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2006 Pontiac Torrent

Martha Hindes

Pontiac Torrent
Pontiac Torrent Interior

At last. General Motors' funky and fun division finally gets a sport utility all its own. If there's any deja vu in one's initial perception, it could be from its DNA relationship with cousin Chevy Equinox. But this isn't the bow tie version - it's Pontiac's new fun-to-drive Torrent.

An SUV from sporty-minded Pontiac simply had to have an attitude and it does, matched with what folks there call its trademark responsive driving and "car-like agility." Rounded edges, raised wheel arches add texture, and a slightly convex rear liftgate gives a hunched-shoulder athletic look. Despite its slightly heftier size than one might expect in a "cute ute" for five, it truly is handsome in an own-the-road kind of way, like a football quarterback with a heartbreak smile. Design is simple and not overdone (a trend Pontiac seems to be getting away from in recent renditions), letting the lines and shadings of the vehicle shine. There's the familiar nostril air scoop in front on a rather flat plane face that gives the only hint it ever was related to an Aztek crossover.

Inside, the Torrent is clean and functional with chrome touches and simple, round gauges peering through the three-spoke sport steering wheel. A metallic center stack neatly hosts comfort/sound dials and switches. A multi-function rear seat that reclines expands uses, and extra storage hides under the rear floor. Power, for this front or AWD SUV comes from a 185-HP V-6, with a five-speed automatic.

Pontiac has been drumming up Torrent for the high-five crowd, at Superbowl and other high profile sports times, suggesting a somewhat initial male marketing bias. We doubt that would deter the distaff side, looking for authoritative-looking wheels, multi-functional use, top safety credentials and a bargain to boot compared with some comparably-sized competitive vehicles. For those on a budget, a larger, well-appointed SUV starting in the mid-20s isn't a bad deal for some sporty, yet practical wheels, with enough oomph to tow -- say -- a small boat. How does that song go? "Girls just want to have fun..."