How Pontiac Works

By: the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide

1990s Pontiac Bonneville

The most exciting Bonneville of the 1990s was the new '92 Bonneville SSEi, offering a supercharged version of GM's evergreen 3.8-liter V-6 with 205 bhp. An unblown 170-bhp standard engine was shared with midrange SSE and base SE models. All boasted a driver-side airbag.

The SSE added ABS, buckets-and-console interior, and alloy wheels. The SSEi looked pricey at $28,045 to start, but came with a passenger-side airbag, automatic climate control, 12-way power front seats, and a racy head-up display (HUD) that projected speed and other data onto the windshield ahead of the driver.


But the SSEi's most important feature was its standard traction-control system. This helped tame unruly, unwanted front wheelspin by throttling back power and/or applying the brakes in response to signals from the ABS wheel-speed sensors. Sporting owners appreciated traction control. Then again, few cars in this class needed it so much. Indeed, enthusiasts still blanched at any front-drive car with handling compromised by a surplus of power, as this Bonneville was.

Curiously, the SSEi's flagship appeal was diluted for '93 by giving the SE standard ABS and an SLE package option with SSEi-style grille and body addenda, 16-inch "lacy spoke" wheels and other amenities. In addition, the supercharged V-6 was newly available for the SSE.

Pontiac was after more competitive price points, a motive that also figured in the SSEi's 1994 demotion from separate model to SSE option. At least that year's blown V-6 got an extra 20 bhp, and all Bonnevilles benefited from included dual airbags. Price pressure also prompted a special SLE option for California-bound '94 SEs, an alleged $4500 value tagged at just $1371. Exclusive to the SSE option list was GM's Computer Command Ride (CCR), basically sensor-linked shock absorbers that automatically changed from soft to firm damping in hard cornering or braking maneuvers.

Tech again dominated news for 1995. An extensive internal revamp evolved the base V-6 into a smoother, quieter "Series II" engine with 205 bhp, and the supercharged mill was newly optional for SLE-equipped SEs. The blown engine became a Series II for '96, adding 15 horses with it, and all models ­sported a subtle facelift.

But none of this affected sales very much, nor did further fiddling for 1997-99. Though Bonneville still ran a strong second to Buick's LeSabre in H-body sales, it had been eclipsed for style, space, and roadability by the "cab-forward" Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler Concorde/LHS/300.

Larger new import-brand sedans were also stealing the big Poncho's thunder -- and customers. Indeed, Consumer Guide® demoted Bonneville from "Best Buy" to "Recommended" status after 1997. Like Grand Am and Grand Prix, the 1990s Bonnie had slipped into the "rental car" trap: OK for a week's vacation, maybe, but not the top choice for a long-term relationship.

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
  • Pontiac Used Car Reviews and Prices