Pontiac Sunfire debuts as subcompact sports coupe with flair
Date Posted: 5/10/2005
Strap yourself into the contoured cockpit of Sunfire, Pontiac's new coupe, and you'll quickly recognize that this Baby Firebird is anything but another Spartan subcompact. It sports content, style, even a pinch of pizazz.
Scope out the cozy cockpit and you'll see that all door and dash surfaces look so radically round and fluid in form, even down to details like the unusual sculptured shape of a levered door handle and the downward curving roll of a wee creased ledge which wraps across the panel's face from door to dash to door.
And check those crazy colors: Bright aqua, splashed across seat fabrics, console and instrument panel, is one of four unique interior hues which encompass a stunning red.
Yes, this one is definitely different.
Its sheetmetal skin charts a different course too.
Sunfire's swooping exterior presents the overall appearance of an exotic, if diminutive, racer, with muscular bodyside bulges at all four wheel wells, a sharp cant to the tapered nose and circular wrap in a stocky tail treatment.
From every angle, one fluid curve oozes into the next.
On mountain roads separating California wine valleys of Sonoma and Napa, I also detected a difference in the taut and lively manner that this sports coupe drove and rode.
Unlike most inexpensive subcompact coupes, this one performed with an agile, aggressive character in the way it managed bumps and curves and other road deviations.
Yet the most important twist of this new car becomes evident when you examine its bottom line, which seems ironic in light of the fact that in automotive circles sporty action usually comes only at the price of multiple digits added to the price tag. Sunbird's figures fall within a range from $11,500 for an entry SE edition to $16,000 for a maxed-out GT with larger engine and fancy fittings.
The best scenario for budget-minded buyers who want the look and feel of a sporty coupe without having to fork over a fortune is Sunfire's SE base model with a few bonus items tacked on the tab like air conditioning and upgraded stereo sound system. That one runs up to about $12,500, according to John Middlebrook, Pontiac's general manager and a vice president of General Motors.
Middlebrook, bravely riding shotgun during my test drive along twisty California mountain circuits, said Sunfire's market target -- essentially twentysomething adults who crave the zip of a sportster but must keep their feet planted in realities of fixed monthly budgets -- will get a lot more from Sunfire than a cheap set of wheels.
"This car really works," Middlebrook observed. "We've packed Sunfire's interior with highly usable comfort content, then took some extra steps to add responsive mechanical systems even at the entry level. We think with Sunfire you can have it all -- economy, comfort, fun."
That entry level SE has been pumped up with features an aggressive driver will appreciate.
The gear shift lever, short and stubby, looks like it came from a ripper of a racing model.
The driver's seat, fluid with contours that curl around your backside and coil firmly to your side, feels like it was designed to hold you, no matter what the G-force.
The dashboard, with that curvaceous lip running from one door to the other, contains the kind of instruments and controls you'd expect to see in an expensive sportster.
The entire passenger compartment, packing twin front buckets and room for up to three in back with surprising legroom, has a spacious feel which defies the fact that all of those inches for heads and legs and shoulders actually add up to the industry classification of a subcompact car.
Then too the look is dramatic.
Sunfire sets a bold stance with its sporty lines and bulging sides. Fascias wear bodyside tints to soften the lines, and the C-pillar has a devilish hook to accent the low roofline.
Even the rigid platform is new, with almost four inches added to the wheelbase (to smooth out the ride) and a track broadened to enhance the stance when maneuvering through twisty sets.
Suspension and steering components combine to produce a firm ride quality tuned for sport action.
Higher spring rates, front anti-roll bar, dual-path front struts and quicker steering ratio added to the power rack and pinion setup -- these are only a few of many components that Pontiac's engineering team packed into Sunfire to distinguish it from import and domestic rivals.
As another point of difference, this subcompact coupe rolls on 14-inch wheels and tires, then offers 15-inchers optional and, on ultimate GT, bold 16-inch cast aluminum wheels with performance radial tires.
Safety elements begin with dual airbags for front riders but extend to 4-wheel anti-lock brakes on even the base SE edition. Other gear includes body-mounted safety belts, knee bolsters and 5-mph front and rear bumpers, a steel safety cage surrounding the passenger compartment, plus Pontiac's unique slotted frame rails which permit the vehicle to absorb more impact energy near the front of the body structure to buffer the passenger compartment.
Pontiac's PASSlock anti-theft ignition system is also aboard the GT edition when outfitted with the 4-speed automatic transmission, as is a traction control system.
Sunfire GT, with aero extensions below and decklid spoiler at the back, produces 150 horsepower from a dual-cam 2.3-liter in-line 4-cylinder engine rigged with 16 valves and multi-point fuel injection. This is the Quad-4 plant from General Motors, now improved with new balanced shaft system to eliminate shakes, rattles and rolls which characterized the previous edition.
The GT variation will not be available until early in 1995, as Pontiac's initial production will be limited to Sunfire SE Coupe and a 4-door sedan variation, each equipped with a 2.2-liter in-line-4 engine with overhead valving and horsepower output of 120.
This plant, when mated to the standard 5-speed manual transmission, scores as high as 35 miles per gallon in fuel efficiency, then drinks from a fuel tank which holds 15.2 gallons, resulting in an extensive cruising range of more than 500 miles.
Sunfire SE offers as an option a 3-speed automatic transmission, while Sunfire GT will use the optional 4-speed automatic with its sophisticated electronic controls.
1995 PONTIAC SUNFIRE COUPE
| Vehicle Specifications:
| 1995 PONTIAC SUNFIRE COUPE Specs
| Model Options:
| Overall Length:
| Engine Size:
||OHV 2.2-L I-4
DOHC 2.3-L I-4 16v
| Gas Mileage:
||$ 11,500 to $ 16,000