New Car/Review

1998 PONTIAC BONNEVILLE SE W/SLE PACKAGE

by Tom Hagin

pontiac
SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 23,820
Price As Tested                                    $ 26,180
Engine Type               OHC 12-valve 3.8 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
Engine Size                                 231 cid/3800 cc
Horsepower                                   205 @ 5200 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               230 @ 4000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  110.8"/74.5"/202.1"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3473 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                    18 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P225/60R16
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            19/29/22
0-60 MPH                                          9 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       17 seconds @ 85.5 mph
Top speed                                           105 mph
     * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

Pontiac Bonneville used to mean rear-wheel-drive pushing 6000 pounds, a gas-guzzling V8 engine, a pillow-soft ride and room for six.

Bonneville today means front-wheel-drive, an economical V6 engine, (with a supercharger option) a better soft ride and again, room for six.

Two models are available: top-line SSE and our SE tester, with its SLE options package.

OUTSIDE - Bonneville in current form is seven years old, so as the competition wows the public with dramatic elliptical styling, Pontiac stays with pronounced body creases and flatter expanses of the hood and trunk. The top-line SSE model, with its sporty ground effects package and supercharged engine, is clearly the flashier of the two models, though our SLE test car looked sporty with its rear spoiler, same-color side cladding and a front air dam that flows into a set of fog lights. Nearly everything else on the exterior is also body color, save for the black trim around the windows and the tires, which gives it a slight NASCAR resemblance. Our tester came with five-spoke alloy wheels and P225/60R16 Touring tires, both part of an options package.

INSIDE - Bonneville's large-car theme continues inside, where there's easily room for five. The front bucket seats are soft, pillowy and wide, with enough adjustment to fit most drivers. The center console is large, with lots of storage and a set of ventilation ports aimed into the rear seating area. Another armrest/storage unit with cupholders folds from the middle of the rear seat, and there is a pass-through from the trunk for hauling lengthy cargo. New for 1998 is OnStar, a system that uses satellite technology to summon help if the airbags deploy, along with several other functions. The SE version comes standard with power windows and door locks, an AM/FM radio, air conditioning and a rear window defogger, but most will come with loads of extras like our test car. Our car's options package included a trunk storage net, uplevel CD system, keyless entry, automatic climate control, steering wheel audio controls, lighted vanity mirrors and a power driver's seat.

ON THE ROAD - Many of our readers would rather hear about the Bonneville SSE, with its 240-horse supercharged 3.8 liter V6 engine, but the utilitarian version is no slouch, either. It's based on the same V6, with vintage pushrods operating two valves per cylinder, but with the help of sequential multi-port fuel injection and computerized engine management controls, it produces a healthy 205 horsepower and 230 lb-ft of torque, all from regular unleaded gasoline. Off-the-line acceleration is very good, as is freeway passing power. Pontiac suggests that nearly 30 highway miles per gallon can be squeezed from one gallon of gas, and we were pleased with our 22 mpg all-around test week. Mated to this is GM's heavy-duty 4T65-E four-speed automatic transmission that used to be exclusive to the high-power supercharged engine. Now, it comes standard on the normally-aspirated SE versionas well.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Bonneville's unit-body construction uses strut-type suspension up front and Chapman (basically, rear MacPherson struts) in back. The ride is soft and controlled as a large car should be, but handling is where the SE and SSE differ. The SSE's stabilizer bars are thicker, and it has load-leveling rear air springs to better handle added weight, so there's less plowing and leaning in turns. The soft-riding suspension on the SE works well to soften bumps and blows from the pavement, but it wallows and bounds over large bumps and over undulating pavement. A handy, and inexpensive, option is Pontiac's traction control system, With it, engine power to the drive wheels is reduced if the computer detects wheelspin. MagnaSteer is what GM calls its variable rate power steering system, and it was optional on our SE tester. It uses fewer moving parts than other variable rate systems, and has proven quite reliable. Braking duties are handled by front disc and rear drum brakes, with a standard anti-lock braking system (ABS).

SAFETY - Dual de-powered airbags, ABS and side-impact beams are standard, while traction control is optional.

OPTIONS - Traction Control:$175; SLE Package:$600; Destination:$605.

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