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SEE ALSO: Pontiac Buyer's Guide

1996 PONTIAC BONNEVILLE

by Tom Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 21,905
     Price As Tested                                    $ 22,190
     Engine Type                             3.8 liter V6 w/PFI*
     Engine Size                                 231 cid/3785 cc
     Horsepower                                   205 @ 5200 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               230 @ 4000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   110.8"/74.5"/201.1
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3446 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  18.0 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P225/60R16
     Brakes (F/R)                              Disc-ABS/drum-ABS
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                        Six-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                 95 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            19/30/24
     0-60 MPH                                       7.9  seconds
     1/4 mile (E.T.)                       16.0 seconds @ 86 mph
     Top Speed (Est.)                                    127 mph
     * Port fuel injection

The Pontiac Bonneville has enjoyed a long and illustrious career, having remained in the company's stable for nearly 40 years. It's always been one of Pontiac's largest, most luxurious sedans, but it's lost some girth over the years, along with the massive V8 powertrain of yore.

The '90's version - available four ways, is V6-powered and filled with the latest in comfort and convenience features. It's built with a sporting flair, with the best European sport sedans aimed squarely in its sights.

OUTSIDE - Long and wide, Bonneville's outside dimensions don't come close to that of its predecessor of 30 years ago, but these days, the Bonneville is about as large as large cars get. The Euro-look, used by Pontiac stylists on Bonneville over the last five or so years, has been sculpted and rounded, while new styling for 1996 includes a freshening of the front and rear fascias, body moldings, headlamps, and tail lamps. We liked its optional rear spoiler, which is fitted tightly against the trunk lid. SE models come standard with styled wheelcovers and smallish, P215/65R15 tires, but most buyers will opt for one of two available alloy wheels and grippier 16-inch rubber.

INSIDE - Inside Bonneville is a very comfortable place to travel. Interior space is abundant, with plenty of head and leg room, and six can be seated with room to spare inside Bonneville SE models equipped with the standard front bench seat. Most buyers will choose front bucket seats, however, which are deeply contoured and very comfortable, though a bit wide for the slender set. Its lengthy list of standard interior features includes air conditioning, power windows and door locks, variable speed intermittent wipers, cruise control, and an overhead console. Our test car featured optional six-way power seats, a power antenna, power outside mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel and keyless entry. Bonneville is equipped with convenience items such as automatic-on headlamps, called Twilight Sentinel, and a feature which can activate its outside lighting at night with the push of a button.

ON THE ROAD - Bonneville SE comes standard with GM's workhorse 3.8 liter V6 engine, called Series II by the company. It develops 205 capable horsepower and 230 lb-ft of torque, which is more than enough to push even a large car such as Bonneville. Its design stems from the old days of engine design, with a single camshaft buried deep inside the motor, and pushrods operate two valves per cylinder. With this engine, we averaged 24 mpg, with nearly 30 mpg coming with frugal driving. Power proved more than adequate with the standard engine, but those wanting neck-snapping acceleration will look to the optional supercharged version of the same engine. Pushing 240 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, it delivers more than many "muscle cars" of today and is available as an options package on all Bonneville models. An electronically-controlled, four-speed automatic transmission is the sole gearbox available, and provides seamless gear changes at all speeds.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Four-wheel independent suspension has been reworked for 1996, and is now tighter and produces less body roll. Bonneville soaks up all but the most jarring bumps, which can be expected since its suspension is tuned with a sporting flair. High-end Bonneville models can be equipped with an electronic load-leveling feature which keeps the car at an even keel as weight is added to the rear. Improvements have been made to the steering as well, with its optional electromagnetic variable-rate steering, which allows low steering effort at slow speeds, such as during parking, but becomes stiffer at highways speeds, which makes the car feel more controllable. Bonneville uses front discs and rear drum brakes for stopping duties, although we'd much rather see four-wheel disc brakes as either standard equipment or as part of an options package. An anti-lock braking system, (ABS) however, is standard.

SAFETY - Dual airbags, ABS and side-impact beams are also standard.

OPTIONS - A second set of radio controls built into the steering wheel add $175, while the rear spoiler is $110 extra.

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