By Chris Chase, Autos.ca
In 1984, Toyota and General Motors launched New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI), a joint venture that allowed Toyota to establish a manufacturing facility in the United States. It also benefited GM, as it allowed the American company to sell Toyota-engineered products under its own brands’ banners.
Among these have been a couple of Chevrolets (the 1984-1988 Nova and the 1998-2002 Prizm), a Geo (the 1990-1997 Prizm) and most recently, the 2003-2010 Pontiac Vibe.
The thread that ties all of these models together is that all have been based on Toyota Corolla platforms and running gear; more specifically, the Vibe is a near-identical twin to the Corolla-based Toyota Matrix.
The Vibe first arrived in Pontiac stores in 2002 as a 2003 model. Most models used a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine making 130 horsepower, or 123 horses in an all-wheel drive version. There was also a Vibe GT that used a high-revving variant of the same motor that produced 180 horsepower, at least until 2006, when stated output was revised to 164.
New horsepower calculating methods for 2007 models meant lower power numbers, but didn’t affect performance; the new horsepower numbers were 126 and 118 for regular and all-wheel drive Vibes.
The base transmission was a five-speed manual; a four-speed automatic was optional in all but the all-wheel drive model, which got the auto as standard equipment. The sportier Vibe GT used a six-speed manual as the only choice.
In 2007, the all-wheel drive and GT models were dropped, the all-wheeler supposedly due to low demand, and the GT because the high-revving motor no longer met emissions standards.
The 2009 Vibe was redesigned, along with the Matrix. Though its dimensions were nearly identical to the old car’s, the engines were new: the 1.8-litre made more power (132 hp/128 lb-ft), and a 2.4-litre four-cylinder was the new upgrade engine, rated at 158 hp/162 lb-ft. The base model used the 1.8-litre; the SE could be had with either and the GT and AWD models both used the 2.4-litre.
The 1.8-litre was offered with five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions, while the 2.4 was sold with five-speed manual or automatic gearboxes. The AWD model returned too, though this car could only be had with the larger engine and a four-speed automatic.
The Vibe’s Toyota running gear made for economical operation. A 2003 base Vibe with manual transmission was rated at 7.7 L/100 km (city) and 6 L/100 km (highway), while choosing the automatic drove consumption up to 8.3 L/100 km (city) and 6.4 L/100 km (highway). The all-wheel drive model’s numbers were 9.1/6.9, and the GT’s were 9.3/7.1.
Ratings for the redesigned 2009 model were 7.8/6.2 L/100 km (city/highway) for the 1.8-litre/manual combo, 9.6/7.2 L/100 km for the 2.4-litre/manual car and 10.3/7.8 L/100 km for the all-wheel drive Vibe.
In the past, Consumer Reports listed the Vibe (and its Matrix twin) as a “good bet” in its used vehicle ratings. At that time, the only trouble spot listed by the publication was too-thin paint that chipped easily (http://forums.genvibe.com/zerothread?id=5132). Fast-forward to 2010, and the Vibe (and, again, the Matrix) has been stripped of that good-bet endorsement, thanks to a few additional things that used buyers should be aware of.
Electrical system problems could be linked to a too-weak battery that can hamper cold starting. Other problems that cropped up in my research for a used Matrix article include a rough idle and auto transmission cooler lines that cause a “whistle” or “hoot” sound under light acceleration.
In my research for my original Vibe review, I found mention of clutch failures in some GT models (Pontiac’s take on the full-zoot Matrix XRS) that weren’t noted in CR’s data. They are now, however, though only in 2003 models, though I suspect the problem has more to do with aggressive driving than a serious mechanical flaw.
Watch, too, for an illuminated check engine light, which points to a problem in the emissions control system.
Power windows in 2003 and 2004 models are prone to trouble, namely getting stuck or even shattering while being operated. A recall for Vibes from those model years were recalled to have the problem fixed.
Be aware that the Vibe was subject to the same accelerator pedal/floor mat recalls issued for the Matrix and Corolla in 2010. While I think the sticky accelerator issue was far overblown, look into whether the car you’re looking at has had the recall work done.
A 2003 Vibe crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) earned five stars for driver and front passenger protection in frontal impact tests. In side impact tests, a Vibe without optional front-seat side airbags earned five stars for front-seat and four for rear-seat occupant protection.
Interestingly, in 2005, another Vibe tested without side airbags earned three stars for driver protection in side impacts, while the passenger rating in frontal impacts was reduced to four stars.
In 2007, the NHTSA tested Vibes both with and without side airbags; without, the results were the same as those for 2005 and 2006, but results with side airbags were five stars for driver protection in both frontal and side impacts, and four stars each for front passenger protection in frontal crashes and for rear-seat occupant protection in side impacts.
