When I moved out of my parent's house years ago, I didn't go very far. One of the requirements in choosing an apartment was that it had to be within striking distance of Sunday dinner. That's why - indirectly - my mom knows almost as much about new cars as I do. Every Sunday, she peeks out the window to see what I'm driving. If it's interesting enough, she'll saunter outside and have a look. On rare occasions, she'll ask for a test drive. At the dinner table I often get quizzed about price, performance and equipment. Like me, my mom is a tough customer when it comes to cars - aclaim that can be verified by several local new-car salesmen, who, one suspects, would gladly pass up any potential commissions in order to avoid any future dealings with her. Automotive-wise, she's extra careful with money and won't buy a car unless it offers good value for the dollar. She was impressed with this week's test car, a Pontiac Bonneville SLE painted British Racing Green and sporting a tan leather interior. After an 800-mile test drive, so was I. If there is an American equal to such cars as the BMW 525i and Acura Legend, the Bonneville SLE is it - with one minor exception: The SLE sells for about $10,000 to $15,000 less. The SLE (Sport Luxury Edition) is a new-for-1993 Bonneville model designed specifically to appeal to youthful import-oriented sports sedan buyers. The price makes it an outstanding value. PERFORMANCE Some minor (and finer) tuning in the 1993 version of the Bonneville's 3.8-liter, 170-horsepower V-6 gives the car more power and better fuel economy. There is a muted rumble from the exhaust system that is in keeping with the car's sporty nature - and Pontiac's performance tradition. However, the deep exhuast tone is never intrusive or annoying and it helps give the car a bit of character. This week's test drive included something a little out of the ordinary. We loaded the testcar with four adults and took it on a 600-mile one-day round trip from Orlando to Tallahassee, where we watched the Florida State Seminoles handily thrash the Duke Blue Devils at Doak Campbell Stadium. With the air conditioner running the whole way, the SLE returned a solid 27.5 miles per gallon of unleaded - that is fuel economy no similar-sized foreign car can equal. Acceleration is not neck-snapping, but it is more than adequate for passing slower moving traffic and for merging onto busy highways. HANDLING The SLE comes only with a computer-controlled four-speed automatic transmission. The shifts were so smooth that in many instances they could not be felt. The SLE weighs about 3,400 pounds, and it feels safe and rock-solid, much like a BMW or Mercedes-Benz. If you didn't look under the hood, you would have no clue that the Bonneville is a front-wheel drive car. Finesse is the word that best describes the Bonneville's well-balanced road manne rs. It's easy-going and agile. Rack and pinion steering gives the SLE nice reflexes in quick, sharp turns. The steering wheel, however, does take a bit of extra effort to turn at slow speeds. The suspension is firm, but not unyielding. The stiff springs keep the car stable over bad pavement. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes were part of a $265 performance and handling package that also included traction control and 16-inch tires. FIT AND FINISH The SLE was put together at least as well as any of the best-built cars I've tested this year. The interior and exterior trim pieces fit snugly, the paint was flawless and all the gaps between the doors, fenders and trunk were straight and uniform. When a car is built that well, you can feel it in many ways. The test car was quiet on the road, and there were no squeaks or rattles. The SLE features electrically adjustable leather bucket seats with a console-mounted floor shifter and a full, clea set of analog gauges - exactly the right combination of ingredients for a serious sports sedan. I spent a considerable amount of time in the test car riding in the back seat. One can sit there comfortably for hours. There is plenty of room, and the rear seats are firm and supportive. Theinterior is loaded with user-friendly items. There are lights for each rear passenger as well as air conditioning ducts in the rear of the center console. There's a fold-away cup holder in between the seats. On the roof, you'll find a handy pop-out holder for sunglasses. The radio can be controlled by buttons on the steering wheel. A driver-side air bag is standard. Rarely do I have a chance to see how a car holds up over a long period of time. In February, a Sentinel employee bought a new Bonneville. He loves it. He has a few very minor complaints related to the trim. He would like Pontiac to reduce wind noise (which was not a problem on the test car) and improve the rubber seals around the doors, which, he says, can be loosened by children climbing in and out of the car. But he says the car offers excellent value for the dollar. And it has been dependable and reliable. The Bonneville SLE is a sturdy, well-built and nice-looking sports sedan. It gives you your money's worth and more. Truett's tip: The Bonneville SLE adds a touch of luxury and class to Pontiac's hot-selling sports sedan.
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||December 20, 1992|
|Richard Truett||Orlando Sentinel||September 24, 1992|
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