1997 Pontiac Grand Am GT 3.1 from North America
A good domestic starter car
Bad injector, fixed by previous owner at 1000 miles.
The alternator has died twice, once at 32000, and again at 74000 miles.
Bearing on passenger side/front replaced at 40000 miles.
Passenger power window intermittent since 72000 miles.
Advice for potential Grand Am owners, the alternator will die multiple times in the time you own this car. There is a 1995 Grand Am in the family with a 3100 series engine as well, and it is on its third alternator. It appears to be a problem with the 3100 series of engines as a whole, at least up to the 1998 GM model year. Replacement isn't bad for do it yourselfers, just make sure you have the proper tool for retightening the belt; a simple crowbar doesn't work well with the spring loaded pretensioner.
GM's claim of increasing structural rigidity by near 200% in the 1999 Grand Am redesign seems about right. You'll start noticing the squeaking of the interior plastic bits shifting almost immediately as you induce any loading to individual corners of the car; read that as hitting a pothole or brisk cornering. The frame simply isn't up to the task of keeping this car solid. Note: I have owned the car for near 6 years now and 56000 miles. I base the above information on observations over that period as well as comparing against driving known "solid" vehicles.
A note on other reviews, brake wear might be excessive, however, regular maintenance can keep this in check. As well, I have switched recently to higher quality brake parts (Brembo) and haven't had the issues elsewhere noted, and previously experienced. Never let the dealer install "Aftermarket" parts are seemingly much cheaper, you'll be replacing them soon.
As well, the paint on the mirrors will come off, another general trend I've noticed.
Overall, it's not the worst car I've driven; certainly it is acceptable for my first car owned. I think those who take issue with the steering didn't opt for the little documented "variable assist" feature that is now standard on "high performance" (sic) Pontiacs. It does help feedback by essentially cutting boost at higher speeds, with little lag showing with rapidly varying speed. It's not an Audi in this regard...
A set of decent tires will help the handling tremendously, and yes, the GT will oversteer readily for some strange reason, that is, after you've no doubt "understeered" far past the line you were shooting for. In the wet, however, it's all oversteer. Contrary to what I've read, as well, there is hardly a supply of serious aftermarket performance parts, especially for the 3100 engine which is already stressed as is.
Finally, for those of you cross shopping imports, it's every bit as quick as new Civics when driven mindful of impending snap under-to-oversteer, and sometimes, a bit of a surprise to the "import lifestyle" tuner. A good bargain for a domestic starter car, at least in early 2004.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 1st February, 2004