Used Vibe values, according to Canadian Black Book, range from $7,050 for a 2003 base model, to $21,075 for a 2010 GT with power sunroof and automatic transmission. These numbers don’t differ much from Toyota Matrix values, given that the Matrix’s import status should help it hold on to higher prices better than the domestic-badged Vibe; chalk it up to different levels of standard equipment between the two cars. If there is a difference to be found, though, the Vibe will generally come out as the less-expensive choice when compared to a similarly-equipped Matrix.
While the availability of all-wheel drive is a nice touch, I don’t think it’s really necessary on this type of vehicle, and serves mostly to increase fuel consumption, especially in second-generation cars, which pair the all-wheel system with the larger, thirstier motor. The original GT motor is peaky and not much fun in daily driving, plus it prefers premium fuel; later GT models with the 2.4-litre model are less thrilling, but better suited to commuter duty. If your goal is to find an efficient compact hatchback, go with a front-wheel drive, 1.8-litre (non-GT) model and you’ll get just what you’re after. If you’re shopping for an older model, make sure the 2003-2004 window recall has been carried out; also, look for a car with complete service records and get it checked by a trusted mechanic before you buy. Have them check for diagnostics codes, too, in case a squirelly seller has done something (like removed the bulb from the check engine light) to try to hide a problem.
In the past, when car-shopping friends had asked me about the Vibe and Matrix, my advice was always this: buy the Matrix new and take advantage of its high resale value, or buy the Vibe used and benefit from its quicker depreciation. Both cars are smart buys, but the Vibe is the far better used deal.
Black Book Pricing (avg. retail) Pontiac Vibe, 2003 – 2010 :
|Year||Model||Price today||Price new|
|2010||Vibe SE||$15,925||$16,865 (MSRP for base model)|
|2009||Vibe SE||$13,975||$16,830 (MSRP for base model)|
|2008||Vibe||$12,600||$19,210 (used value includes power package, manual transmission)|
|2007||Vibe||$10,700||$19,080 (used value includes power package, manual transmission)|
|2006||Vibe||$9,525||$19,900 (used value includes power package, manual transmission)|
|2005||Vibe||$8,125||$19,850 (used value includes power package, manual transmission)|
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2010287; Units affected: 37,412
2005-2008: On certain vehicles, the Engine Control Module (ECM) for models equipped with the 1.8L MFI engine (RPO 1V6) and two-wheel drive transmission may have been improperly manufactured. There is a possibility that a crack may develop at certain solder points or on varistors on the circuit board. In most cases, if a crack occurs at certain points or on certain varistors, the engine warning lamp could be illuminated, harsh shifting could result, or the engine may not start. In limited instances, if cracking occurs on particular solder points or varistors, the engine could stop while the vehicle is being driven, increasing the risk of a crash causing personal injury. Correction: Dealers will repair the affected vehicles.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2010034; Units affected: 28,488
2009-2010: On certain vehicles, the accelerator pedal may become stuck in the wide open position due to an unsecured or incompatible driver’s floor mat. A stuck open accelerator pedal may result in very high vehicle speeds and make it difficult to stop the vehicle, which could cause a crash, serious injury or death. Correction: Owners will be notified by first class mail to take out any unsecured driver’s floor mat until further notice by the manufacturer.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2010015; Units affected: 28,488
2009-2010: On certain vehicles the accelerator pedal movement may become rough, slow to return, or stick in a depressed position. This problem is caused by either wear or high humidity and could result in a loss of control leading to a vehicle crash causing property damage, personal injury or death. Correction: Owners will be notified by first class mail to return their vehicles to a GM dealer for an installation of a reinforcement bar in the accelerator pedal which will allow the pedal to operate smoothly.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2009252; Units affected: 15,948
2009-2010: On certain vehicles, when driven in extremely low ambient temperatures, the intake manifold suction port for the brake vacuum can become blocked due to the freezing of condensation emanating from Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PCV). Should the suction port become blocked, vacuum assist to the brakes would be insufficient and the increased pedal pressure required could lead to an increase in vehicle stopping distance. Extended stopping distances may result in a vehicle crash causing property damage, personal injury or death. Correction: Dealers will install a newly designed intake air connector which will relocate the brake system vacuum port.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2008123; Units affected: 15,257
2003-2004: On certain vehicles, the regulator bolts – which attach the front side window glass to the power window regulator – may become loose, causing a loud noise to be generated when the window is raised or lowered. If the window is continuously operated in this condition, the bolts may eventually separate, causing the glass to become misaligned, and in the worst case, allowing the glass to completely shatter. Correction: Dealers will replace the flange bolts.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002044; Units affected: 411
2003: Certain 2WD Pontiac Vibes have loose hub to axle bolts. This could cause the bolts to break with resultant separation of the wheel assembly from the vehicle. Correction: Dealers will tighten the bolts to the correct torque.
Crash test results
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.
Chris Chase is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
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