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A ghastly looking attempt at a low-budget sport coupe, the Sunfire is hopelessly outclassed by both its foreign and domestic competition.
Racy styling, comfy interior, rev-happy twin-cam engine, good value.
Option list can overpower low price, body roll apparent during hard cornering.
Available Sunfire Models
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A standard rear spoiler and a new exterior color are the only new additions to the Sunfire for 2001. The GT convertible is no longer available, leaving the sedan and coupe versions as the only available body styles.
Pontiac's Sunfire is supposed to take on the Cavalier, Focus ZX2, Neon and assorted import compacts by offering value, sporty styling and capable performance in a well-rounded package. Sunfire is available as a coupe or sedan SE (base) trim, and as a coupe in the GT (uplevel) series; the convertible is no longer available.
Dual airbags, ABS and an anti-theft system are standard equipment. Base models come with a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine. Power is rated at 115 horsepower, and can be fed through the standard five-speed manual or optional three- and four-speed automatics. GT models get a slightly larger 16-valve four-cylinder, good for 150 horsepower. The GT's 2.4-liter, twin-cam motor is optional on the SE, and we highly recommend it, particularly if mated to this year's new, smoother-shifting Getrag five-speed manual transmission.
Equipped with the bigger engine and a stick shift, a Sunfire is downright speedy when compared to other four-banger compacts. The automatic raises acceleration times by about a second in the dash to 60 mph. Options on the Sunfire include sharp alloy wheels, a power sunroof and a variety of uplevel sound systems, including the 200-watt Monsoon unit. Equip an SE Coupe to the gills, watch the price soar to the mid-18s, and suddenly Sunfire isn't such a hot deal. But fiddling with the options sheet should land you a sporty, well-equipped coupe priced at around $16,000.
The move to more aggressive-looking fascias and rocker-panel moldings was intended to boost Sunfire's image with young buyers. That goal also fueled the move to better sound systems, as well as improvements in interior functionality, features and storage space for things like compact discs or cassettes. And Pontiac even makes the racy decklid spoiler standard on all models for 2001.
Our only complaint about driving the Sunfire is that when it is pushed to its limits, it tends to exhibit an excessive amount of body roll. We think the GT model should offer a more sporting suspension to back up the car's sporty looks and powerful engine. On the plus side, all the well-equipped models we've tested so far carried an affordable price tag.
We think the Sunfire has merit in the crowded compact marketplace. Feature for feature, Sunfire makes a strong argument against purchasing its slightly larger stablemate, the Grand Am, or its more pedestrian twin at Chevy dealers, the Cavalier. Although the lack of a convertible detracts from its sporty image, the coupe and sedan are still capable and fast cars that deserve a look.
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