New Car/Review

1999 Pontiac Bonneville SSEi

by Carey Russ

The Bonneville, Pontiac's luxury sports sedan, has existed in its current form since the early 1990s. With the short product cycles common in current automobile design, that age would seem to qualify the 1999 Bonneville as a geriatric relic. Don't be fooled. The Bonneville is aging quite gracefully, and can  more than hold its own against any of its competitors.

Of course, the Bonneville has hardly been unchanged since the debut of the current version. Evolutionary  improvements to the engine and suspension, periodic minor styling freshenings, and increasing levels of standard equipment have helped it to wear well. Changes to the Bonneville are minimal for 1999, limited to new color schemes. Still, the basic package holds up just fine. Conservative design does indeed have better staying power than flashy fashion.

And the Bonneville is aimed at the sort of driver for whom value and performance are more important than flash. Pontiac's executive express comes in two basic trim levels. The SE is a very well-equipped American luxury car; the SSE has a sportier suspension calibration and just about every comfort, convenience, and luxury feature in the Pontiac arsenal as standard equipment. If that's not enough, an SLE luxury package and SSEi supercharged performance package are available.

A recent week in an SSEi Bonneville was most definitely not a trip down memory lane. The supercharged Bonneville has a combination of economical performance, space, and comfort that is hard to beat.

APPEARANCE:  Conservative originality in design contributes to the Bonneville's longevity. It has no styling "gimmicks", only long-time Pontiac styling cues including a monochrome finish, a twin-port grille, large foglamps in the lower bumper fascia, and plentiful lower side cladding. These establish a brand image. The gently-rounded contours of the fenders and hood, and long, low headlights are also definitive Pontiac. The Bonneville's age only shows in a side view, with the long hood, relatively upright windshield, and pseudo-wind-wings on the front side windows.

COMFORT:  Only in small details does the '99 Bonneville's interior show the car's age. And those details are mainly a matter of style, not function. The video-game era of automotive interior design is recalled in  the nine buttons of the optional seat controls and the graphical compass and driver information center (DIC) displays on the instrument panel. Fortunately, the seat controls are grouped logically, and all sizes and shapes of driver and front passenger can be accommodated in comfort. The compass and DIC are useful. A hooded, well-thought-out instrument panel presents important gauges and controls legibly, with auxiliary controls towards the center of the car and angled towards the driver. A "heads-up" display of the vehicle speed is convenient, as are the steering wheel-mounted controls for the high-grade Bose AM/FM/CD audio system. Comfort is enhanced by the automatic climate control system. Climate control vents for the rear passengers are mounted on the rear of the front console. A spacious rear seat with a ski passthrough, and large trunk give the Bonneville true five-passenger capacity.

SAFETY:  Standard safety equipment on the 1999 Pontiac Bonneville includes a sturdy safety-cage chassis with front and rear crush zones and side door beams, dual lower-powered "Next Generation" airbags, antilock brakes, rear door child-safety locks, and rear-seat child harness comfort guides.

ROADABILITY: The Bonneville SSEi's ride and handling are completely contemporary, especially with the optional "computer command ride". In "Touring" mode, it gives a soft but well-controlled luxury ride. "Performance" mode has stiffer shock absorber valving for a firmer ride with less body roll in cornering. Either way, the Bonneville is very comfortable for distance travel and has good handling characteristics for a large luxury sedan. Good chassis rigidity provides a stable platform for the fully-independent suspension and contributes to low noise levels.

PERFORMANCE: The tried and true 3800 Series II V6 powers all Bonneville models. Standard equipment is the naturally-aspirated version with 205 horsepower and 230 lb-ft of torque. The SSEi package includes the supercharged variant with 240 horsepower and a health 280 lb-ft of torque. A clutch on the 3800's supercharger drive shaft engages the blower only when extra power is needed, such as under hard acceleration. The result: V8 power when needed, V6 fuel economy otherwise.  The 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission has two shift modes. "Normal" mode shifts smoothly and quietly; "Performance" mode holds intermediate gears longer and downshifts more aggressively for improved performance.

CONCLUSIONS: The 1999 Pontiac Bonneville SSEi combines performance and comfort.

SPECIFICATIONS
1999 Pontiac Bonneville SSEi 

Base Price               $ 30,010
Price As Tested          $ 33,400
Engine Type              supercharged pushrod overhead valve
                          90-degree V6
Engine Size              3.8 liters / 231 cu. in.
Horsepower               240 @ 5200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)           280 @ 3200 rpm
Transmission             4-speed electronically-controlled
                          automatic
Wheelbase / Length       110.8 in. / 202.1 in.
Curb Weight              3691 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    15.4
Fuel Capacity            18 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded premium, 92 octane
Tires                    P225/60 HR16 Goodyear Eagle RS-A
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / drum, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear   independent MacPherson strut /
                          independent Chapman strut
Drivetrain               front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed     18 / 27 / 22
0 to 60 mph                   7.0 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)               15.2 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

12-way articulating front seats
  with leather upholstery                    $    245
SSEi supercharger package                    $  1,170
Power glass sunroof                          $    980
Computer command ride                        $    380
Destination charge                           $    615

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