If you find the Bonneville SSEi to your liking, but not its $29,000-plusprice tag, Pontiac has come up with a compromise for the 1993 model year-theBonneville SLE, or sports luxury edition.

It`s one of those best-of-all-worlds machines, bringing you just aboutthe same looks, ride, handling and performance as the top-of-the-line SSEi at a price the average Jane and Joe can afford-at least a price that`s about$6,000 less than the SSEi.

And not only do you save $6,000, but you get a lettering designation-SLE- that rolls off the lips, rather than one-SSEi-that skitters over the tongueand the roof of the mouth before banging into the back of your teeth.

Our initial impression was bravo and hallelujah for Pontiac thinkingabout affordability and the fact that not everyone who wants a sporty car has won the lottery.

When you stop to think about it, however, the SLE wouldn`t be necessaryif Pontiac didn`t price the SSEi in roughly the same stratosphere as the tradedeficit.

As we said, the SLE is a compromise. Pontiac took an SE and loaded itwith performance and luxury options to make it an SSEi pretender. It also got its own grille to keep it from being called a clone.

What the SLE didn`t get, other than some of the SSEi`s plastic bodycosmetics, is the 3.8-liter, 205-horsepower, supercharged V-6 engine. The SLE has to settle for the 170-h.p., 3.8-liter, non-supercharged V-6. But then, is 35-h.p. worth $6,000?

The 3.8 is not only lively but also carries a 19-mile-per-gallon city/28- m.p.g. highway fuel economy rating with its standard 4-speed automatictransmission. Very good for a five-passenger family machine. Unless you climb lots of steep hills or pass lots of long convoys, the 3.8 does just finewithout the supercharge boost.

What we found most enjoyable about the 1993 SLE we tested, however, wasperformance as measured by how the car responded when 5 to 6 inches of snowcovered the drive and salt-induced springs of water filled the highways.

Often the performance car has to be left in the garage when the snowplows take to the streets. But the SLE proved to be one of the most stable carswe`ve driven on saturated pavement. That sense of security adds to the drivingenjoyment.

While cars around us treaded gingerly, the SLE performed at the speedlimit-perhaps a mile or two above it. Tires gripped the road and thesuspension system held the radials in place.

Having anti-lock brakes meant that we could approach intersectionsknowing the car would stop in a straight line. The SLE also had tractioncontrol to ensure we would move away from the light without slipping orsliding or leaving our lane. And an air bag rested in the steering wheel hubjust in case. But there`s no passenger-side bag, like in the SSEi.

Pontiac is recognized as GM`s performance division, which gives theimpression performance is measured only by 0- to 60-mile-per-houracceleratio ns and the body sitting flat in sharp turns, not 60 to 0 braking orthe car holding steady and within the white stripes when snow, ice or raininhibit travel.

The SLE brought peace of mind driving in the Snow Belt. The SLE is analternative to a utility vehicle. Its ability to scoot from the light in theSun Belt is an added bonus.

The SLE acted like the original Bonneville SSE, the car that popularizedthe term “sports sedan“ and taught a generation brought up on two-doorcoupes that four-doors can be fun, too.

The SSE was one of our all-time favorite cars before Pontiac fooled withBonneville styling in 1992 and adopted a rear-end de sign that looks as if thesheet metal was squeezed so it would fit into a packing crate. The beauty ofany Bonneville starts in the cabin and under the skin and stops at any outsideportion.

The SE becomes an SLE by adding $3,489 in option packages that includeleather bucket seats, 16-inch touring radials, rear-window defog ger, reardecklid spoiler, dual outlet exhausts, power driver`s seat, power mirrors,cruise control, power remote decklid release, illuminated entry, gauges andtachometer, AM/FM stereo with clock and cassette, power antenna, centerconsole with cupholder and floor mats. To this, add a performance and handlingpackage with sport suspension, variable effort power steering and tractioncontrol for $265.

Only two gripes with the car: one is the door lock button, which isconfusing as to which end you push to lock or unlock the door, and the otheris the diameter of the cupholder, which is suitable for a McDonald`s cup butnot a 16-ounce pop bottle.

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