The Pontiac Bonneville underwent a complete revision for the 2000 model year and represents the luxury sports sedan side of General Motors’ automotive lineup. The top-of-the-line Bonneville SSEi, however, with its excessively stylized front end and side panels, is probably not a design statement that will have great appeal to the sophisticated executive buyer.
The Bonneville lineup includes three models, including that base SE model at about $26,000, the mid-level SLE at around $30,000 and Pontiff’s flagship SSEi model, which tips the price scale around $35,000. The SSEi adds whopping amounts of standard equipment and the advantages of a supercharger, which pumps a lot of life into General Motors’ venerable V-6 engine. The engine is most notable for its high torque output that delivers good acceleration under most conditions.
The Bonneville SSEi was as loaded with equipment as any car I can remember, save for a navigation system. Standard equipment included a 12-way power driver and passenger seat with three-way memory, dual-zone climate control, heads-up speedometer display, and deluxe Bose audio system. Our Bonneville also had such options as a power glass sunroof, 17-inch chrome-plated alloy wheels and a 12-disc CD changer.
In terms of technology, the Bonneville SSEi is equipped with nearly all of General Motors’ high-tech systems. StabiliTrak is an advanced vehicle control system that is able to control both brakes and throttle to ensure that the car goes where the driver points it. A new inflation monitor checks tire pressure during vehicle operation and will alert the driver when a single tire’s pressure falls significantly.
Pontiac adds technology to the construction of the front seats to prevent whiplash if the car is bashed from the rear. The new seat centers the occupant’s back and pelvis in the seatback and then rotates the head restraint forward to prevent the occupant’s head from excessive rearward movement.
But perhaps the most outstanding feature of the new Bonneville is attention to its structural integrity. According to the company, torsional stiffness has been increased by 62 percent over its predecessor. And in use on a variety of road surfaces, the car displayed nary a whimper. The ride also proved quiet and relatively refined. On the other hand, handling is uninspired, particularly by sports sedan standards.
Despite overall improvements to the Bonneville, I won’t be adding it to my recommended list. The Bonneville doesn’t strike me as a $35,000 sports sedan, particularly not when it’s compared to the great-handling Lincoln LS or the classy Infiniti I30t , two of the year’s more compelling sporty sedans.
The Bonneville is the third all-new family-sized sedan from General Motors that I have reviewed for the current model year, including the Chevy Impala and the Buick LeSabre. And at this point I must express some dismay that GM’s bread- and-butter sedans have not moved more aggressively forward against the competition.
I know that GM benchmarks its product against competing models. But too often the company just seems satisfied with getting closer to the prevailing norm for design, engineering and quality standards, rather than attempting to leapfrog the competition , a practice so clearly observed from the Japanese and European manufacturers that work the same market.
Of the trio of GM sedans mentioned, the Buick LeSabre seems closest to the target because Buick seems to have a good handle on what its cadre of older, conservative buyers want in a full-size sedan. I’m not so sure that Pontiac has its customer base so well targeted.
Pontiac’s press material states that the demographic for the Bonneville SSEi is a 45-year-old male with a college education and a family income of $95,000. And that would seem on target for a four-door sedan that approaches a sticker price of $35,000. Few young people under 30 want to plunk down those kind of bucks for an automobile , unless they’re engineers and it’s a sporty roadster or a two-door pocket rocket.
Pontiac’s design goal for the Bonneville seems to be that nothing succeeds like excess. Pontiac has been relatively successful in designing cars for younger drivers, but the huge spoiler and the excessively sculpted lower side panels look overwrought and unsophisticated on the Bonneville. And the round openings for the fog lights are excessively prominent. The styling cues that are effective on a car designed for a 25-year-old buyer seem inappropriate on a luxury sports model.
The interior also reflects Pontiac’s hyperactive design philosophy and lacks the restraint that most buyers in the car’s demographics demand. The dashboard suffers from surfaces and switches that are overly contoured, giving the whole thing a kind of visual in-your-face quality that detracts from a sense of elegance.