- Sleek styling.
- Powerful Northstar V8.
- Huge interior.
- Fully loaded with luxury and performance goodies.
- No more plastic body cladding.
- Still a front-wheel-drive chassis.
- Not very different in styling compared to V6 models.
- Image problem.
- One expensive Pontiac.
- Comes only with a four-speed automatic.
Press Coverage :
The Pontiac Bonneville is one of the few full-size sedans left in an SUV-crazy market. The fact that it is also front-wheel-drive doesn't help, since this market is accustomed to rear-drivers like the Ford Crown Victoria and dead-and-gone Chevy Caprice. To put a new spin on a dying formula, it is touting the Bonneville as a sports sedan in the vein of a BMW. Powered by a supercharged V6, the SSEi-trimmed Bonneville never achieved the image it was looking for, so Pontiac ups the ante and releases the V8-powered GXP trim, along with a ton of performance goodies as standard.
In addition to a Northstar-derived 4.6L quad cam 32-valve V8 engine, the 2004 Pontiac Bonneville GXP gets a boost from performance-tuned suspension components, GXP-specific five-spoke aluminum wheels and P235/50R 18-inch W-rated tires. The Bonneville GXP also has a lowered ride height for a strong wheel-to-body relationship, which results in improved handling characteristics. The front and rear disc brakes are oversized in diameter and high-performance in nature, featuring heat-resistant ceramic-coated calipers. The exhaust system is specially tuned to maximize the performance and sound quality of the 4.6L V8 engine. A unique GXP grille, front and rear fascia, exhaust tips, new smoked appearance headlights, redesigned taillamps, new rear appliqué, and all-new, repositioned projecter beam fog lamps round out the much improved appearance of this car. Exterior badging designates the Bonneville as a member of the "GXP Performance Series."
Five people can comfortably enjoy this newfound performance, thanks to its enormous rear seat room. Driver and front passenger enjoy side-bolstered bucket seats. Access to the rear is easy with long, wide-opening doors. But the ride gets harsh once the car starts moving. Put the blame on the huge 18-inch wheels and stiffer suspension. And passengers may slide around on the slippery leather during hard cornering. The huge 18 cubic feet of trunk space can hold two large suitcases. It would, however, be hard to lift those suitcases into the trunk since the trunk opening is very high. The rear seat back does not fold down, but there is a passthrough into the cabin for skis. The wraparound dashboard has a sporty flavor but it is too cluttered. The quality of the interior materials needs to be better, although credit has to be given to Pontiac for improving over the years on this front. A brushed aluminum shifter, lock knobs, ignition cylinder and door handles enhance the interior trim.
On the safety front, a rigid body and front-impact airbags provide good passenger protection, with good ratings in NHTSA crash tests. No doubt, shedding those tacky plastic lower body moldings had nothing to do with safety! Other features include ABS and Stabilitrak, a vehicle stability system lifted straight off more expensive Cadillacs.
The GXP gets a little more impressive once you fire up the ignition. GM did a nice job of making a big, front-wheel-drive sedan into a pretty good driver. The 4.6-liter, 32-valve Northstar engine has always been a nice motor, and it's a huge upgrade over the 3.5-liter V-6 found in the Bonneville SE and SLE. Its 275 horsepower - 70 more than the Bonneville SE - and 300 pound-feet of torque is plenty of fun in the passing lane. Even though it has a four-speed automatic transmission, power transfers pretty smoothly thanks to the electronic transaxle. Pontiac boasts that the GXP can hit 60 miles per hour in a respectable 6.8 seconds. I had no trouble blowing by other cars on the California freeway. And braking with those big 14-inch front rotors was sharp and precise.
Smart engineering is evident on windy roads, as well. I drove the car around Santa Barbara, darting in an out of traffic and diving into tight turns in the hills east of the coastline. For an old car on an old platform, I found I could really throw it around. Traction control comes standard. And with its 18-inch wheels and V-rated tires, the car holds it ground well even in aggressive driving. GM engineers spent 1000 hours testing the suspension, and the result is a car that can handle more than most drivers can really dish out. GM's Magnasteer system is standard, and it cuts down on understeer that is typical of many front-wheel drive cars that dare take a stab at performance. The steering system also gives the driver point-and-shoot control at high speeds.
An automatic transmission is standard on the GXP, but it has a more aggressive 3.71 final drive ratio for quicker starts. The GXP offers standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes and side airbags. Traction control is standard, and the GXP also gets the StabiliTrak stability control system. In government crash testing, the Bonneville received four out of five stars for driver protection in a frontal impact and a perfect five stars for front-passenger protection. Side-impact tests returned a five-star rating for both front and rear passengers. The IIHS gave the Bonneville a "Good" rating (its best) and named it a "Best Pick" in its category.
All controls are canted toward the driver in true Pontiac tradition, with full instrumentation backlit in the brand-signature red lighting. It's easy to see at night, but the endless array of buttons and knobs can be a little overwhelming at times.
Despite its large size, the Bonneville is a competent handler. The steering leans toward the lighter side to the detriment of road feel, but the brakes have a good solid feel. Without question, enthusiasts will prefer the dynamics of the GXP, as its sport suspension and 18-inch wheels give it better control and response in the turns.
2000-2003 Pontiac Bonneville SSEi
3,790 cc / 240 hp / 280 lb-ft / 3716 lbs / 0-60 mph 6.8 sec.