Thanks to a Cadillac-supplied engine, the Pontiac Bonneville has returned to the V8 market for the first time since 1986.
The Bonneville with the V8 is the $35,270 GXP, which answers the prayers of Bonneville fans who have long waited for a V8. The engine is a 275-horsepower version of Cadillac's proven 4.6-liter Northstar V8. It's smooth and sophisticated, with dual overhead camshafts and 32 valves.
The entry $26,965 Bonneville SE and midrange $29,815 SLE versions have a 3.8-liter 205-horsepower V6, which provides decent acceleration. The supercharged 240-horsepower V6 has been replaced by the V8.
The sporty new GXP follows the tradition of the first Bonneville—a big, flashy 1957 convertible with a 310-horsepower Pontiac V8. That Bonneville was mainly a dealer promotion car that highlighted Pontiac's new, youthful high-performance image, so only 630 were made that year.
Pontiac increased Bonneville production for 1958, when both a coupe and convertible were sold. Bonnevilles and V8s naturally went together for almost 20 years. However, the "Bonne" lost sportiness along the way as the auto world became less flamboyant in the 1970s; it eventually was sold as Pontiac's flagship sedan and as an upscale station wagon. (The convertible was discontinued after 1970.)
A V8 was optional for the Bonneville in 1986. But it only produced 150 horsepower. At least it was a step up from the standard 110-horsepower V6 for the rear-wheel-drive car.
Arriving in 1987 was a new generation front-wheel-drive Bonneville sedan, which wasn't even offered with an optional V8. The car had a new 150-horsepower engine, but it was only a V6. Many Bonneville fans were shocked.
Pontiac eventually offered the Bonneville with the supercharged V6 and such items as a sport suspension and racier bodywork. That engine made the car pretty fast. But it wasn't as smooth as a V8, and Pontiac fans wished the car had two more cylinders.
The GXP is much costlier than other versions of the Bonneville, which basically are just decent full-size American cars with a little more pizzazz than most U.S. domestic 2004 big cars.
However, the GXP is well equipped with comfort and convenience items, and it looks distinctive with modified front and rear styling, a rear spoiler and four shiny exhaust outlets.
Other special GXP features are a sport suspension, upgraded brakes, wide 50-series tires on big 18-inch wheels and a performance 3.71 final-drive ratio for quicker acceleration.
The luxurious cockpit has leather/suede upholstery, power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate controls, carbon fiber trim and a Monsoon AM/FM/cassette/CD player with eight speakers.
Among safety items are anti-lock brakes, an anti-skid system, traction control, front-seat side airbags and General Motors' OnStar assistance system.
Options include $295 heated front seats, $325 head-up display that projects such things as vehicle speed on the windshield and a $325 satellite radio.
Of course, the star GXP feature is the V8, which works with a 4-speed automatic transmission. A modern five-speed automatic would be more appropriate, but at least the Bonneville transmission is responsive.
The smooth, quiet engine propels the GXP to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, but doesn't deliver the neck-snapping acceleration I expected. Partly blame the car's 3,790-pound weight.
The GXP looks racy, but is no sports sedan with its front-wheel-drive design, aging platform and lack of a modern automatic transmission.
The steering is quick, but stiff. The all-independent suspension helps provide good handling despite the nose-heavy weight distribution. The ride is firm, but comfortable on most roads. The brake pedal has a linear action, and stopping distances are short.
The GXP provides only an estimated 17 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway, partly because of its powerful V8 and performance final-drive ratio. The V6 has an old-style pushrod design, but does better at 20 city and 29 highway.
Genuine Full-Size Car
The Bonneville is a genuine full-size domestic sedan. Four tall adults easily fit in the quiet interior, although a large front console consumes a lot of space in the GXP. The center of the rear seat is too hard for long-distance comfort for a third adult.
The big bucket seats of the GXP are supportive and the dashboard contains easily read gauges, eight large circular vents and an ignition switch that is more convenient than one on the steering column.
Controls are within easy reach, but there are too many to let a first-time driver feel comfortable with them. It's impossible to see where the rear of the car ends through the back window from the driver's seat, but no rear obstacle-detection system is offered.
The trunk is large, with a low, wide opening and pass-through area to the rear seat. The hood opens easily with twin hydraulic struts, but the trunk lid has old-style manual hinges that dip into the cargo area.
The GXP is a definite step up from other versions of the Bonneville. A worthy successor to the first Bonneville, it's a big, comfortable, upscale car with a potent V8 for fans of large American autos.