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By Jim Flammang
February 14, 2005
Vehicle Overview Pontiac's smallest, lowest-priced model is manufactured only in a two-door coupe body style; it got a restyled front and rear end in 2003. For 2004, a CD/MP3 player and Radio Data System operation became available.
The Sunfire comes in a single trim level, but four Preferred Equipment Groups � including a Special Value Package � are available. A Sport Appearance Package for 2005 adds a sport suspension and 16-inch wheels, and buyers can choose optional bodyside Sport Graphics. General Motors' Ecotec 2.2-liter four-cylinder produces 140 horsepower.
Pontiac's front-wheel-drive Sunfire is similar to the Chevrolet Cavalier, which remains available in both coupe and sedan forms. Both models were last redesigned for 1995. The new 2005 Cobalt was added to Chevrolet's compact-car lineup, but Pontiac doesn't currently offer an equivalent small car. The Sunfire is built in Mexico and competes against the Dodge Neon, Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Mitsubishi Eclipse.
Exterior The Sunfire flaunts Pontiac's sporty outlook by exhibiting different front and rear styling than the Cavalier. A rear spoiler is standard. Mounted on a 104.1-inch wheelbase, the Sunfire coupe measures 182 inches long overall and stands 53 inches tall. The Sunfire can be equipped with a base or sport suspension.
Interior Five occupants can fit inside the Sunfire, which features front buckets and a 60/40-split folding three-place rear seat. The driver operates a floor-mounted transmission shift lever. The standard center console includes a padded armrest, two cupholders for front occupants, and storage slots for coins, tapes and CDs. Air conditioning and a rear-window defogger are standard. XM Satellite Radio and GM's OnStar communication system are optional. Cargo volume totals 12.4 cubic feet.
Under the Hood All Sunfires use a 140-hp, 2.2-liter four-cylinder that produces 150 pounds-feet of torque. A Getrag five-speed-manual transmission is standard, and a four-speed automatic is optional.
Safety Antilock brakes and seat-mounted side-impact airbags are available on some models.
Driving Impressions The Sunfire's extra body trim might make it look sportier than its Cavalier cousin, but the driving experience in both models is about the same. These cars have been around for a long time. They aren't the most refined or best-performing small cars on the market, especially with so many recently introduced competitors.
Acceleration with the Ecotec engine and automatic transmission is sluggish from a standstill, but it picks up handily after the slow start. The Sunfire's throttle response at 45 to 55 mph is much better. Engine blare occurs during hard acceleration, but it's not overly annoying.
The Sunfire's handling is fairly ordinary, but this compact car has very good control. Steering demands a little effort, but responses are satisfying. The base suspension deals fairly well with road imperfections, but it transmits quite a bit of jarring to occupants over rough pavement.
In traditional Pontiac style, the Sunfire's interior boasts a sportier image than the Cavalier's. The reasonably spacious two-door Sunfire still qualifies as a good value for shoppers who seek sensible transportation and don't demand the latest in technology, safety features or styling.