An American compact car, nimble, sporty, and fairly comfortable. Designed in Ohio, and very similar to the Chevrolet Cavalier on the inside, though on the outside they're only similar when viewed from the side. The Pontiac Sunfire has a good feel to it, and has great fuel efficiency. Weaknesses include a slightly loud interior due to wind noise, and an inconvenient folding rear seat. General Motors built the Pontiac Sunfire on a J-body frame, the same frame as the Pontiac Sunbird and J2000, Chevrolet Cavalier, Oldsmobile Firenza, Buick Skyhawk and Cadillac Cimarron. The GM-J platform was deployed by General Motors in 1981. It's a compact car style.


The father of the Sunfire, the Sunbird, was built by GM as an H-body in 1977 before being redesigned and released as a convertible model, the J2000, in 1983. It was available in two door coupe, three door hatchback, four-door sedan, and four door wagon base forms. The sporty SE came only in a hatchback, while the luxury LE model was available in both coupe or sedan. Hatchbacks and wagons had full folding rear seats, while the SE had a split folding rear seat. An "S" model was later added to the J2000 line. The base J2000 engine was a transverse mounted 1.8 liter (112 CID) four cylinder with two-barrel carburetor, hooked to a four speed manual transaxle. The engine's fast-burn combustion chamber had a centrally positioned spark plug with high turbulence, 9.0:1 compression. The electronic control module had built in diagnostics. Standard equipment included reclining front bucket seats, power brakes, locking fuel filler door, body color bumpers with rub strips, swing out rear quarter windows, AM radio with digital clock, rally wheels (P175/80R13), and fiberglass-belted tires. Hatchbacks and the LE had wide body side moldings and rocker panel moldings. The SE line added Viscount trim, a gauge set, and driver's remote mirror.

The Sunfire finally debuted in 1995, replacing the Sunbird that had been in production for 13 years. The J-Body is today manufactured in one of three plants: Lansing, Michigan; Lordstown, Ohio; and Ramos Arizpe, State of Coahuila, Mexico.


(specific to 2002 SE coupe) The Sunfire's 2.2 L dual-cam engine is quite responsive, even when coupled with an automatic transmission. It is often difficult to tell how responsive a small car will be based solely on horsepower, because many factors come into play - the strength of the transmission, its willingness to downshift, torque levels, and where the power band is. In the Sunfire, all these factors are well balanced for good economy with good acceleration and high responsiveness (in other words, you can accelerate quickly from pretty much any speed). It's not limited to use as a zero-to-sixty sprinter that needs to be kept over 6,000 RPM.

Handling is sporty, not excellent, but giving a comfortable feel around turns. This car begs to be tossed around - I've noticed over the years I've driven it that it performs very well in snow and ice. Again, there are cars that do better around the skidpad, but don't feel as nimble. Torque steer can be noticeable on takeoff. Ride is well balanced with handling, and small pavement irregularities are nicely smoothed out. You can feel the road, but you won't be bothered by it.


The instrument panel has red night lighting, and includes temperature, RPM, speed and fuel gauges as well as a trip and overall odometer. Controls are sometimes a little odd. The cruise control is accessible on the end of the turn signal stalk, as well as the headlight control. Everything else is pretty much in its usual place, though controls vary from one model year to the next (I've noticed some discrepancy between the 1995 and 2002 models, the only comparison I've made).

Both stereo and climate control systems are well designed, though the climate controls are rather plain - they haven't changed from the 1995 model to the 2002 model.

Similar to the Chrysler Cirrus, there is no ashtray, only a cupholder insert. The cupholders themselves are fairly small. The 2002 model has two main cupholders, while the 1995 and previous models have one (not sure exactly which year marked the changeover). Additionally, one removable holder is in the center console, too far back for the driver to safely reach. Opening the center console all the way yields two small cupholders for the rear passengers.

The trunk is decently sized (for a compact car), and can be enlarged by folding down the rear seats. Both rear seats must be folded down at once. (2002 and older models)

New for 2003: Sunfire has a new Ecotec 2.2-liter engine, redesigned front and rear styling, revised sport suspension, a 60/40 split-fold rear seat (finally), and a new wheel selection. The Sunfire sedan has been discontinued. The convertible Sunfire was discontinued after the 2000 model year.
Trim Details: "The 2003 Pontiac Sunfire is available in one version with three Preferred Equipment Groups: 1SA, 1SB, and 1SC. Safety features include dual airbags, an optional anti-lock brake system (ABS), child-seat tether anchors, child safety locks (SE sedan) and daytime running lights. Power comes from a 2.2-liter 140-horsepower inline 4-cylinder engine. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard, and a 4-speed automatic is available. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, a floor console with storage, fog lights, remote-control outside mirrors, AM/FM radio, power outlet, power steering, tachometer, power trunk release, and rear spoiler. Preferred Equipment Group 1SB includes tilt steering wheel, audio system with CD player, and side impact airbags. Preferred Equipment Group 1SC includes sport suspension, cruise control, intermittent windshield wipers, 16-inch cast aluminum wheels, anti-lock brakes, sport bucket seats with lumbar adjuster, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and parking brake handle. XM satellite radio is optional on all models. OnStar is available on 1SB and 1SC models."


Sadly, the Pontiac Sunfire is in danger of being eliminated, though GM has not by any means said this yet. General Motors is planning to unify its platforms, not unlike the efforts by DaimlerChrysler to merge Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, and Mercedes platforms together and end up with a system like Ford, "covering the market without flooding it." Thus, GM will reduce its car platforms to these (preliminary list): Delta (small), Epsilon (intermediate), Sigma (RWD large), and Theta (?). There are also rumors of a Y body which would include the sixth generation Corvette. The Delta platform will replace the GM-J, GM-Z, and GM-2700. It has yet to be seen which models will survive the transition.


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