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2000 Pontiac 1143 Bonneville 964 11594
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John Rettie
powered by New Car Test Drive
Introduction
Pontiac has made a name for itself by delivering cars with distinctive styling. The newest version of the Bonneville, its flagship sedan, certainly meets these expectations. It has an aggressive stance that stands out in a crowd, so it might not suit the tastes of someone who wants to blend in. However, the Bonneville should fit the bill for somebody who is looking for a car a sporty character that can seat up to six people. European manufacturers tend to have a monopoly on sports sedans, but Pontiac gives it a good shot with this car.

The 2000 model year Bonneville represents an all-new design. Its dimensions are much the same and it is powered by the same engine, but it provides a new presence on the road while maintaining the Pontiac look.

Model Lineup
There are three trim levels in the Bonneville range: SE, SLE and SSEi. A price spread of nearly $8,000 lies between the base SE and the top-of-the line SSEi. Anti-lock brakes acting on all four wheels are standard, along with front and side airbags.

The same 3.8-liter V6 engine powers all three. The SSEi gets a supercharger that boosts engine power to 240 horsepower. The SE and SLE have a normally aspirated (non-turbocharged) version of the same engine, which produces 205 horsepower. Performance of all three models is good, although most driving enthusiasts will appreciate the extra oomph provided by the SSEi's supercharged engine.

The base SE starts at $24,295. (Unlike most manufacturers, Pontiac graciously includes the destination charge in all of its prices. We wish all manufacturers did this.) For this price, the SE includes a comprehensive list of features that will suffice for the majority of potential buyers. Standard features include a four-speed automatic transmission, air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, power doors, power windows, power mirrors and a reasonably good radio cassette system.

The SLE model starts at $27,995 and adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, dual-zone automatic climate control, 6-way power driver seat, remote keyless entry, improved sound system, tire pressure monitor, alloy wheels and a performance suspension.

The SSEi is priced at $32,250, which pushes it into near-luxury segment price territory. But for this price, the buyer gets the supercharged engine, traction control, improved magnetic variable-assist power steering, leather upholstery, 12-way power seats, a head-up display, Bose stereo system, automatic mirrors and a universal garage door opener.

Many of the standard features on the more expensive models can be ordered as options on the lower-priced models.

Walkaround
The Bonneville has a look that some would consider borders on the gauche. It's got an assertive pointed nose with the signature Pontiac grille dipping down into the front bumper. The SE and SLE models come with two fog lamps mounted in the outer edge of the bumper, while the SSEi gets two fog lamps mounted nearer the center that gives the car an even more aggressive appearance. Extra body cladding on the lower sides of the SSEi provides a racy Coke-bottle shape and carries the theme back to the high and curvy trunk line. The base SE model gets steel wheels with metal covers while the other models get alloy wheels with an aggressive spoke pattern that complements the body quite nicely.
Interior
The Bonneville's interior is generous on space. With the optional front bench seat there is room for six people. Passengers will find the center seat in the front and rear a little cramped. Rear-seat head- and legroom is good for two passengers. In its standard form the car comes with a couple of spacious bucket seats in front that hold driver and passenger in quite snuggly, especially with cloth material which is a lot less slippery than the optional leather. The six-way power front driver seat option offers a myriad of adjustments at the touch of a button.

The cockpit has a sporty character with a center console that wraps around the driver much like one expects in a sports car. The edge of the center panel curves up over the top of the instrument panel in one large sweep. No less than eight fluidic vents in the dashboard can be aimed in any direction. Within the instrument pod there is a group of six small but easy to read gauges clustered in front of the steering wheel. An oil pressure gauge and voltmeter join the speedometer, tachometer, fuel and water temperature gauges. A second set of radio controls on the steering wheel are convenient yet are still seen on few other cars, despite their obvious safety value.

