The Pontiac What?

When the 2006 Pontiac Torrent arrives for my extended real-life test drive (which will include carpooling, hauling Christmas gifts and normal mundane mom errands), I'll be curious to find out about this vehicle that I've never heard of.

Typically, new vehicles come out with a splash of print and television marketing designed to brainwash the consumer into cashing in their kids' college fund to buy one. My stacks of unread magazines are usually inundated with ads from the latest family-focused cars.

So why have I not heard of the Torrent? The Pontiac Torrent is a new entry in the "crossover" segment for 2006 -- meaning that it blends the best attributes of an SUV with a less trucky, more carlike ride. These vehicles are becoming superhot, since their carlike rides almost always result in higher fuel mileage than SUVs deliver (read: less time and money at the pump for busy families on a budget) and higher crash-test ratings (read: more peace of mind for moms toting precious cargo -- i.e., children).

As usual, my first impression of the Torrent has to do with installing child-safety seats. The latch connectors are easily visible and accessible, and the best part is the rear seat is wide enough to accommodate three sets of latch connectors. Hallelujah!

However, this feature would be greatly improved if General Motors would color code these latch connectors. Two of the sets overlap, resulting in some confusion for the sucker who has to figure out which two connectors make a pair. Latch connectors are engineered to withstand the impact of a collision only when used in conjunction with the proper partner.

Versatile and Functional Interior, but Definitely Not Upscale

The sliding rear seats move front and back 8 inches, allowing me to customize the fit of the Torrent to my needs. I can move the seats back to make more legroom for carpoolers to climb in, or move them forward when additional cargo space is needed to haul the kids' Christmas loot from grandma's house.

The rear seats recline and also fold flat very easily, making enough room to fit four packages of holiday cookies, three pillows for a sleepover, two boxes of gifts, one double stroller and a partridge in a pear tree. The cargo area also sports grocery-bag hooks and large pop-down dry-cleaning hooks, my favorite!

Up front, there is an under-console storage spot perfect for keeping my purse out of the passenger seat, and it also has slots to store all the kids' CDs. Since the Torrent is equipped with XM Satellite radio, though, CDs seem outdated and unnecessary. Additional storage is found in the doors, and small, netted compartments live near the driver and front passenger's feet.

Operating the standard gadgetry on the Pontiac Torrent is pretty straightforward and simple. I appreciate the clearly labeled windshield wiper control. Not something one would normally consider in a new car but since I drive a new car every week, I'm always confused by the windshield wipers. Do I twist them, push them, pull them or shake them all about, then do the hokeypokey to get the wiper fluid out?

One feature that's not so straightforward is the automatic window control. After several frustrating minutes, I finally locate it not on the door or armrest, where it would normally be found, but below the gear shift.

Although the outside of this vehicle is modern and sporty looking, "sophisticated interior color palettes ... also bolster the Torrent's upscale aura," states General Motors. Don't be fooled. GM forgets to mention the vast inclusion of all things plastic in this car. The Torrent is not luxurious or upscale, but it is definitely versatile and functional for growing families.

* The full archive of "Car Mom" Kristin Varela's Mother-Proof reviews can be found at www.MotherProof.com.

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