MODEL: 2003 to 2008 Pontiac Vibe
VEHICLE TYPE: five-door

HISTORY/DESCRIPTION: The Vibe went on sale as a 2003 model and competed with cars like the Subaru Impreza, Dodge Caliber and Mazda3 Sport. It was a success for Pontiac, thanks mainly to generous utility, economical operation and youthful, distinctive styling. Vibe was a five-door liftback, so it’s often described by the words “wagon,” “hatchback” or even “crossover.”

Part of the Vibe’s success came from Pontiac’s ‘something for everyone’ approach to models and equipment. Several four-cylinder engines were available with between 126 and 180 horsepower, and Vibe could be had with either a manual or automatic gearbox, too.

As has been Pontiac’s way for years, higher-performance models were designated GT. All wheel drive (AWD) was available too — but only with the automatic transmission. Sorry winter driving enthusiasts!

In addition to plenty of model selection, Vibe got folding rear seats, a plasticized cargo area and a full suite of available dealer accessories for customization. Regardless of your lifestyle or sport of choice, the Vibe is probably ready to tackle it.

WHAT OWNERS LIKE: Space, ease of access and driving dynamics were the most well-loved Vibe attributes reported by owners. Flexibility was another major plus, and many also reported low maintenance costs and reasonable fuel costs, too.

WHAT OWNERS HATE: The Vibe owner gripe list is a relatively minor one. Complaints include rear-seat comfort, an awkward rear cargo cover, and quick wear of the factory tires. Finally, though most owners appreciate the low fuel consumption, some do wish for more passing and merging power.

COMMON ISSUES: Many Vibe drivers complain of issues related to paint wear and flaking — so be sure to give the car you’re considering a thorough exterior inspection. Use any rust, peeling or oxidation to your advantage when trying to hammer out a bottom-line price with the seller.

Though not alarmingly numerous, the main reliability complaint around the first-generation Vibe dealt with transmissions.

Harsh shifting in a used model with an automatic should be questioned and investigated. A known problem may cause debris to clog an internal mechanism within the transmission, resulting in rough gearshifts. This may be especially apparent between first and second gear.

If the model you’re considering is an older Vibe with a manual transmission, kill the stereo and climate control fan and listen for any unexpected noises while accelerating. Some owners reported hearing “bearing noise” from the transmission before incurring an expensive bill to repair it.

If a strange noise from the gearbox presents itself and increases as you accelerate, it’s best to move to another candidate.

Other owner-reported reliability issues were fairly minor — limited to a cigarette lighter that may pull out from the dashboard, and plastic lug-nut covers that could fall off.

THE VERDICT: If the used Vibe you’re considering is well priced and doesn’t exhibit any potential transmission issues, you’ll likely enjoy its flexibility, uniqueness and energetic styling for years to come.

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