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.