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Pontiac's Bonneville sure is an eye-catcher: aggressive, distinctive, even slightly overstated. It backs up its looks with a responsive, sporting personality. The supercharged SSEi, particularly, can run with the best from overseas. Yet underneath those racy lines lives a practical sedan with real full-size room.
The Bonneville was redesigned for the 2000 model year, and has not changed substantially since then. For 2001, the OnStar navigation and security system became standard on all models, and heated front seats joined the option list. Revisions for 2002 are a little more substantial and include new front and rear fascias for the SE trim level, 17-inch wheels for SE and SLE, and more standard equipment all around.
The Pontiac Bonneville's driving characteristics live up to its looks. Even in the standard SE configuration, the Bonneville has enough power to provide respectable performance. Thanks to the engine's relatively large capacity, it has more torque than most of its rivals, and torque is what contributes to quick stoplight getaways and on-ramp acceleration. The four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, and the chassis responds promptly to the driver's input.
Pontiac advertising has bragged for years about a wide track for secure handling. In fact, Pontiac has not built a car with a significantly wider track than anyone else's since 1960. (The Dodge Intrepid covers only a fraction of an inch less road, front and rear.) But never mind.
The Bonneville rides on a stiff body shell and a firm suspension that acquit themselves well on a twisty road. This is a solid-feeling car, one that doesn't wallow like so many full-size American models of years gone by.
Nor does it torque steer, as some other powerful front-drivers do, thanks to its clever suspension design. (Torque steer is the tendency to pull the steering wheel in one direction or the other under hard acceleration.) Traction control ($175 on SE; standard on other Bonnevilles) helps keep the front tires from spinning when accelerating hard. All models ride on an automatic load-leveling rear suspension, which helps keep handling consistent regardless of the number of passengers or amount of luggage aboard.
The SLE and SSEi, with their slightly stiffer suspension, handle better than the SE but still ride without too much harshness. The base SE rides a little softer, but still offers better control than other cars of similar size, such as the Toyota Avalon and Dodge Intrepid.
A clever tire-inflation monitor is a useful standard feature, keeping the driver appraised of the pressure in each tire. StabiliTrak stability control, standard on SSEi, enhances active safety by selectively applying the brakes to the front wheels to counteract skids. The SSEi also comes with GM's Eyecue head-up display, which projects vehicle speed and other information onto the inside of the windshield, just in front of the driver.
Anyone who needs a full-size car, but prefers a car with a sporty personality, should enjoy the Pontiac Bonneville. It has a unique look that fits Pontiac's performance image. The supercharged SSEi offers acceleration performance fully competitive with top near-luxury imports, yet offers much more interior room.
In its base SE form, the Bonneville compares favorably with the Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler Concorde.