2006 Pontiac Torrent: all-new SUV borrows from siblings

Style is attended to with an all-Ebony interior color scheme, chrome accents, quality seat upholstery and red backlit instrumentation

By: Mike Blake
   Pontiac had an unsuccessful campaign with its lone SUV candidate, the Aztec, so after pulling the plug on the ill-fated sports ute, it chose to follow a more traditional path already ventured by fellow GM SUVs, the Saturn Vue and Chevy Equinox, by lightly restyling the two and coming up with the "all-new" Pontiac Torrent.
   Pontiac based the Aztec on a minivan, so the more conventional Torrent seems like a step in the right direction for the chief.
   The Torrent is a compact SUV manufactured in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada, in a plant that is also home to the Equinox. New to the Pontiac lineup for ’06, the Torrent is different from its siblings through the incorporation of a Solstice-like three-spoke steering wheel, port-tuned suspension, smartly designed fog lamps and trendy alloy wheels. Another difference can be seen by viewing the car’s profile. The Torrent is about 7.5 inches longer than the Vue, with a 5.9-inch longer wheelbase. While still considered a compact SUV, it is only a half-inch shorter than the Chevy TrailBlazer.
   The Torrent, which was featured on an episode of "Survivor: Guatemala," is more car-like than truck-like inside. Style is attended to with an all-Ebony interior color scheme, chrome accents, quality seat upholstery and red backlit instrumentation. Convenience and comfort are the orders of the day, with such features as air conditioning, power windows, power locks, tilt steering, Pioneer seven-speaker premium sound system with amplifier and subwoofer, and three months of free XM Satellite radio service.
   A center armrest with under-console storage and five strategically placed cup holders fill out the thoughtful cabin, and rear liftgate with defogger and washer/wiper finish up the deliberate rear.
   My test Torrent stickered out at a modest $28,335, and that included such luxury and performance options as five-passenger seating, heated seats, steering wheel radio controls, power sunroof, power-adjustable driver seat, 17-inch aluminum wheels, multi-tier rear cargo system, cargo netting and OnStar service. OnStar’s digital equipment is equipped with hands-free voice recognition and an externally mounted antenna for greater reception.
   Also included were such safety options as roof-rail side curtain airbags and side impact airbags. Standard safety features included four-wheel anti-lock brake system and traction control. Inside, Torrent comes with three-point safety belts for all seating positions and the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) child safety seat retention system, which can accommodate up to three child seats. Built to transport drivers, passengers and cargo, the Torrent’s sliding rear seat can travel as much as 8 inches to allow for additional cargo space. When the seat is moved up to its fullest configuration, some 5 cubic feet of space is added. When the front passenger seat is folded flat, you can utilize a long flat area from rear to front and take advantage of the total interior volume of 138.6 cubic feet.
   According to Pontiac, the Torrent has segment-leading legroom for rear-seat passengers and the widest rear door openings in the small SUV group, making for easier entry and exit of both people and cargo.
   This 3,776-pound crossover compact SUV/minivan is propelled by a standard 3400 3.4L V-6 with 185 horsepower and 210 pounds/feet of torque. The system is rated at 19 mpg/city and 24 mpg/highway, and I got a reasonable 21 mpg during my weeklong examination of central Pennsylvania highways and townships. The powertrain helps Torrent achieve a 3,660-pound tow rating, which is probably attainable.
   Linked to a five-speed transmission, the Torrent maneuvered decently in tight traffic situations, and accelerated a bit sluggishly, but adequately when extra velocity was required. Torrent uses a standard electric power steering system. This variable-effort setup is speed-sensitive and is tuned to match the performance characteristics of the vehicle. Its innovative engineering eliminates the use of an engine-driven power steering pump, fluid reservoir and plumbing to reduce fuel consumption and the potential source of an environmental contaminant.
   While I found the center of gravity to be a bit high, the off-road attributes of the Torrent are satisfactory. A long 112.5-inch wheelbase and wide 61.8-inch track make for a stable ride on and off road. Eight inches of ground clearance, short front and rear overhangs and an on-demand all-wheel-drive system that engages automatically when slip is detected, are fine for most family-oriented off-road pursuits.
   The sport suspension package that is engineered with shock valving and electric power steering take away any uneasiness one might have when driving an SUV on the highway. A smooth ride is attended to with McPherson strut front and four-link independent rear suspensions. Four-channel ABS brakes are standard on all models. The brakes consist of vented front discs and rear drums. All models come with standard 16-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels with P235/65R-16 all-season tires. Traction control is standard on FWD vehicles equipped with the available ABS.
   The 2006 Pontiac Torrent. It is a compact SUV/minivan crossover rising from its siblings’ designs, but with its own personality and a reasonable price, it is one vehicle to check out within the small, family SUV niche.
Visit www.carsatcarlisle.com for more on the automotive hobby. Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He’s been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.