The Car Connection Pontiac Sunfire Overview
From Sunbird to Sunfire, GM’s compact cars of the 1980s and 1990s—and into the 2000s—didn’t get a lot of respect. And looking back at these models, it’s easy to understand why. The Sunfire stands as a vestige of a particularly dark era at GM, when the model lured shoppers in with impressive, sporty exterior styling, relatively reasonable prices, and decent feature content but disappointed with these cars’ actual performance, refinement, build quality, and safety.
First introduced in 1995, the Sunfire replaced the Sunbird and was built on a revised version of its predecessor’s platform. Through most of its model years it was offered as a two-door coupe, four-door sedan, while a two-door convertible was available through 2001.
The Sunfire Convertible, for several years, was one of the cheapest drop-tops on the market, but it had some severe structural and harshness issues and was dropped from the lineup in 2001. Safety was an issue for all the Sunfire from the start. Even in 2002, the Sunfire scored a ghastly one star in federal side-impact crash tests—which have since become more stringent.
Features were a strong point for the Sunfire. It was one of the first budget-priced compact models of the time to offer satellite radio, and extras like cruise control and power accessories were widely available in the model line. Sound systems were also quite good. But seats were spongy and uncomfortable, and interior trims felt poorly put together, even when compared to most rivals in the same price range. Ride quality and interior noise were among the few positives.
Avoid Quad 4 and Twin Cam engines from 1995 through 2002 model years due to their chronic gasket and cylinder-head issues. Ecotec four-cylinder versions from the 2002 through 2005 model years were much better (the smoothest, most economical pick of the lot), as were 1995-2002 versions with the unexciting but trusty 2.2-liter OHV base engine. That base engine, with its low-revving nature and wide powerband, did alright with the three-speed automatic offered up until 2002, although the four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmissions are a step up.
Pontiac replaced the Sunfire with the G5, a model that was significantly improved in many respects, but still not quite up to the rapidly evolving and improving compact models of the time.