A stylish compact that offers a good value.
by Mitch McCullough
Base Price $14,005
As Tested $18,940
Pontiac's Sunfire delivers is an affordable compact wrapped in stylish sheet metal. It is available as a coupe, sedan, GT or convertible.
Three body styles are available: four-door sedan, two-door coupe and two-door convertible. The coupes and the convertible offer the most excitement, but the SE Sedan provides more practicality with a roomier back seat and a larger trunk.
Retail prices: SE Sedan ($14,105); SE Coupe ($14,005); GT Coupe ($16,295); GT Convertible ($21,745).
Two four-cylinder engines are available, a 115-horsepower 2.2-liter and a sporty 150-horsepower 2.4-liter twin-cam. Three-speed and four-speed automatics are available along with a new five-speed manual gearbox from Getrag.
Pontiac revised the styling of the 2000 Sunfire. A new front fascia gives it a fresh appearance. Integral fog lamps on GT coupe and convertible give them a sportier appearance. Rounded turn signals integrated into the front fascia are used on the SE models. Side ribs and new rocker panel moldings on the SE models add some surface excitement for a more aggressive look. A new rear fascia with rounded backup lamps similar to those on the recently redesigned Grand Am reinforces the Pontiac brand image. A rear decklid spoiler is standard on all Sunfire coupes.
The Sunfire Convertible resembles a miniature Firebird with its fluid curves, sharp, tapered nose, muscular bodyside bulges and stocky tail treatment. The Pontiac Sunfire offers a sportier look than the Chevy Cavalier does.
Sunfire's sporty exterior theme is continued inside the cabin. For 2000, Pontiac revised the instrument panel for a more attractive appearance. Instrumentation includes a digital LCD odometer and trip odometer, a tachometer and a coolant temperature gauge.
A new floor console provides greater functionality and includes a padded armrest. Key improvements for 2000 include two new forward-mounted cupholders, a concealed coin holder, and improved storage space for CDs, cassettes and other items.
A new leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and parking brake handle are standard on GT models. Radio and HVAC controls are angled toward the driver. The steering wheel can be equipped with convenient stereo controls that reduce the driver's need to take his or her eyes off the road. New cloth on the SE's seats and door trim provide a more vibrant appearance.
Lots of glass and effective mirrors provide good visibility; you only see a little bit of the sharply slanted hood. Most drivers and passengers should find plenty of interior room. Getting in and out of the Sunfire coupe is easier than many other coupes.
Sunfire's relatively short deck lid conceals slightly more than 12 cubic feet of trunk space, easily accessed with a low lift-over height.
The PASSlock theft deterrent system that comes on all Sunfire models shuts the car off after a few moments if it is started with anything other than the encoded key. A single key is used for ignition and all locks, and a remote keyless entry system is available as an option.
All Sunfires are equipped with daytime running lights. Whenever the ignition is on and the handbrake is released or the automatic transmission is shifted out of park, the headlights will be on at reduced power. The normal headlights can be switched on manually or by using Pontiac's Twilight Sentinel system, turning the lights on and off automatically as it senses the amount of available light.
For 2000, Sunfire offers a new line of sound systems. The standard AM/FM radio has been upgraded for improved appearance and theft deterrence. A retained accessory feature allows the radio to remain powered for 10 minutes after the power is switched off or until the driver's door is opened.
A 200-watt Monsoon premium audio system has been added to the Sunfire's list of options. Using six speakers, the system is tuned specifically for the Sunfire's acoustical environment and is capable of completely drenching its occupants with sound. Crisp bass response and clear high frequencies make for great sound. It's a bargain at $195.
The Sunfire is easy to drive and fun to drive quickly. It hangs in there well in fast corners. It is poised and predictable. It is balanced well, exhibiting surprisingly little understeer for a front-wheel-drive car. The GT seems at its best in transient, or slalom-type, maneuvers. You can really throw it around. Our only quibble with its handling is the unassisted steering that is a little slow.
The chassis and suspension and steering combine to produce an exceptional blend of ride and handling, and the car projects a secure feeling of stability and solidity. The suspension is composed of MacPherson struts up front and a twist beam axle in the rear. It's not as sophisticated as many setups in this class, but it gets the job done. A precise feel of on-center steering and quickness are attributed to Sunfire's power rack-and-pinion steering. Sunfire's body rigidity provides a ride that's firm, confidence at higher speeds, and quiet. Standard on the GT Coupe are P205/55 performance tires on 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels.
With the 2.4-liter 16-valve Twin Cam engine, the GT Coupe provides comparable power to a Honda Civic or Dodge Neon. It raises the Sunfire's performance from the realm of acceptable to spirited. When equipped with the 2.2-liter engine and standard five-speed transmission, the Sunfire gets an EPA-rated 23 mpg in the city and 33 mph on the highway.
Transmission choices include a 5-speed manual, a 3-speed automatic and a 4-speed automatic. Built by renowned German transmission manufacturer Getrag, the new 5-speed manual gearbox features improved shift feel and a synchronized reverse gear for easier engagement. An improved cable shift linkage aids shifting, while a reverse lockout feature was added for enhanced safety. The new Getrag five-speed is standard on the coupe and sedan and optional on the GT convertible. The 4-speed automatic is available for all models and offers much better gearing than the base 3-speed automatic.
Sunfire comes with disc brakes in front, drum brakes in the rear. An anti-lock braking system (ABS) is standard. New brake components for 2000 are designed to optimize wheel slip control, reduce noise, improve pedal feel and contribute to reduced weight. Overall, it is not as sophisticated as the braking systems found on more expensive cars, and overall braking performance is average.
Pontiac Sunfire offers buyers sporty, expressive styling and performance in an affordably priced, American-built car. Sunfire models appeal to a wide range of car enthusiasts, from economy sport sedan buyers to convertible lovers.
Its low entry price makes the Sunfire GT Coupe a good value in the competitive coupe market.
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