1997 Pontiac Bonneville

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$17,174

starting MSRP

1997 Pontiac Bonneville

Key specs

Base trim shown

Overview

3 trims

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1997 Pontiac Bonneville review: Our expert's take

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The verdict:

Versus the competiton:

There were three of us, all big guys, and we needed the right set of wheels.

We were planning a fast road trip, an overnighter to LA and back (hopefully) for a concert by a punk-rock band from the ’70s (don’t ask). So we needed a big, roomy, powerful car, preferably something with an attitude.

A hot Pontiac Bonneville SSEi, supercharged and loaded with options, fit the bill. Bonneville is the flagship for General Motors’ “excitement division,” and the SSEi is the top performing version of the big sedan.

With 240 horsepower, a tight suspension, and every gizmo and gadget known to mankind, this testosterone enhancer is designed for Walter Mittys who dream of being Mario Andretti.

The Bonneville name looms large in Pontiac history. The ’60s version was big as a battleship and nearly as powerful.

In those days, an engine with a tremendous displacement of cubic inches motivated this heavy cruiser, and Bonnevilles were known for their road-rocket abilities. But this is now, and cubic inches are not as desirable as they used to be.

Modern electronics make it possible to add a supercharger to a passenger car’s V-6 engine to boost its muscle, which in this case adds 35 more horses and 50 more pounds of torque over the naturally aspirated engine.

Unlike familiar turbochargers, which use engine-exhaust pressure to drive a pump that pushes air and fuel into the engine, a supercharger’s pump is run by an engine-driven belt. The result is instant, sparkling response, with surprisingly strong low-end torque and power that is consistent all the way up to the engine’s red line.

A guttural rumble accompanies the swift acceleration, making it feel that there’s a lot more engine on board than there really is. The Bonneville took off like its tail was on fire and was not encumbered in the least by the extra 650 pounds of human cargo on board. Freeway merging was fun and easy, and hill climbing was effortless.

The Bonneville’s handling is solid and sporting, with a firm suspension and quick response, especially for a large sedan. This is the kind of family man’s sports sedan the Europeans are famous for, though the Pontiac’s approach is pure Detroit muscle car, through and through.

Styling of the Bonneville was improved for ’96, and it was carryied over to ’97, with refinements made to the earlier version’s fussy rear end.

The SSEi has a distinctive grille treatment over the standard Bonneville, as well as aggressive-looking layers of plastic body cladding along its flanks. The dark-green paint job on our test car was sharp, set off by stylish custom wheels and low-profile, high-performance tires.

The interior of the SSEi is pure Buck Rogers. It’s pretty overwrought, actually, with dozens of buttons, gauges, gadgets, gizmos and graphics. There’s a heads-up display reflected on the windshield that shows the speed, turn-signal operation and “check gauges” warning light, and a jazzy-looking compass that looks like it came from a jet fighter.

The trick bucket seats adjust about a zillion different ways, with a broad, console-mounted keypad with nine separate buttons, each with a little drawing showing what it does. This is not only weird-looking but hard to use from the driver’s seat without taking your eyes off the road.

It’s all a bit much for those of us who yearn for simplicity. Also, the leg room could be better in both front and rear for such a large sedan.

We all survived the trip more or less intact, and the Bonneville proved itself a competent road warrior with enough style to satisfy the needs of three middle-aged rockers.

1997 Pontiac Bonneville

Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, front-wheel drive. Base price: $26,559. Price as tested: $31,081. Engine: 3.8-liter supercharged V-6, 240 HP, at5,200 rpm, 280 pound-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm. Transmission: Four-speed automatic. Curb weight: 3,691 pounds. Length: 202.3 inches. Wheelbase: 110.8 inches. Safety features: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes. EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city, 26 mpg highway. Highs: Strong engine response. Firm handling. Improved styling. Lows: Too many gadgets and gizmos. More leg room needed. Unwieldy power-seat controls.

Consumer reviews

Rating breakdown (out of 5):
  • Comfort 4.8
  • Interior design 4.2
  • Performance 4.5
  • Value for the money 4.5
  • Exterior styling 3.7
  • Reliability 4.2

Most recent consumer reviews

4.6

VERY powerful, not best in exterior look

Leather interior, controls on the steering wheel (pretty good for a '97!), impressive sound system, the 3.8L engine didnt' disappoint. I got the car in '02 and had it until an accident in '13 which was too much to fix it given my financial situation... The transmission went out on me and had to be replaced entirely around '05-06. But it was already 8-9 years old. Things happen. Not the best exterior design... Never really liked it. My mom insisted on this care for safety. Had hail damage. Paid $5000 for it in '02. Originally skeptical to drive a huge car like this, but then got used to it and loved how quickly it accelerated. Miss this care VERY much. WOuld recommend the latest Bonneville to others - 2009, etc. It looks a lot more sleek.

5.0

fantastic car-you won't be dissaponted!

We have owned a 95 bonneville and now a 97. Both were bought used in good condition. Everyone who rides with us is impressed with the comfort! We love the mileage--always at least 25/27 sometimes better. never had any window or seat motors or any other accesory. My kids have put the upholstery throught the paces...I have the inside professionally cleaned every once in a while (have used by own home steam vac also) the upholstery comes back to virtually brand new. The trunk is huge...! and has a pass through to the back seat....so I have hauled lumber fishing poles etc many times. I now have three kids and am looking for something to haul their friends as well.....if it weren't for that I would keep buying these cars!

4.4

Nothing will stop this car

I am on my 5th year with this car. I purchased it from the original owner in 2004 with under 50,000 miles. It was well taken care of and I continued that so it is in bizarly nice condition. I only bought this car because of the Supercharged engine. A supercharger is an amazing thing. This car will compete with most any vehicle around especially when passing. So far I have not put a dollar into anything as nothing goes wrong except the maintenance items such as brakes and tires and unfortunatly suspension. It is the computer controlled, air ride suspension and simply does not work. What a mistake on GM's part. This car handles worse than probably every single car on the road. I am at 98,000 miles now in April 2009 and expect things to start going wrong. No car can last this long trouble free. I would bet that if this car was treated just average it would not have held up this well. Overall this is a nice car, with mediocre build quality and a reliable, ultra-strong engine. I still get compliments, mostly due to its condition which says a lot for a 12 year old car. I wish all vehicles were supercharged.

See all 6 consumer reviews

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