Maybe Pontiac should have named its delightful new sedan the 007 instead of the G8.

I mean, this car has to be multinational marketing's answer to a James Bond film. Every time it enters a new market, it changes the name on its passport.

In Australia, where it is built by General Motors Corp.'s Holden subsidiary, it goes by the name of Holden VE Commodore. Other aliases include G8 in North America, Buick Park Avenue in China, and Chevrolet Caprice in the Middle East.

Whatever its disguise, the 007 - I mean the G8 - is an exceptionally handsome, fun-loving, large sport sedan that happily fails to beat you up during both pavement time and payment time.

The well-equipped, V-6-base G8 that I tested had a starting price of $26,910. The V-8-powered GT model ups the ante to $29,310. That's chump change for a sport sedan that gets from 0 to 60 in a heart-valve-rupturing five seconds. That's the same takeoff time you get with an Audi S6, which costs twice as much.

The 256-horsepower engine in the base car is hardly the 361-horse Corvette half brother found in the GT. But it has more than enough stuff to make the car a fun drive. Indeed, you'd have to drive pretty far north of the city to find a hill that would make this engine breathe hard.

The techy, 3.6-liter V-6, like the five-speed automatic buttoned to it, is smooth and civil business, equipped as it is with overhead camshafts, 24 valves and variable-valve timing. It also does well on gas, considering it is toting around a 3,900-pound body. The EPA mileage ratings for this car are 17 city and 25 highway.

Actually, the sporty G8 doesn't drive or look as large as it is. It is a big car, possessing the wheelbase of a Ford Crown Vic and the approximate length and width of a Chrysler 300. That size is reflected in the interior dimensions, especially rear-seat headroom and legroom. With the driver's seat set for someone 6-2, the test car could have seated a 6-6 NBA operative in back. Open the trunk lid and you are looking at a very generous 17.5 cubic feet of storage space, plus a trunk pass-through.

While the interior of this car certainly satisfies John Wayne's need for elbow room, it also provides a lot of passenger comfort - especially the seats - and passes aesthetic muster. I was quite taken by the tester's interior design. It was sporty in a lean, clean way, with a nice juxtaposition of black materials and aluminum-colored metal trim. I particularly liked the way the hand brake, upon release, became an integral part of the console design.

The exterior is more of the same exercise in sporty cleanliness. The G8 hunches forward aggressively, and a series of structural and styling elements, including a low hood and short front overhang, build on the body's essential muscularity. Certainly the split, egg-crate grille is part of that effort to look ripped, and so is the wider, split air intake beneath it.

And just to make sure we sing "He's a lumberjack and he's OK," the styling crew repeated the masculine dual egg-crate grilles at the back of the car, between the dual exhausts.

The rigid, rear-drive G8 is as much fun to drive as it is to look at. The car rides well and acquits itself nicely on a winding road. It is poised and flat in the corners, and takes a good bite.

It is also a well-equipped sedan, with an extensive menu of safety and hedonism entrees. Standard safety features include traction, stability and cruise control and front, side and curtain air bags. Convenience goodies range from the usual power assists to power seats and a tilt/telescopic wheel.


Pontiac G8

Base price: $26,910.

As tested: $28,020.

Standard gear: 3.6-liter engine, five-speed automatic transmission, disc brakes with ABS, traction and stability control, a full air bag range, 18-inch alloy wheels, the usual premium comfort features, and OnStar Safe and Sound.

Options: Upgraded stereo.

Fuel economy: 17 m.p.g. city, 25 highway.

Engine performance: Lively.

Comfort: High.

Styling: A coup.

Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles, bumper to bumper.