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GRAND PRIX COUPE OFFERS SOLID CHALLENGE TO FORD COUNTERPART

SHARE GRAND PRIX COUPE OFFERS SOLID CHALLENGE TO FORD COUNTERPART

General Motors is awash with new products for 1990, and one of the most important is the sedan version of Pontiac's Grand Prix coupe.

This midsize sedan, assembled at the GM Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kan., joins four-door versions from Buick, Oldsmobile and Chevrolet to give Ford's Taurus a run for its money and market share.Like Chevrolet's Lumina, the first sedan version of a GM 10 car, the Grand Prix sedan has the same platform as the Grand Prix coupe. It's one of the most solid and rattle-free in the company's lineup. In fact, the four-door Grand Prix easily outdistances Pontiac's own aging 6000 sedan in civility and style.

It uses the same 107.5-inch wheelbase of the coupe, but it's bigger where it counts - inside. Headroom is 1 inch greater, trunk room is half a cubic foot larger and, most important, rear-seat legroom is increased 2 inches.

Buyers flocked to the Grand Prix coupe when it hit the market two years ago, but sales have slowed in the last few months. The four-door should be a shot in the arm to Grand Prix sales, appealing especially to younger families who want a snazzy car yet need four doors.

Integrating the new roofline into the coupe design gives the Grand Prix sedan a silhouette that is less dramatic and more sedate than the coupe, but that's what sedans are about. It's still an attractive car despite its conservatism.

The stiffness of the GM 10 platform means the body doesn't squeak, flex or rattle, and that heightens the solid feel. The stiffness of the chassis also means that the four-wheel independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes can soak up potholes and bring you to a stop without drama. Anti-lock brakes are an option.

The LE's ride is typical of a family sedan: soft yet without the wallow of a tuna boat. This car is quieter, too, in part because of revised door molding that decreases wind noise. That makes the Grand Prix more enjoyable at highway speeds.

For those who want a more sporting sedan, the STE, or Special Touring Edition, offers a sports-tuned suspension, sports seats and jazzed-up front end with full-width light bar like a Mercury Sable.

There are two engine choices: the standard 2.3-liter Quad 4 with 160 horsepower and the optional 140 horsepower 3.1-liter V-6. Even though the Quad 4 has more horsepower, the V-6 is smoother, quieter, more responsive at low speeds. The four-cylinder unit is mated to either a five-speed manual or automatic transmissions, and the V-6 comes only with an automatic.

Inside this Grand Prix sedan are comfortable seats and a dashboard dominated by pod-mounted switches and a center control panel for the stereo and climate control. The pod-mounted switches are a finger's length away from the steering wheel, but at first I couldn't tell whether to push them or pull them. They were easy to reach but confusing to use.

The whole dashboard has a busy look about it, with lots of tiny buttons on the radio and heating/cooling panel. That's particularly noticeable when equipped with the upgraded radio, cassette tape player and equalizer.

Having duplicate radio controls in the center of the steering wheel is a nice touch.

A suitcase-type combination lock for the glove compartment detracts from the interior's aesthetics.

Two handy conveniences are a cup holder that folds out from the center armrest and an optional remote door-locking system. The locks are operated from a small key-ring transmitter, saving valuable time getting into and out of the car in bad weather.

The LE test car had the Sport Appearance Package, which is a special grille and fog lamps along with red-trimmed body side molding and black window frames.

The base price for the Grand Prix LE is $14,564. Equipped as the test car was with a tilt steering wheel, power steering, a stereo AM/FM radio, keyless entry, air conditioning, interval wipers, a rear-window defogger, power windows, 15-inch alloy wheels, a six-way power driver seat and automatic transmission, the sticker price was $18,370.

With the four-door Grand Prix, Pontiac has a sedan to attract younger buyers who liked the coupe but couldn't fit their family in the back seat.