1995 Pontiac Bonneville
I should tell you up front that I’ve always liked Pontiacs. You could say it’s genetic.
My dad owned a string of Pontiacs, and kept on buying them until our family grew so large that it required a big Chevrolet station wagon.
His first new car – a 1949 Mayan Gold Pontiac Club Coupe – swept him away on his honeymoon. Here’s a man who has trouble remembering the birthdays and middle names of his own children, but who can recall in minute detail how he went from one dealership to the next dickering for that car, finally negotiating $50 off the $2339 price tag.
I am equally smitten with Pontiacs, particularly the Bonneville, for the same reasons that my dad loved his cars: style and performance.
That’s what made this test drive intriguing. And when it was all over with, I ended up leasing a Bonneville SE of my own to replace my aging Honda Accord.
When Pontiac restyled the Bonneville for 1992, not everyone was thrilled with the result. Personally, I preferred the previous model, which seemed to resist aging. As time has passed, however, I’ve grown fond of the sleek but aggressive profile of the current car. I especially like the clean, no-clutter look without the body clad-ding and gold trim that Pontiac applies to some models.
The Bonneville line has been simplified – sort of. There are now only two models available: the SE and the SSE. The gaudier SSEi has been dropped as a model, and is now available as a package.
The Bonneville SE competes with the Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Vision, Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima and Mazda Millenia. The fancier SSE is pitted against the Chrysler LHS, Mazda 929, Lexus ES 300, Mitsubishi Diamante and Acura Legend.
That seems fairly clear-cut. However, it becomes more complicated when ordering the packages offered; they include the Sport Luxury Edition (SLE), the Supercharged SLE and the SSEi.
The SLE package is billed as the Bonneville’s import-fighter. It includes leather bucket seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and cobra-head shifter, upgraded carpeting and floor mats, floor console, rear deck lid spoiler, rear-window defogger, power antenna, 16-in. alloy wheels with upgraded touring tires, and a variety of other items.
The SLE’s Customer Interior option group adds illuminated visor vanity mirrors, a console with rear air-conditioning vents, an overhead console with power outlets and a trunk convenience net.
Our test model was an SE with the SLE package. We thought it was a perfect mix of a sleek, clean look on the outside with great performance under the hood and every necessary creature feature.
The interior of the Bonneville is extremely comfortable. Bucket seats offer a snug, stay-in-place fit. (A 45/55 split bench seat also is available.)
The rear seat features a pass-through for longer-than-the-trunk items such as skis. The pass-through – along with dual cupholders – is revealed when the rear-seat console folds down.
For 1995, the Bonneville also offers rear shoulder belts with a child-comfort guide. Designed for children ages 4 through 10, the device keeps the belt away from children’s faces and necks. Located between the rear seat cushion and quarter trim, the guide is engaged when the shoulder belt is inserted into the guide clip. The clip is attached to an elastic cord that adjusts the shoulder belt away from the face and neck area.
The instrument panel is clean and easy to read. The SSE features an information center that tells the driver when the oil and coolant levels are low or whether the hood or trunk is ajar. Cruise control, rally gauges and the lamp group are now standard on the SE.
Our biggest complaint inside was with the steering wheel. It’s wimpy – too small and too skinny for such a large, performance-oriented car. Being a radio station surfer, I also prefer the radio controls on the steering pod, which wasn’t the case on our test model.
Our only other gripe from the driver’s perspective was with the outside mirror. It was located too far back because of the window’s false vent wing.
The Bonneville provides a choice of five factory-installed audio systems, ranging from an AM/FM radio with clock and four speakers to an AM/FM stereo with CD player and eight speakers.
Standard equipment on the Bonneville is abundant: GM’s effective PASS-Key II theft-deterrent system, dual airbags, anti-lock brakes and rear-door child security locks are key features. Power variable-effort steering and a driver information center are standard on the SSE. Meanwhile, traction control, Computer Command Ride and remote keyless entry are optional.
The Bonneville’s aggressive, performance-oriented look doesn’t disappoint once you slide behind the wheel. For ’95, the workhorse 3800 V6 engine becomes the 3800 Series II engine. Horsepower increases to 205 hp. Torque in-creases to 230 lb.-ft. at 4000 rpm.
The previous 3800 was smooth, quiet and strong. But the new version is even quieter, lighter, more compact and more fuel efficient. Fuel economy for the 3800 Series II is estimated at 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
For 1995, the supercharged V6 is available on the SE model, but you must order the SLE package. This engine puts out 225 hp at 5000 rpm and generates 275 lb.-ft. of torque at 3200 rpm.
As previously mentioned, Computer Command Ride, which adjusts shock absorber damping automatically, has been added to the SE option list.
Computer Command Ride is part of the Computer Command Ride/Handling package. It features an adjustable damping system that changes the vehicle’s ride and handling between touring and performance modes. In the touring mode, the system automatically selects one of three damping positions, based on road conditions and how you’re driving the car at that given moment.
Our test car was equipped with this system. In the performance mode, the Bonneville clearly had a sports-car feel – firm, with good control and just the right amount of feedback through the steering wheel. And al-though the touring mode provided a softer ride, it still didn’t feel as pillowy as a Buick’s.
All Bonneville models now feature a brake-transmission shift interlock that prevents the driver from moving the shift selector and transmission out of park until he or she steps on the brake pedal.
Available on the SSE, the power variable-effort steering system is designed to decrease the effort required to steer the vehicle in low-speed situations, such as parking, without affecting steering and handling at highway speeds.
The Bonneville’s optional traction control, included on our test car, monitors wheel spin and limits power for better control and handling in certain driving conditions. The traction control can be disengaged by the driver with a switch located at the center console – but why would you want to?
The Pontiac Bonneville, particularly one outfitted with the SLE package, strikes an excellent balance between sports handling and a comfortable ride. All the necessary safety features are thrown into the mix, along with a fair number of luxury items.
These roomy, stylish sedans aren’t cheap, and the order form at the dealership is only slightly less complex than the federal 1040 long form.
But compared with some of the more expensive competing imports, the Bonneville represents a really good value, as well as driving pleasure.