I had a Pontiac G5 sedan today as a renter. And given all the knocks I've read on the G5/Cobalt -- even on this board -- I was pleasantly surprised. It seems to be quite a competent, well-put together little car with no glaring faults. On, the other hand, there was very little here to get an enthusiasts heart pounding. All in all, it's a great car for people who don't care about cars.
Fit and finish seemed very good -- a far cry from the GM of my youth. And, the materials, though mostly hard plastic, were nicely grained and had good-looking finished on them. For the price of the car, I thought the interior was fine. Not as nice as the Mazda3 (the class of this price field, IMHO), but not world's apart, either.
On the road, the car was quiet and competent. The four-speed auto was responsive, happy to shift down when needed. But, the gaps between the ratios mean that sometimes the choice was between a small squeeze of the accelerator and tepid acceleration, or a bit more of a squeeze, a downshift, and a whole lot more noise and acceleration than really required. Still, given the bare-bones nature of the car (manual window!) it was more than adequate.
The engine made good power, was quiet on the highway and was very smooth. Engine sound is a very subjective thing, but the G5 is more of a moaner than a screamer. It has a particular low-register moan when you leg it low in the rev range that I find annoying. But, it sounds quite good at high RPM; I wonder whether after years of producing big V8s, GM engineers seek to give even their fours a little bit of rumble!
Straight line tracking was good, and overall handling was fine, though unexciting. Well, that isn't really accurate -- I pushed the car a bit, but not to the edges of adhesion. The basic handling seems fine. The let-down is the steering feel. There just isn't very much information filtering up from the contact patches. The lack of steering feel makes the car feel much bigger than it is. And it means there isn't as much joy in carving corners in this car -- it'll do it, it just doesn't encourage that kind of driving.
The brakes, on the other hand, felt meaty and easy to modulate. I remember when the power brakes on most GM cars felt like stepping into a pile of thick mud -- the feel here is much improved and, dare I say it, downright Germanic. If the folks who worked on the brakes could take a crack at the steering, the G5 might actually be fun to drive!
Basically, the G5 does what GM cars have always done well -- motor on down the highway at the speed limit (plus 20), quietly, happily and comfortably. What it doesn't do is make me want to take the back roads. GM would suggest moving into a Cobalt SS or G5 GT if that's the kind of driving I'd like to do. But, I think a base Mazda 3 (or even a Focus!) retains a lot of the fun-to-drive qualities of their more expensive siblings, something not-so-true here.
But, if you are looking for an inexpensive, well crafted, comfortable car to commute back and forth to work, the G5 and Cobalt seem worthy of a look.