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By Jim Flammang
February 10, 2003
Vehicle Overview Pontiacs full-size front-wheel-drive (FWD) sedan was last redesigned for 2000 and received a face-lift for the 2002 model year. The Bonneville gets only a few detail changes for the 2003 model year. The front bucket seats have added power recliner and power lumbar features. All models may be equipped with an optional XM Satellite Radio. A CD player is newly standard on the SE and SLE sedans.
Built on the same basic FWD platform as the conservative Buick LeSabre, Pontiacs largest and most expensive sedan has sportier styling and a performance-focused image two of Pontiacs hallmarks. Competitors include the Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid, Nissan Maxima and Toyota Avalon. The Bonneville is still offered in SE, the step-up SLE and the top-of-the-line SSEi forms.
Bold styling identifies Pontiacs among the crowd, and the Bonneville is no exception. Its design touches include a wedge profile, a sporty-looking twin-port grille, cat-eye headlights and bodyside ribbing.
The SE has standard 16-inch tires, while SLE and SSEi sedans run on 17-inchers. A rear spoiler is standard on the SLE and SSEi.
The Bonneville can be fitted to hold five or six passengers. SE models are available with front bucket seats or a solid three-place front bench, but only about one in five sedans gets the bench seat. The front head restraints are the catchers-mitt type, which move up and forward in a rear-end collision, close to the occupants head, to reduce the chance of whiplash injury.
Heated front seats are optional. GMs OnStar communication system is standard in the SLE and SSEi sedans. A small pass-thru from the trunk to the interior permits carrying long items, but the rear seatback does not fold down.
Under the Hood
The SE and SLE sedans are equipped with a 205-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 engine, which is used in various GM automobiles. The SSEi model gets a supercharged version of that engine, which whips up 240 hp. All trim levels use a four-speed-automatic transmission.
Antilock brakes and LATCH child-safety seat tethers are standard in all models. Traction control is standard on the SLE and SSEi and offered as an option in the SE. Side-impact airbags are standard in the SSEi and optional in other models. GMs StabiliTrak electronic stability system and Magnasteer are standard on the top-of-the-line SSEi, but they are not available for the SE and SLE trim levels.
The Bonneville has long been considered a fine road car among GMs best. This sedan offers plenty of virtues to attract big-car fans. Because the regular V-6 engine delivers such strong performance, theres little need for the supercharged power plant. Drivers are likely to feel a welcome burst of confidence when they push the gas pedal to pass or merge in a hurry.
Handling fails to stand out, but its about right for its class. The Bonneville steers with a light touch and responds capably to both driver inputs and corners. In quick curves, body lean is noticeable but not dramatic.
The SE rides comfortably most of the time, and its a very easy car to drive with the smaller tires. The seats are wide but minimally bolstered. Passengers get good rear legroom and ample space all around.