Evolve or go extinct. That’s the harsh choice Mother Nature gives her animal kingdom. Fortunately for GM, things are a little more relaxed in the automotive world.

Seven years ago we wrote about the then-new Pontiac Grand Prix GTP. Since that time, governments have risen and fallen, Australia has drifted about 28 inches closer to China, and the Prix’s many mid-size competitors have received new engines, revamped suspensions, and revised styling. Now, the 2004 Grand Prix romps into showrooms with basically the same cast-iron 3800 V-6, basically the same strut suspension, and basically the same Pollyanna mission to serve as GM’s bargain BMW.

But hey, even Mother Nature lets a few off the evolutionary hook. Consider the crocodile and the squid, for example. Like them, the Grand Prix is ascending to a higher form at its own leisurely pace. Like them, it’s getting away with it because the basic design is rugged and durable. Like them, the Grand Prix can be a tasty enough dish if prepared right.

Trouble is, the finest form of the new Grand Prix is pricey. Option the Grand Prix’s supercharger to bump output of the GT’s base 3800 V-6 by 60 horsepower to 260, and the base price flashes from $22,395 to $26,495. Okay, you get some other equipment in the deal, including power seats, bigger wheels and tires, and a better stereo. But the 240-hp Nissan Altima 3.5SE offers the choice of a manual transmission with better performance and starts at $23,988, including optional anti-lock brakes.

You’ll have to peel off another $1395 for the Grand Prix’s Competition Group package with its digital head-up display, trip computer, steering-wheel shift paddles, and crafty StabiliTrak Sport stability-control software. Pile on XM satellite radio ($325), leather ($665), a premium audio pack with a six-CD changer ($695), and a sunroof ($795) if you crave a Grand Prix GTP identical to our $30,370 example pictured here.

Even with some discounting (and at GM there is always a discount) the Grand Prix can be larded up to play in a pretty tough sandbox. You’ll have to stroll past various base versions of the Acura TSX, Audi A4, BMW 325i, and Volvo S60 for this particular dose of “driving excitement.”

What does the Grand Prix GTP have to offer against those? How about more registered trademarks for the dollar? Competition Group, TAPshift, and WideTrack, they’re all nifty marketing logos scrawled only on this car (even though at 61.6 inches, the Grand Prix’s front track is but a half-inch wider than a Honda Accord’s). GM’s labeling samurai earned their overtime on this project.

More important, the Grand Prix offers higher horsepower and torque that is locomotive low. Push the gas pedal more than one-quarter of the way down from a stoplight, and the BFGoodrich Comp T/As will shriek loud enough to set off car alarms. Turn off the traction control and floor it, and the tires will sing the first 12 bars of La Traviata before they hook up.

Puffed up by the 9.5-psi sirocco from the twin-rotor Eaton supercharger, the big pushrod V-6 slings the Grand Prix to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, faster by a half-second or more than all the prestige machines mentioned earlier. The quarter-mile clicks by in a virile 15 flat at 93 mph, but after that, progress slows as the lungs of a two-valve engine start to burn for lack of air.

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