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2001 Pontiac Bonneville Preview

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Only an auto buff, I suppose, would sputter his coffee upon reading the recent Wall Street Journal headline, "Car, Truck Sales Nudged Higher in July." Actually, that's not what made me cough. Neither did the more-or-less predictable news that the bloom may be fading off some SUV roses, as Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chevy Tahoe suffered 12 percent and 21-percent declines, respectively, in July sales versus a year ago.

No, what got me sputtering was news about Pontiac Bonneville. Good, old, lost-in-the-clutter, low-key, middle-class-suburban Bonneville. Its July sales are up by more than double — by 128 percent — compared to a year ago. That's some nudge.

Consider, after all, that the Bonneville SSEi I recently drove costs $34,630 (as-tested), which is certainly not pocket change. And the car is a family sedan, for crying out loud. Those are supposed to be extinct in the Age of SUV. But come to think of it, a base price of $31,635 for the high-end 2000 Bonneville SSEi does compare extremely well with mid-30s pricing for the Grand Cherokees, Explorers, and Tahoes out there. Bonneville does ferry five adults in quiet, snug comfort (or six, if you opt for a front bench in the Bonneville SE.) Is there a subtle sea change taking place, I wonder? Do I detect, perhaps, a faint echo of the chant, "It's time for them to go" filtering through our SUV-knotted streets?

Certainly Pontiac is giving it the old college try. Bonneville, mired up to its wheel hubs in anonymity for most of the '90s, represents a startling resurrection beginning with model year 2000. What Pontiac has been unable to accomplish in saving the Firebird the

GM division has pulled off with the Bonneville. Their once-tepid dud of a family sedan is now a cool dude. It's lower, leaner, meaner. It's a wide-glide sedan in a top-heavy world of mommy trucks.

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