We Pick the Top Five Oddball Performance Cars from 2000-2009
During the aughts, or the “2000s” as they’re often referred to, GM was in high gear to pump out as many performance vehicles as it possibly could. After the demise of the Camaro/Firebird, and the rehiring of Bob Lutz, there became a sudden urge to keep excitement flowing through the dealerships, sales numbers high, and their factories operating.
As a result, almost every vehicle sold during the middle of the decade had its own performance variant. Some of which were amazing, others, not so much. What we’ve compiled here for you is the list of five vehicles that fall under the oddity category; cars that have become largely forgotten over time, but offer an interesting amount of style and performance.
2004-07 Saturn ION Red Line
Beating the Cobalt SS to market by a full model year, the LSJ-powered Saturn ION Red Line took the nerdy, reliable, and already outcast Saturn brand into the performance mainstream.
The blown Ecotec Delta car was a mechanical clone to the much more popular Cobalt, but offered more utility and helped it fly under the radar thanks to its four doors and lower-profiled styling. The ridiculous center-mounted gauge cluster isn’t for everybody, admittingly, but that’s what made Saturn so unusual to begin with.
The Red Line was a completely different car than the normal 2.2L naturally-aspirated version of the ION. Not only did it include the boosted and beefed-up powertrain, but the brakes, suspension, steering, parts of the body, and the wheels and tires were thoroughly upgraded for performance duty. Recaro seats on the inside kept the occupants in place.
Saturn released a optional Competition Package for 2005, that included painted gunmetal grey versions of the standard 17-inch wheels, a limited-slip differential, a Ladder tachometer with shift light, and an additionally optional set of fog lights.
Packing a very underrated 205 hp, Chevrolet Performance still offers the two levels of Stage kits for these cars to this day, as well as the “Stage 1 to Stage 2 kit” for those cars with Stage 1 previously installed. Together, they boost the horsepower from the advertised 205 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque, to a respectable 241 hp and 218 lb-ft. for total outlay of around $750.
Now that these cars are approaching a decade old, you can score them at bargain basement prices. We say pick one up for a cheap daily-driver, throw on the Stage kits, and have fun picking on Mustangs for as little as four grand!
2004-05 Pontiac Bonneville GXP
Talk about an anomaly. Launching the same year as the love-it-or-hate-it GTO and one year after the Oldsmobile Aurora was discontinued, the GXP took the relatively potent but full of potential Bonneville SSEi to another level.
While the SSEi was the ultimate Bonneville since the 1992 model year, the GXP replaced the 240 hp 3.8L supercharged V6 with a 275 hp Northstar V8 borrowed from the Cadillac DTS.
It was also one of the first Pontiacs to be completely devoid of the ribbed plastic that plagued the brand since the late-’80s or so. It was a clean-slate style that made the cosmetically-awkward and debatably ugly earlier Bonnevilles of that generation look even more so.
Dare we say it was actually a good-looking car? Due to its FWD layout and girth, performance was still somewhere in the high-14s. You didn’t buy this one for sheer performance, however, you bought it to ride in style a comfort in a car that had an attitude all its own.
Automatically coming almost fully loaded with every Bonneville option you can think of, this was the closest thing you could get from Pontiac in terms of a luxury performer at the time. If you wanted speed, buy a GTO. If you wanted economy, by a Sunfire or a base model Grand Am.
With these cars few and far between, you probably won’t ever see a group of them together. However, that Northstar V8 is ripe for performance mods and if you search hard enough, you’ll find them!
2006-09 Cadillac STS-V
After three decades of Cadillac desperately trying to take on the Germans with the Seville/STS, the closest they got to succeeding was with the STS-V of 2006-09.
Powered by a smaller-bore version of the 4.6L DOHC Northstar V8, the supercharged 4.4L produced an impressive 469 hp — the same amount as the supercharged 5.5L Mercedes-Benz AMG E55 that it directly competed with at the time — not bad for only 266 cubic inches.
Sitting on staggered 18×8.5-inch wheels on the front and 19×9.5 on the rear – all wrapped in Pirelli tires – grip wasn’t much of a concern for the driver. The fully-independant Nurburgring-tuned suspension hugged the corners, while massive Brembo brakes brought this 4300-pound car to a halt.
In terms of performance numbers, a 1/4-mile time of 13.1 seemed to be the norm for the full-sized luxury musclecar/sports sedan, and 0-60 could be had in around 4.8 seconds. Top speed was good for 165 mph.
