What's New for 1998
All coupes have a rear spoiler, a new six-speaker sound system is available, the base four-cylinder gets some additional low-end punch and Topaz Gold Metallic is added to the paint color chart. Second-generation airbags are added as standard equipment.
Pontiac has a winner here. The Sunfire is poised to take on the Neon, Cavalier, Escort and assorted import compacts by offering excellent value, sporty styling and reasonable performance in one well-rounded package. For 1998, Sunfire is available in coupe, sedan and convertible body styles.
Dual airbags and ABS are standard equipment on the Sunfire. Base models are powered by a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine, which receives a boost in low speed torque for 1998. GT models get a twin-cam motor good for 150 horsepower. The twin cam is optional on the SE, and we highly recommend it, particularly mated to a five-speed manual transmission. However, one benefit of the four-speed automatic is the standard traction control system that comes with it.
Equipped with the twin cam and a manual transmission, the Sunfire is downright speedy; about as quick as the Neon Sport Coupe. The automatic raises acceleration times by about one second in the dash to 60 mph. Options on the Sunfire include sharp alloy wheels, a power sunroof and a variety of sound systems, among others. Equip an SE Coupe to the gills and suddenly the Sunfire isn't such a value at about $18,500. Creative fiddling with the options sheet should result in a well-equipped sport coupe priced around $16,000.
Pontiac hasn't changed much for 1998. All coupe models get a rear spoiler this year, and one new color is available. In an effort to appease youthful buyers, a new six-speaker sound system is available.
Recently, we drove a Sunfire SE Convertible for a week, and only had complaints about excessive body roll, an ineffective climate control system when the top was down and the windows were up and very weak stereo speakers (perhaps the new sound system will cure this malady). Otherwise, our twin-cam five-speed test car was a hoot, prompting a friend with a 1991 Mustang LX 5.0 automatic to quip, "I better get some different gears in this thing. I can't have Sunfires keeping up with me." Best of all, our well-equipped test car was very affordable.
We think the Sunfire has what it takes to succeed in the crowded compact marketplace. If anything, the Sunfire makes a strong argument against purchasing its slightly larger stablemate, the Grand Am, or its more pedestrian twin at Chevy dealers, the Cavalier. If a sporty coupe, sedan or convertible is on your shopping list, check into the Sunfire.