You had a Trans Am in your youth, you say? Or, at least, you wanted one? And you're now older, with responsibilities and respectability? You even have occasion to carry real people in the rear seat of your car? You'd like something with the panache of the Firebird, and a healthy dose of performance, but it needs to be a real family car, too? Pontiac has just the car for you: the new 2000 Bonneville SSEi.
The 2000 Bonneville is a very different machine than the previous generation car of the same name. It utilizes a new-to- Pontiac chassis architecture, the latest iteration of GM's large-car platform. The new Bonneville is a close relative to the latest Buick Le Sabre, and slightly more distantly related to the Cadillac Seville and Deville. But Pontiac's flagship sedan will not be confused with any of its relatives. "Wide Track" is back with a vengeance, and the new Bonneville is a car that could only come from Pontiac. This year's Bonneville lineup is slightly simplified, with base SE, sportier SLE, and performance flagship SSEi models offered. The SLE is the replacement for the previous SSE and SLE models, combining features from both. I had ample opportunity to drive all versions at the press introduction last fall in the mountains between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, California, and have just finished a week at home with a fully-equipped SSEi. Even the SE offers more amenities and attitude than the previous Bonneville. The SLE offers a well-equipped combination of comfort and performance. And then there's the SSEi. Leave it to Pontiac to cross a near-luxury sedan with a Trans Am to bring its "Luxury with Attitude" intent to life.
APPEARANCE: The new Bonneville's aim toward a younger buyer is most apparent from its looks. The previous car was conservative in style; the 2000 Bonneville is conservative only for a Pontiac. It has a low, wide, coupe-like look, with enough angles on the front to qualify for stealth technology. A sloped hood, steeply- raked windshield, and high rear deck help give a wedge-shaped profile. The SE is the conservative member of the family, with a more formal interpretation of the Pontiac twin-port grille, foglamps at the corner of the ribbed lower bumper fascia, and subtly-ribbed side cladding. The SLE and SSEi have a more in-your-face attitude, with inset foglamps that look right off a Trans Am, chin spoilers on the front bumper, and lower side cladding that emphasizes their wide track look. The SSEi's twin cast aluminum exhaust nozzles are pure Pontiac.
COMFORT: Subtlety in styling has never been a Pontiac trait. One peek at the Bonneville's interior and there's no doubt as to the manufacturer. It's classic Pontiac, and, in SSEi trim, comes with nearly every gadget known to mankind. "Personalization" is the philosophy, with up to 83 customizable interior functions. The interior design is busy, with plenty of just about everything, but it is ultimately very functional and designed for driving and comfort. Case in point: eight front vents, arranged in four groups of two with a central joystick control for each look excessive but allow cool or warm air to be directed exactly where the driver and front passenger need it. Red backlighting to the instruments at night gives the impression of an airplane cockpit, reinforced by the "Heads- up" display of speed and other information. The SSEi's comfortable power-adjustable, leather-upholstered front bucket seats feature integral shoulder harness mounts for easy adjustability and are designed to protect occupants from injury in a collision. The rear contoured bench holds two adults in comfort, with room for a third person in the center. Useful interior storage spaces and a large trunk with an accessory kit and built-in air pump add convenience.
SAFETY: The 2000 Pontiac Bonneville has safety cage chassis construction, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and daytime running lights. Depowered front airbags and front side airbags are standard equipment.
ROADABILITY: There's no doubt that the Bonneville is a large car. But it is a surprisingly nimble large car, with, in SLE and SSEi trim, a pronounced sporty demeanor. The new chassis is far more rigid than the old one, for more precise handling abilities. The SSEi has a firm but comfortable suspension calibration. It's not quite as agile as a smaller coupe - you can't beat the laws of physics - but it is very enjoyable on mountain roads most commonly associated with sports cars or sportbikes. And, it works just as well in everyday city and highway driving. The SLE and SSEi have larger front brake discs than the SE, and the "Stabilitrak" front-wheel drive stability control system is standard equipment on the SSEi.
PERFORMANCE: Development continues for the venerable 3800 Series II V6, with new refinements to make it smoother and quieter. It's a seemingly-obsolete cast iron, pushrod overhead valve engine that more than holds its own against any competitive powerplant, with excellent power characteristics and fuel economy. The naturally-aspirated version in the SE and SLE has 205 horsepower and 230 lb-ft of torque. The SSEi's supercharger pushes that to 240 hp and a healthy 280 lb-ft of torque for V8 power with V6 fuel economy. The supercharger comes on immediately, with no turbo lag, and makes the SSEi a very sporty luxury car.
SPECIFICATIONS 2000 Pontiac Bonneville SSEi Base Price $ 31,635 Price As Tested $ 34,615 Engine Type pushrod overhead valve 90-drgree V6 Engine Size 3.8 liters / 231 cu. in. Horsepower 240 @ 5200 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 280 @ 3600 rpm Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 112.2 in. / 202.6 in. Curb Weight 3790 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 15.8 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement premium unleaded gasoline, 92 octane Tires P235/55 HR17 Goodyear Eagle RS-A Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 18 / 27 / 20 0 to 60 mph 7.5 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 15.8 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Power glass sunroof $ 980 Chrome-plated 17-inch alloy wheels $ 595 Remote 12-disc changer $ 595 heated front seats $ 195 Destination charge $ 615