How Pontiac Works

By: the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide

1990s Pontiac Sunbird and Pontiac Sunfire

Though Grand Am and Grand Prix remained Pontiac's top sellers in the '90s, Sunbird contributed important volume, attracting more than 100,000 orders each model year through the end of the original J-car design in 1994. It was looking quite tired by then, but steady updating helped maintain its appeal.

The '91s, for example, replaced the gruff, growly turbo-four with the corporate 3.1 V-6, whose modest 140 horses seemed quite lively in this light subcompact. The V-6 was standard for the GT coupe, optional otherwise. A base-trim coupe and sedan were added at nearly $800 less than counterpart LEs, but they didn't get the V-6 or many other options.


For '92 came standard antilock brakes -- a real plus for the small car class -- plus no-cost automatic power door locks and a shift interlock for the automatic transmission. LE now denoted base-trim Sunbirds; SEs expanded to coupe, sedan, and convertible choices. A new fuel-injection system added 15 horsepower to the old 2.0-liter base four.

The flock saw even fewer changes for '93, though SE coupes gained an optional Sport Appearance Package that delivered a GT-style nose and bodyside cladding for less money. The '94 line comprised the LE trio and a V-6 SE coupe with Sport Appearance features, basically the departed GT with a lower price.

Everything changed for 1995, name included, as the Sunbird became the Sunfire on a heavily revised J-car platform shared with Chevrolet Cavalier. A curvy new look was common to both, but Sunfire stood apart with Pontiac's signature twin-port grille, plus a busier rear end, plastic-clad lower bodysides -- a growing Pontiac fetish at the time -- and even different coupe rooflines.

An SE coupe and sedan rolled in first, followed at midmodel year by a GT coupe and then an SE convertible with standard power top. SE base power was the 2.2-liter 120-bhp pushrod four that Cavaliers had used for some time already, while the V-6 gave way to the 150-bhp 2.3-liter twincam Quad-4 familiar from recent GM compacts and intermediates. The latter was standard for the GT, optional for the SE coupe.

Both engines mated to a standard five-speed manual transmission. Optional automatics were the usual three-speed with the 2.2, a new four-speed with the Quad-4. The latter combination included traction control, which was otherwise unavailable. At least all models finally shed annoying motorized "mouse belts" for twin dashboard airbags to meet the fed's requirement for front "passive restraints."

Sunfire shuffled powerteams for 1996. The 2.2 was now offered with the four-speed automatic and traction control. The Quad-4 got some internal tweaks, a displacement bump to 2.4 liters, and the prosaic name Twin Cam. Horsepower was unchanged, but the big four was newly optional for the four-door SE.

Changes for '97 centered on the ragtop SE, which got a four-speed automatic, cruise control, and electric defrosting for its glass rear window as additional no-cost items. There was little news for '98, while the main '99 development was shifting the convertible to GT trim.

Modestly freshened year-2000 Sunfires bowed in early '99. The longer model year yielded higher production on that basis, but calendar-year orders declined. The ragtop, never a strong seller, was phased out during the year.

For more on the amazing Pontiac, old and new, see:

For more on the amazing Pontiac, old and new, see:

  • Pontiac New Car Reviews and Prices
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