GM has often struggled in its quest to develop new and innovative products people want. The need to differentiate its many nameplates and product lines only complicates the issue; the pending phase-out of Oldsmobile is proof enough. Product types are blurring, too, as people demand vehicles that drive like sports cars, work like trucks, go anywhere, carry lots of stuff, and offer all their favorite amenities-at an affordable price.

One potential answer is the Pontiac Vibe. You know, short for vibration. As in "good vibes." Which is what GM hopes you'll feel for its newest joint venture with Toyota.

The Vibe marks a new direction for Pontiac, a signal that forces are trying to break GM from its habit of car design by clinic and committee (maybe it's time to give the process back to the car guys-and gals). Even the name is a new style for Pontiac: urban and cool, it's what you get when you put the right tunes in the Vibe's optional 200 watt-plus remote six-disc CD changer/DVD/nav system and crank up the volume.

The Vibe, which goes on sale in January 2002 as an '03 model, shares its platform and Toyota engines with the upcoming '03 Toyota Matrix (see sidebar). The standard model is powered by a 1.8L/130-hp DOHC four; the sportier GT version packs a 1.8L/180-hp four, which employs Toyota's variable-valve timing and lift (VVT-i) and boasts a six-speed manual transmission. This high-revving powerplant is the same as in Toyota's decidedly sporty Celica GT-S. All-wheel drive will be optional on the 130-hp version, but the higher-output GT will be front-drive only.

Execution of the Pontiac-designed interior is almost identical for both the Vibe and Matrix, but the exteriors were styled independently. Both have a 63-in. overall height, although the Vibe has a slightly higher beltline. We feel the Vibe just flat-out wallops the Matrix in the looks department-it's a design victory for an automaker that desperately needs one. Funny, the Vibe's nose, with its familial honeycomb meshed split grille and lower intake, contains the same design elements as the Aztek's. Yet the look is wholly more satisfying. Just goes to show you, it's all about proportion.