If, as they say, beauty is skin deep, then it's time for the Pontiac Bonneville to shed its current layer of sheetmetal and get a sportier, more decorative covering. Bonneville, one of our favorite cars for many years, has aged--and not very well. Bonneville has become the Dorian Gray of sports sedans. The entire Pontiac lineup--Sunfire, Grand Am, Grand Prix and even the new '99 Montana--have a youthful, sporty appearance. Pontiacs exude fun and performance. Hop in and search for the open road. The problem with the current generation Bonneville is that it suffers a case of rear-end droop. Just like gravity playing havoc with the human form as the years add up, it appears as if the back end of the original Bonneville clay model melted and, rather than prop it back up, Pontiac simply tacked on a deck-lid spoiler to hide the sagging rump. The sporty remakes of the Grand Prix (1997) and Grand AM ('99) demand that the Bonneville keep pace with its smaller stablemates in bringing back appealing sheetmetal to complement the traditional performance ride and handling. Bonneville hasn't had a styling remake since the 1992 model year. Take heart. A styling overhaul is in the works and, coming next summer, is a model year 2000 remake. The new Bonneville will be built off the same platform as the Buick LeSabre, which goes on sale next spring after making the rounds at the Detroit and Chicago Auto Shows, and the Olds Aurora, which goes on sale as a 2000 model next fall. Despite looking a tad frumpy, Bonneville, under the skin, remains, as always, a first-line performance machine, especially the SSEi sedan we tested, with the "i" standing for the fact that the regular 3.8-liter, 205 h.p. V-6 carries a supercharger for a boost to 240 h.p. and a spot at the head of the line of traffic. The 3.8-liter, supercharged V-6 packs a punch, yet still delivers a generous 18 m.p.g. city/27 m.p.g. highway teamed with its 4-speed automatic. The suspension is tuned for aggressive motoring. The SSEi comes with larger shocks, springs, and stabilizer bars than the regular SSE sedan, plus 16-inch performance radials. And the SSEi adds independent front and rear suspension with electronic road leveling to keep you on an even keel when the back seat and/or trunk are full. All those technical goodies means you have command of the road. For quick, sure starts off the line, and the ability to maneuver those corners and turns without swing and sway--or worse, front and rear end acting independently of one another--the Bonneville SSEi also comes with traction control as standard, which employs both the ABS (four-wheel standard) and engine fuel management to keep you from losing contact with the pavement. Complimenting the suspension is a variable-effort power-steering system with reduced effort at low speeds, such as when parking, and increased effort at higher speeds for improved stability. The SSEi al so comes with dual depowered air bags, tinted and heated dual outside power mirrors, remote keyless entry, retained accessory power so you can open or close the windows after stopping the car, power windows and door locks, compass, power seats, heads-up display (HUD) in the windshield (optional last year), cupholders in both the center console as well as in the driver's-side door, an AM/FM Bose sound system, complete with compact disc player and radio controls in the steering wheel. HUD makes Bonneville a candidate for GM's new night-vision system that will be pioneered in the 2000 Cadillac DeVille and eventually make its way into any GM vehicle with a HUD system. With night vision, infrared heat imaging allows you to use the HUD display to see objects in (or off) the road at night or in fog, rain or snow, to provide time to react and avoid a collision. The SSEi starts life as the SSE at $29,880. The SSEi supercharger package added $1,170 to the test car and the only other opti on was a power sunroof at $980. OnStar, GM's emergency communications system is available as an option. >> 1999 Pontiac Bonneville SSEi
© 1998 Chicago Tribune Wheelbase: 110.8 inches Length: 202.1 inches Engine: 3.8-liter, 240-h.p. supercharged V-6 Transmission: 4-speed automatic Fuel economy: 18 m.p.g. city/27 m.p.g. highway Base price: $29,880 Price as tested: $31,950. Includes $1,170 for supercharger package with 16-inch performance tires, boost gauges and SSEi badges; and $980 for power sunroof. Add $615 for freight. Pluses: High-power sedan with such goodies as four-wheel ABS, automatic leveling suspension and traction control. Roomy, comfortable, family hauler when not playing in corners and turns. OnStar emergency communications available. Minuses: Styling has grown very long in the tooth and the model year 2000 remake coming in mid-'99 is long-awaited. Rear end looks like clay model melted and drooped but built anyway to save time. Next Bonney will be built on same platform as 2000 Buick LeSabre and Oldsmobile Aurora. >>
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