If you look at the vehicles in the Pontiac lineup, you quickly recognize that they have these common ingredients: aggressive styling, an emphasis on sporty performance, plenty of standard safety features and good value for the money. The new
Sunfire convertible - promised last year but jammed up at the factory - is here, and it embodies all of these things and more. The fully loaded Sunfire convertible barely tops $20,000. You may not be able to have more fun on wheels for the same price.
If you always wanted a convertible, but couldn't make do with a cramped two-seater such as the Mazda Miata, the Sunfire is the logical alternative. It offers peppy performance, room for four people, a usable trunk and spunky looks. PERFORMANCE
The standard engine in the Sunfire SE Convertible is a 120-horsepower 2.2-liter inline four-cylinder with eight valves. This is a decent engine, but for just $395 more, you can opt for a great one. It is General Motors' 2.4-liter Twin Cam
four-cylinder - a high-tech power plant that has 16 valves and double overhead camshafts. This engine cranks out has 150 horsepower and endows the Sunfire with spritely performance. The Twin Cam, used in many GM vehicles, was born out of the old Quad
4 high-performance four-cylinder. GM engineers ripped apart the coarse-running Quad 4 and completely redesigned it. They added a pair of counter-rotating balance shafts inside the engine that cancel out vibrations. The internal dimensions of the engine
also were changed. All this technical stuff means that the new engine delivers its power at much lower rpms than the old one did. Like most other Pontiacs, when you put your foot down on the Sunfire's accelerator, you'll hear a sporty growl and a
nice array of mechanical noises. Our Twin Cam-equipped test car came with a five-speed manual transmission. I found that I didn't have to rev the engine high to accelerate quickly. In fact, by the time the tachometer needle reaches its 6,000-rpm
limit, it's out of breath. Most of the power hits the wheels when the engine is running between 2,500 and 4,500 rpms. This is very different from most other multi-valve engines. Thoughthe Sunfire is no rocket ship, it hustles well when you need it to.
And the clutch pedal is easy to press down. The short-throw shifter moves smoothly into each gear. The biggest improvement I've noticed comes not from the engine or transmission, but in the refined way power is delivered in this front-wheel drive
compact. You really can't tell the Sunfire is a front-wheel drive car. There's no trace of torque steer, a slight tugging to the left or right on acceleration that is sometimes a front-wheel-drive characteristic. GM engineers have done their
homework, learning from past mistakes to design a world-class vehicle. Sunfire uses fuel frugally. Despite my heavy right foot, our test car delivered respectable fuel economy of 21
mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the open road. HANDLING The Sunfire does not ride and drive like a typical small car. It has a very sturdy, stable and solid large-car feeling - almost as if this compact is slightly over-engineered. In any case, the
feeling Sunfire conveys is one of well-built quality. The Sunfire has a fairly conventional suspension system consisting of struts up front and a beam axle in the rear. The suspension generally did a fine job of handling bumps, ruts and potholes.
Even though the front disc/rear drum anti-lock brakes worked well, I feel rear discs and a sportier suspension system should be made optional on this car. The sound of the engine and the racy cockpit make you want to drive the car fast at times. And
though the suspension system keeps the car well under control in fast corners, you never really get the feeling that the Sunfire is happy performing such maneuvers. If anything it lacks an agile, athletic feel when be
ng driven fast. At this juncture, I should say that the Sunfire isn't really a sports car, but because of its styling and the convertible top, you almost always want to drive it aggressively. Our test car came with a power-assisted
rack-and-pinion steering system. The turning circle of 37 feet seems a bit big for a compact, but the steering is very tight and responsive. FIT AND FINISH In recent years Pontiac has become the GM division whose products have been designed to
appeal to younger drivers. The Sunfire, available with a choice of wild interior colors, comes with bucket seats, a floor shifter and a full set of analog gauges. Our test car was outfitted with a classy gray cloth interior, but those who want
something a bit louder can opt for bright red or funky aqua. Even the dashboard comes in aqua. Unlike several other compact convertibles, Sunfire affords decent rear-seat room for most average-size adults, plus it has a good-size trunk. Further, the
rear seat can be folded forward to expose a passageway from the trunk to the interior. The Sunfire convertible was delayed at the factory in the 1995 model year because GM officials were not satisfied with the way some of the car's trim parts fit
together. Only 1,000 1995 models were built. Nowadays nothing leaves a GM factory unless it's built right. Our test car's parts fit together as tightly as those on a Honda or Toyota. With the top up, the Sunfire is almost as quiet as a coupe. The
convertible top has a thick, high-quality sound-absorbing inner pad that not only makes the car quieter but gives the Sunfire a touch of class. Raising and lowering the electrically operated top is quick and easy. There is just one latch in the center
of the windshield. All you do is pull down on the lever and twist it. Then you tilt the lever back slightly and the top automatically drops into its storage compartment behind the rear seats. The rear window in the convertible is glass, and it
contains an electric defogger. Nice touch. Sunfire comes with a full array of safety equipment, including daytime running lights. And our test car came with a long list of accessories, including power windows, remote-controlled door locks, cruise
control, power mirrors and powerful AM/FM cassette radio. The interior is smartly designed; all switches and controls have large, colorful graphics and are easy to reach and use. Pontiac's sporty and stylish Sunfire offers snappy performance in a
high-quality, attractively priced package. Truett's tip: The sporty, attractive and well-equipped Sunfire convertible is another fun-to-drive winner from Pontiac. It's also priced right.