Similar in aesthetics to its smaller, and at the time, less-powerful CTS-V sibling, the STS-V featured the same style of chrome mesh grille for improved styling and a front splitter to aid in front end lift. There was also a domed hood to provide additional clearance for the supercharger, and the V-series STS had a revision in its fog lights. There were subtle changes to the rear bumper, spoiler, and the interior as well.
Although not as vast or as popular as the LS engines, the blown DOHC Northstar offers plenty of performance potential. Simple hand-held tuners are available just about everywhere, and a couple of different companies make cold-air kits and exhaust systems for them, as well a smaller blower pulleys. Our friends at D3Cadillac have been known to tinker with the internals on these from time to time. As with the GXP above, if you do enough digging, you’ll run across a few companies willing to hook you up with some internal hardware.
2008-09 Buick Lacrosse Super
When most think of quick late-model Buicks, they think of the ’80s Turbo Regals or maybe even the blown FWD examples of the ’90s and early part of the aughts. Very few, however, would remember the Lacrosse Super.
Joining the ranks of LS4-powered W-bodies, the Buick Lacrosse Super hopped onboard the “high-performance-all-the-cars” train that was mid-aughties GM – even if it was late to the party. The Super was unique, though, borrowing a highly-regarded name from the ’50s it filled a niche nobody really asked for from Buick.
As much as we wanted a new Grand National or GNX, and despite the fact that the LS4 under the hood provided an even 300 hp from the factory, it never really caught on in car circles. The performance was definitely there, even with a quieter and more restrictive exhaust system than its Monte Carlo SS, Impala SS, and Grand Prix GXP stablemates that shared its exact powertrain.
The difference was in the details though; as Car and Driver once claimed that the plush Buick actually pulled a better skidpad, provided better stopping power, and accelerated faster than its Chevy and Pontiac counterparts. It pulled a 14.2-second 1/4-mile time at 101 mph, and a 0-60 sprint was clocked in 5.7 seconds. Both of those times are right on par with a 1987 Grand National, despite the front-wheel drive wheelspin. The best part, was the 156 mph top speed – which far eclipsed the old G-body’s governed 124-mph limiter.
With limited production, slow sales, and a completely new body stye and power train offerings scheduled for 2010, the Lacrosse Super would only see two model years of production. It could very well become a collectible in the future.
As with any LS-powered vehicle, the 5.3L under the hood is very mod-friendly, and can be tuned to astronomical levels. The FWD layout will be the largest obvious obstacle to overcome, but hey, if the Honda guys can figure it out then so can we.
2008-09 Chevrolet HHR SS
One of the most obscure cars made during GM’s recent years, the HHR (Heritage High Roof), has a tiny but loyal cult following. Built on the same Delta platform as the Chevy Cobalt and aforementioned Saturn ION, it was designed to go head-to-head with the [initially] immensely popular Chrysler PT Cruiser when it was first launched in 2006.
Wanting to get in on PT Mania, GM hired the same man who designed the Neon-based Chrysler, (Bryan Nesbitt). The GM-commisioned HHR would take a cue from Chrysler’s book, borrowing heavily from its past in terms of styling. Ergo, the HHR was a stylistic remake of a 1947 Surburban.
Unfortunately, due to GM’s 5-years worth of snoozing, the HHR was released midway through the PT Cruiser’s production run, and a few years after PT Mania had hit its peak – so its popularity never really blew up like the Chrysler’s.
Being the ultimate economy-class soccer mom-mobile, the HHR was in dire need of an attitude adjustment. So while at the 2007 Woodward Dream Cruise, Chevrolet unveiled an SS variant with the LNF 2.0L turbocharged and direct-injected powerplant found in the ’08-10 Cobalt SS and ’07-09 Solstice GXP and Sky Red Line.
Mechanically, it was an entirely different animal from the standard LS/LT versions. With 260 hp (235hp in the automatic version), available Brembo brakes, Nurburgring-tuned suspension, 18-inch wheels, no-lift shifting and launch control – the first American car to offer such an item from the factory – it was filled with tons of mouth-watering tech.
While the additional 400 pounds or so of curb weight held it back from breaking into the 13-second bracket like its lighter Cobalt counterpart, mid-14s from the 3300-pound retromobile was nothing to sneeze at. Naturally, most of the same tuning tweaks and Chevrolet Performance Stage kits intended for the Cobalt will work with this car as well. We say if you’re a guy with a small family, or single and looking for a small car with lots of room inside, the HHR SS is your baby.
Rick Seitz is the owner and founder of GMEFI Magazine, and has a true love and passion for all vehicles. When he isn’t tuning, testing, or competing with the brand’s current crop of project vehicles, he’s busy tinkering and planning the next modifications for his own cars.