWD, it also provides a high measure of security in inclement weather conditions. Solid citizen, indeed.

Since it is August as I write this, there is no snow available to take the Vibe AWD through, but there are muddy unpaved roads in certain areas around where I live. The Vibe acquitted itself in these “soft-road” conditions and cleaned up pretty nice afterward as well. This kind of AWD vehicle is in its element in light snow or heavy rain on a paved road, and if you really need something to tackle real off-road conditions, then the Pontiac Vibe is not for you. That said, something like the Pontiac Vibe is perfect for most drivers who live where it snows; those who drive to work or on errands in bad weather some number of months out of every year.

Besides the usual standard equipment which prices the car at $18,910, the Pontiac Vibe AWD I drove around for a week was equipped in the following fashion:

Sun and Sound Package – $1,285

Power sunroof
AM/FM Stereo CD player with MP3 Format and auxiliary input
Monsoon Premium Sound Audio System w 7 speakers
Leather wrap steering wheel with audio controls
Leather wrapped shift knob

Preferred Package – $1,070

Remote keyless entry
Power door locks
Power windows
Cruise control
Front and rear variable intermittent wipers

17” chrome clad aluminum wheels $650

Front integral fog lamps $115

These options, the destination charge brought the MSRP up to $22,615.


Unfortunately for Pontiac, the Vibes are not selling for sticker, even in the current environment of high gasoline prices, so you’ll probably pay less, which is a good thing for you, but not so good for the aforementioned Pontiac.

Now, what is the answer to the obvious question that will come to you sooner or later; that is, why would I buy a Pontiac Vibe instead of a Toyota Matrix? Good question.

Try these answers:

As stated before, you can buy a Pontiac Vibe for less money than the Toyota Matrix, and, get a GMAC loan at a low subsidized rate in the bargain, which together makes your overall purchase cost lower. Since it is the same car under the sheet metal, why wouldn’t you want to do that?

That different sheet metal on the Vibe is more attractive.

The warranty offered on the Pontiac Vibe is better than the one offered on the Toyota Matrix.

Let’s do the reverse: Why would you want to pay more for a Toyota Matrix?

The Toyota Matrix will probably hold its value better than the Pontiac Vibe over the first five years, thereby negating the value of the lower purchase price you could get on the Vibe for those owners that intend to trade the vehicle in during those first 60 months. Of course, if residuals get better on the Vibe, then this premise doesn’t work.

You may have a stronger desire to own a car with a Toyota emblem on it than one with a Pontiac badge.

It’s quite possible you think the Matrix is better-looking than the Vibe.

Your preference is what counts in this calculus and there is no overriding reason to choose one over the other. The Pontiac Vibe is obviously just as good as its platform cousin.

In a broader vein, the Vibe AWD is a great choice for those people that need a go-anywhere economy car that also gives them the utility to carry a lot of stuff when needed. Yes, it’s true that some of the new crossovers can get close to the highway fuel economy of the Vibe AWD, courtesy of their six-speed transmissions, but the difference in gas mileage is larger when you look at the city fuel economy. And, of course, the purchase price of the Vibe is much, much lower.

The Pontiac Vibe is certainly not as stylish as some of those new crossovers, and let’s be honest, its not in the same league from a performance perspective, but it does have its utilitarian charms. And its well worth a good long look if you still need utility and AWD after you’ve gotten rid of that full-size SUV, that new crossover hasn’t worked its charms on you yet and you can live with a smaller vehicle.

Or maybe you were smart before the rest of us, and you’ve been driving small cars with big utility for sometime now. In that case, the Vibe AWD is worth a good long look from you as well.

COPYRIGHT Techshake – All Rights Reserved

Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Techshake Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at .

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  1. It’s at least a little humorous that the Pontiac Vibe is worth less than the Matrix as a used car, since it’s the same damn car.

  2. I drove a new Vibe around for a week when I went on vacation in Florida. He’s right, it’s a crazy amount of space available for such a small car. And since I was in FL, I can report that the AC works great.

  3. I drove a new Toyota Matrix a couple of months ago, and was quite disappointed. Even with the 2.4 thre was little pep. The handling was beyond dull. The driving position remains odd. And the door clanged when shut (same on the Vibe?).

    There’s more room inside than in a Mazda3, but not as much as I remember in the old Vibe. Impact of a higher beltline?

  4. I have an AWD 2009 Vibe and live in NW PA. Last year there was a lot of snow and it was awesome – through heavy snow and up hills like a snow machine! It’s my second Vibe and I’ll keep it for as long as it runs which will be a long time. It’s the best vehicle I’ve ever owned.

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