PONTIAC Bonneville SSei

Looks. Morphy
Performance. Heady
Handling. Weighty
Ambiance. Plasticy
Comfort. Fairly
Quality. Mixed Up
Stereo. Motowny
Fun To Drive. PatchMaster
Gadget Factor. MegaMax
Heads Turned. Beefy Guys
Emotion. Power Trip
Cachet. OverKiller
Best Trick. Burn Outs


Sticker. $31,671
Power. 240 hp
0 to 60. 7- 8 sec.
Mileage. 18.1 mpg
Seating. 5
Trunk. 18 cu. ft.
Parking. Palm Steered
Warranties :
3/36 basic
3/36 powertrain


Marketing is a strange science and when General Motors passed trough a brand identity crisis a few years back the whiz kids there determined that Pontiac was now about "Excitement". The Bonneville, Pontiac's designated flagship, was gussied up like the matron at an ethnic wedding. Styling on the SSEi features more surface excitement than most people can stomach, although there was an undeniable appeal to certain macho types. There are nostrils, spoilers, scoops and cladding galore and the SSEi looks like a Toyota on steroids.

They did not back off on the interior. Bring your space helmet, the look is something between Buck Rogers and 2001. There are tucks, rolls, curves, gauges, buttons, tweakers and gadgets everywhere. These included a heads-up display which projected a digital speedometer and some minor warning lights onto the windshield. Adjustable for intensity and angle, the display worked pretty well, although it was nothing I needed or wanted. It might come in handy for those who dwell in speed trapville. The well instrumented dash and dozens of buttons backlit in crimson provided a veritable pyrotechnic display when the sun went down. An overstyled automatic compass and a large systems monitor panel were constant distractions, being the only dash features lit in blue. The high-tech seats promised comfort which never quite materialized. Despite over nine separate adjustments available, shoulder support was lacking and legroom barely adequate for my 6'1" lank. The rear seat was short of headroom and proper shaping, significantly less cozy than expected. On the good foot - the boot was salesman size and the Bonnie can haul a great deal of stuff.

Catching those imports is hard work, so they loaded the Bonnie up under the hood, too. This supercharged V6 has benefited from years of development and is one of the SSEi's best talents. 240 horsepower, plenty of ready go power and a smooth 4 speed automatic made short work of long blocks and long streaks of black rubber whenever the traction control and self discipline were turned off. Despite the promised sporting prowess, take the SSEi much over 80 and you'd better have your nerves settled down. She didn't feel secure or planted at high velocities although the brakes were pretty good. Surprisingly so, considering that the rears were drums. Let's say it handles OK, but I won't be taking it to Germany anytime soon.

The value meter registers a click less refinement than you'll find in other sedans in this price range. The tradeoff between comfort and handling provided neither sublime comfort nor outstanding control. Decent but not world class, and that is really the story of the Bonneville SSEi. At a lower price, which you may well be able to negotiate; it is an interesting car for the gadget fanciers out there, particularly those with a taste for power. People will notice.