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New Car/Review


by Annabelle Frankl

Say the name Pontiac to most non-Americans and they'll visualize some sort of muscle car, probably from the 60s, with great lines, a lot of character and even more chrome. Either that, or Burt Reynolds behind the wheel of a Trans Am, outrunning, and outsmarting, the 'bears in the air'. However, these days you're more likely to encounter a more conventional look, slightly less character and a lot less chrome. But that's not to say that they're worse for it. The Bonneville sells itself as "Luxury with Attitude"certainly , and it certainly offers good-looking features, if not ground-breaking good looks.

With the 2000 Bonneville, Pontiac's all-new design features a Coke-bottle shape, cat's-eye headlights, integrated wide body-side sculpting, and accentuated 'haunches'. They are, apparently, trying to attract a slightly younger driver, in their words 'baby boomers'. Now, without wishing to offend anyone, that still fits into a slightly more mature age bracket and thus the first thing I have to comment on is the interior of the car, or more precisely, the dash.

Call me old-fashioned, but less is, more often than not, more, and whoever designed the Bonneville's dash out to be shot. The pilot of a 747 probably faces less buttons, switches, knobs and lights than the driver of this vehicle. And I know, because I counted them. The radio alone has 21 buttons, and this doesn't count the 7 they put on the steering wheel. The dash has 7 dials, plus a 'diagram' of the car (to show which doors are ajar etc), plus the automatic transmission read-out (P, R, N, D etc). And if this plethora of displays were not enough to confuse and distract the driver...they're all in red. So not only do you not know what you're looking at or for, you constantly assume that there's a problem with something, somewhere, because why else would there be all these red lights?!

And what's even more astounding is that Pontiac is mighty proud of what it describes as its "comprehensive instrumentation". Given their target audience, one has to assume that deteriorating eyesight is a definite possibility and so it is even more imperative that everything is clear and functional and one doesn't need a Ph.D to navigate all the controls. But you get the idea.

Luckily the enjoyment derived from actually driving this car goes quite some way to overcome the interior, visual downfalls. The Bonneville SLE features the 3800 Series II V6 engine, which generates an impressive 205 bhp (@ 5200 rpm) and meant for surprisingly quick, and smooth, acceleration, showing off the 230 ft-lb of torque, which Pontiac have teamed with the 4T65-E, 4-speed electronic automatic transmission. Add to this a 62% improvement in torsional stiffness, independent front and rear performance suspension, with electronic level control, and 17" multi-lace cast aluminium wheels, with steel-belted P235/55R17 blackwall speed-rated tyres, and what you're left with is, well, a decidedly European-like drive. Indeed, this car was nippy, responsive, gripping in its handling. Basically, just not what one would expect from a seemingly All-American sponge. Add to this the new Delco-Bosch 5.3 brake system, which provides electronic proportioning to the 4-wheel ABS, plus traction control, and you've got an all-round performer which won't leave you thinking you're on the helter-skelter at every turn, or the dodgems for that matter. The rack-and-pinion power steering, with Magnetic Speed Variable Assist, also meant for light, yet precise, maneuverability.

The interior, dash aside, was very nicely appointed, with all leather, 6-way, electronically adjustable seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and dual air-controls for front passengers. If you could figure out the right buttons, the radio was actually very clever, featuring a Radio Data System, which recognizes station names, alerts the driver of important weather and traffic reports, and which is also speed-sensitive, increasing and decreasing volume, according to speed, to keep at a constant level.

Rear passengers are greeted by huge amounts of leg-room, with ample room for 3 on the rear seat, plus their luggage, in the cavernous trunk.

Standard features also include electric windows, with one-touch for driver and passenger, power side-mirrors, dual-front air bags, side-impact air bags, daytime running lights, ABS, and tyre pressure monitor and a rear-deck spoiler.

With an unimpressive mpg of 19 in the city, the Bonneville puts in a surprising 30 on the highway, giving it an estimated range of 555 miles. This information would no doubt be listed in the Driver Information Center, but I think you're probably just better off enjoying the drive than bothering to extricate the one piece of information you need from an incomprehensible jumble of figures.

Given its price of $30,300 (including $615 for delivery), the 2000 Bonneville SLE comes in cheaper than its '99 price. Of course, get rid of all the superfluous data displays, and no doubt you could lower that figure even more. That said, this '70s child feels sure that pretty much any 'baby boomer' would have a blast, and forget some of their past, in this long as they keep their eyes on the road and not on the dash.