In addition, the SSEi is fitted with a driver information message center that can display a variety of warnings as well as be used to check on the wide number of settings that can be individualized such as seat, mirror, climate control and radio settings. All models come with catcher's mitt front seats with integrated seatbelts and headrests that grab one's body in the event of an accident for increased safety. Rear-seat passengers are not forgotten as they get a decent sized center armrest with cupholders and storage box. Pass-through access to the trunk for skis and other long items is available when the console is folded down.

Driving Impressions
Fortunately, the Bonneville's driving characteristics match up to its looks. Even in the standard SE configuration, the Bonneville has enough power to provide decent performance. Thanks to the engine's relatively large capacity it has more torque than most of its rivals, which is what counts when it comes to instant power for overtaking and accelerating up on ramps. The transmission shifts smoothly and the car responds promptly to the driver's input.

The 2000 Bonneville has a much stiffer body shell than before and this shows up in handling along twisty roads where the car feels solid. It doesn't wallow like so many full-size American cars of years gone by. Pontiac's advertising brags about its cars having a wide track. It's true, although in fairness the Dodge Intrepid has all but the same dimensions. The Bonneville's wide track leads to better cornering capabilities.

Even though the car has front-wheel-drive it does not suffer from too much torque steer thanks to careful suspension design. (Torque steer is a phenomenon found on front-wheel-drive cars that pulls the steering wheel in one direction under hard acceleration.) Traction control (optional on the SE) helps keep the front tires from spinning under heavy acceleration. All models now come standard with a load-leveling rear suspension system, which helps make the car handle consistently regardless of the cargo load.

Naturally, the SSEi model with its slightly stiffer suspension handles better than the SE but it is still gives a smooth ride without being too harsh. The base SE has a little softer ride, but still offers better control than other cars of similar size, such as the Toyota Avalon and Dodge Intrepid.

A neat tire-inflation monitor that constantly informs the driver of each tire's inflation status is a useful standard feature that has appeared on only a handful of cars before now. An optional Stabilitrak system helps provide additional stability by selectively applying the brakes to the front wheels in emergency situations to counteract skids. This system used to be available only on high-priced sedans. The SSEi is also available with a head-up display for the speedometer and other warning gauges.

Summary
Anyone who needs a full-size car with a sporty character should enjoy the Bonneville. It has a unique look that fits its image. On the road the car performs well with good performance, especially the SSEi model fitted with a supercharger. This model is actually competitive with several near-luxury import models such as a Lexus ES 300 or even a BMW 3-series. Indeed it would be appropriate to slot it in between those two popular cars - the Bonneville is sportier than the Lexus but still not on par with a BMW. Nevertheless, if a roomy interior is important, it beats both those cars hands down. In its base SE form the Bonneville is closest in comparison to the Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler Concorde.
Model as tested
SE ($24,295)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Michigan
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
24310
Price as tested
25505
Options as tested
Option group 2 ($835) includes remote keyless entry and alarm system, six-way power adjustable driver seat, remote trunk release; traction control ($175); CD and cassette sound system ($200)
Model Line Overview
Model lineup
SE ($24,295); SLE ($27,995); SSEi ($32,250)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front and side-impact airbags, ABS standard
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
3.8-liter ohv V6
Transmissions
4-speed electronic automatic
Specifications as Tested
air conditioning; power doors; power windows; power mirrors; cruise control; automatic headlights; destination charge
Engine & Transmission
Engine
3.8-liter ohv V6
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
205 @ 5200
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
19/30
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A
Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS
Suspension, front
Independent
Tires
P225/60R16
Suspension, rear
Independent
Accomodations
Seating capacity
6 (with bench seat)
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
38.7/55.7/42.6
Head/hip/leg room, rear
37.3/56.4/38.0
Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
18.0
Wheelbase
112.2
Length/width/height
202.6/74.2/56.6
Turning circle
40.5
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
N/A
Track, front/rear
62.4/62.3
Ground clearance
N/A
Curb weight
3590
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2000 Pontiac Bonneville
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