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New Car/Review


Pontiac Sunfire GT Coupe (2002)

SEE ALSO: Pontiac Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 16,705
     Price As Tested                                    $ 18,590
     Engine Type              DOHC 16 valve 2.2 Liter L4 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 134 cid/2189 cc
     Horsepower                                   140 @ 5600 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               150 @ 4000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  104.1"/67.9"/181.8"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     2644 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  14.1 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                               P205/55R 16 Inch     
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                        Five-passenger/two-door
     Domestic Content                                 76 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                                NA


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            23/33/28
     0-60 MPH                                       10.0 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                            17.8 seconds @ 81 mph
     Top-speed                                           104 mph
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

Small two-door coupes are the domain of a young car audience and the auto makers, like Pontiac, hope that youthful buyers will develope brand loyalty in their future purchases.

The Pontiac Sunfire is one of these coupes and it comes two ways, the SE sedan and coupe or as our tester this week, the hot GT two-door.

OUTSIDE - Sunfire's exterior is made up to resemble a miniature version of the road-burning Pontiac Trans Am. Its shape is sleek and sharp, with the lower half of the body being a wedge and the roof line being a curve. The model year 2000 brought some styling changes, where its pointed nose became a large, molded one-piece unit, with recessed turn indicators and fog light wells. The rear bumper cap also was changed with the addition of a lower profile and recessed backup lights. A slim, body-color rub strip runs the down the side between the two wheel wells, and a small piece of body cladding is attached just below each door. Our test vehicle wore a flashy rear spoiler which was mounted high on its tail. Fourteen-inch steel wheel with bolt-on wheelcovers are standard on SE models, but GT version wear alloys.

INSIDE - The large front seats seem to be tailored to fit everyone, but could use a more support. Access to the inside is a bit awkward because the roof line and seats are so low - drivers and passengers almost need to "fall" inside. And just like most coupes, especially those in the subcompact class, putting on the front seat belts requires a especially long reach to grab them. Rear passengers will be squeezed tightly because there's hardly any headroom due to the inward curving roof pillars. But climbing back there is easy, since after folding the front seatback, it scoots forward to ease entry into the back seat. The dashboard's controls are easy to reach and operate, even with gloved hands, and the power window switches located on the center console are backlit at night, which is handy. Standard features include an AM/FM CD stereo, tilt steering and rear venting ducts under the front seats.

ON THE ROAD - Power for the Sunfire coupes come from two engines. The first, a 2.4-liter inline four cylinder engine, is standard with GT models and is made using a cast iron block and an aluminum cylinder head. It's a gutsy powerplant, with 150 horsepower and 155 lb-ft or torque, but has always had a reputation for being somewhat coarse in sound and feel. It's still available but for 2002, a new 2.2-liter four, dubbed "Ecotec" by Pontiac, is also standard on GT models and optional on SE Sunfires. This one is all-aluminum, and when fully "dressed" with its ancillary gear weighs in at a mere 305 pounds. It produces 140 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque, but more importantly, delivers its power more smoothly and with better efficiency than any prior Sunfire engine. Mated to it is a five-speed manual transmission built by the well-known German manufacturer Getrag, or as in our test GT, an optional four-speed automatic with traction control.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Sunfire rides on a unitbody platform that was stiff and robust enough in 1995 when the car first appeared, but it's beginning to show its age. The suspension layout uses basic MacPherson struts, coil springs and a slim anti-roll bar. The rear uses a twist-beam axle with trailing links, coil springs and another anti-roll bar. The ride is smooth and predictable, and the high-performance P205/55R tires on 16-inch wheels are up the job of producing "sporting" cornering. The rack and pinion steering system's feel is positive and there is plenty of feedback and crisp response, though quick changes in direction overwork the power assist. Braking is handled by front disc and rear drum brakes, with an anti-lock braking system offered as a standard feature.

SAFETY - Dual front airbags, ABS, traction control and side-impact door beams are standard.

OPTIONS - Options package 1 (15-inch tires and wheelcovers, bucket seats, special upholstery and exterior paint, uplevel stereo), $965; Driver Convenience Package (intermittent wipers, cargo net, overhead storage, assist handles, reading lamps, cruise control), $380.