Rebadged Disasters: Pontiac G3/Wave

Classic Cars / Comments

A small and badly made little subcompact, the G3 was the exact opposite of Pontiac's "excitement" image.

Let's be honest, Pontiac was a brand on the brink of collapsing in on itself already in early 2009. The arrowhead badge had only recently suffered the indignity of the Aztek and the letdown of the Solstice. But the beleaguered brand wasn't done any favors by the G3, the car which was the shortest-running model in the history of Pontiac. The car which underpinned the G3 was sold in 120 countries under five different brands, but none were less suited to the tiny Korean econobox than Pontiac.

Though the Pontiac-badged version of the car wouldn't debut until 2009, the car debuted in its original form in 2002. This was the Daewoo Kalos, as it was known in its home market of South Korea. The car was an evolution of the Daewoo Lanos, which was also crap. The Kalos is Greek for "beautiful" or "good", and seems to have been chosen ironically. The car was sold as the Chevy Aveo in most markets, although Australia got a Holden and Ukraine a ZAZ version. Quite a few genuinely good cars are coming out of South Korea these days, but Daewoo represents a period in the country's history before their automotive industry was anything to brag about.

Daewoo got their start building badge-engineered copies of obsolete designs from other companies. The last of these was the LeMans model, a copy of the Opel Kadett, which it manufactured from 1986 all the way up until 1997. This was replaced by the Lanos, an original design, but one designed to fill the gap in the market. It was also designed to be copied under license in much the same manner that Daewoo had copied the Kadett, and was therefore simple and underachieving in the way that such cars tend to be. This would eventually evolve into the current Chevy Sonic, actually a nice little car, but the 2002 Aveo/Lanos evolution still had a long way to go.

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Chassis design for the car was handled in the UK, while the body itself was the work of Italdesign, proving that not all Italian cars are pretty. The design offered some of the best headroom in its class, but this is about the only positive that could be found. A variety of different engines were offered, with the smallest 1.2-liter mill staying in South Korean, Europe, India and China. The US got a 1.6-liter engine which produced 106 horsepower. This isn't a stellar figure, but for a supermini, it isn't really so bad. Unfortunately, every other aspect of the road manners was terrible. Consumer Reports listed it was one of the Least Satisfying Cars of 2007.

And it wasn't just unpleasant to drive, it was badly engineered and built too. Forbes called it one of the Worst-Built Cars on the Road, Consumer Reports named it Worst in Overall Safety and Worst Fuel Economy in a subcompact. On the other hand, NDTV Profit Car India Awards named it Small Car of the Year for 2007, but this probably says more about the Indian car market than it does the car itself. In any case, there was plenty of evidence piling up that this was not a very good car. A car company possessed of the ability to think logically would have done something to distance themselves from the vehicle, but GM somehow decided to stick more of its badges on it.


Almost hard to see how they got into any financial trouble, isn't it? 2009 saw a model with a new grille and Pontiac badges. Just one trim level was offered, and the combined 30mpg seemed like something of a joke in a car so small and awful. There was a standard 5-speed manual transmission with ratios much too far apart, turning shifting into an pleasant activity accompanied by noisy and alarming protests from the wheezy engine. There was an automatic option, and the G3 was one of the few cars where this was seen as the better option even by those who tend to prefer manuals.

Few in the press had anything nice to say about the car, with the "forgettable" from Edmunds being about the highest praise anyone could bring themselves to bestow upon it. Of course, the fascinating thing about the G3 was that Pontiac bothered at all. With the Aztek, Pontiac was building a new car, things went wrong and it turned out to be terrible, but at least it was uniquely terrible. The G3 was already the terrible Aveo. Pontiac had been warned but still couldn't help but slap its own badge on the automotive failure. It couldn't be said that the G3 killed Pontiac, but one more model which nobody wanted was definitely not helping keep the brand alive.

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