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Pontiac Bonneville SSEi (2000)

by John Heilig

MODEL:  Pontiac Bonneville SSEi
ENGINE:  3.8-liter supercharged V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 240 hp @ 5,200 rpm/280 lb-ft @ 3,600  rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 112.2 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 202.6 x 74.2 x 56.6 in.

I have had a lot of people asking me about the Pontiac Bonneville lately. I'm not sure if they have a secret key for my schedule book or what, but at least three people have asked about the car and one bought one before I tested this week's car.

Now, I'll admit that most people aren't looking for the full bells-and-whistles SSEi when they're thinking of buying a Bonneville. They're probably more attracted to the brand's solid reputation and, as Pontiac likes to put it, "luxury with attitude."

There are three trim levels available for the Bonneville -- SE, SLE and our tester SSEi. The SE and SLE have the 3.8-liter V-6 engine as standard with 205 horsepower to play with. The more sporty SSEi, however, has the supercharged version of this engine and 240 horses to play with.

While the 3.8-liter V-6 is a nice engine, when you put a supercharger on it the niceness turns to power. 205 horses isn't enough power to make the Bonneville a dangerous car to drive, but it is enough to get you where you want to go in a short amount of time. What I like most about this engine (and I've driven it in several different brand-name cars) is its V-8-like power when you need it with the overall economy of a V-6. When you punch your right foot to the floor, the engine responds with persuasive power. It's not the almost uncontrolled power of a turbocharged car, but a more forceful application that gets you up to speed with none of the "hairiness" of the turbo.

The Bonneville is, of course, a Pontiac, and as such it comes replete with all the Pontiac trademarks. One trademark that Pontiac picked up from the European performance cars is orange lighting for the instruments. The gauges themselves are orange-on-black, rather than white-on-black or some other combination. I've never been a fan of this color combination, preferring instead the more conservative white-on-black.

But except for this relatively minor problem, I enjoyed the Bonneville. The individual front bucket seats were comfortable and offered great side support. Since the Bonneville begs to be driven hard, it needs good side support for the seats. The seats were 12-way articulating leather seats with memory, so what was there that wasn't to like? The seats are heated, which my wife and I liked even in early spring weather. There's also a dual climate control system that allows the driver and front passenger to adjust the temperature to suit preferences (and reduce family arguments).

Pontiac was also an innovator in the use of Heads Up Display (HUD). This is a projection on the base of the windshield of the speed, condition of the headlights and turn signals. When you change radio stations, it will also display the frequency for a few seconds. The HUD relieves the driver of the need to keep dropping his or her eyes to check the speedometer. All the information is right there. While the first few times you use an HUD you tend to spend too much time looking at it, eventually you learn to use it the way it's designed, as an aid.

Bonneville was redesigned for the 2000 model year with a new more rigid body structure that is apparent when you're slogging around town. There are no rattles and little chassis flexing to worry about. The wheelbase has also been extended to 112.2 inches, making the Bonneville one of the longest cars, in terms of wheelbase, in the nation. This wheelbase length puts the Bonneville in the same class as the E-Class Mercedes-Benz.

Along with the stiffer body come traditional Pontiac styling cues, such as the kidney-shaped grille, side fluting, Coke-bottle shape and flared fenders. And, because it's a Pontiac, it has a wide track of 62.6 inches in front and 62.1 inches in the rear. These numbers contribute to good handling.

If you're looking for the latest generation of the historic Bonneville name, or if you're simply looking for a family-sized performance sedan, the Bonneville SSEi may be the ticket. It offers comfortable size for five passengers, good performance, and traditional Pontiac styling in a modern package.