Driving Impressions

By November 10, 1999

There's been a long-running argument whether it's better to have two valves or four, push rods or overhead cams. The Bonneville's 3800 Series II V-6 convincingly argues for the simpler, push-rod design. This engine delivers lots of power and responsiveness, surprisingly good mileage and environmentally friendly emissions numbers. Normally aspirated, the Series II delivers a comforting 205 hp and 230 lbs.-ft. of torque. Opting for the supercharger increases the pony count to 240 and torque jumps to 280 lbs.-ft.

Better yet, with the supercharged engine, you'll get a new, electronically controlled, four-speed automatic transmission. It's designed to handle the extra power and allows selection between normal or performance shift modes. The latter lets you wind out the engine under heavy acceleration, approximating the feel of a manual shift.

The Bonneville features front disc and rear drum brakes. Anti-lock brakes are standard equipment across the model line, and traction control is an option.

The base Bonneville SE comes with conventional power steering. With the SSE and SSEi, you get GM's Magnasteer system, an option on the SE and SLE, which uses an innovative magnetic control to reduce the amount of effort needed to steer at low speeds. The faster you go, the less boost you get, improving road stability. Magnasteer is a definite improvement, though we find that it still doesn't deliver quite the precise feeling of contact with the road that you get from European sports sedans.

The overall ride is a pleasant compromise. It's not quite as stiff and responsive as a BMW, but offers much more precise ride and handling than Detroit's traditional boulevard cruisers.

The one minor problem we experienced is something known as torque steer. Under very aggressive acceleration, the car had a tendency to pull to one side. It's a common problem with powerful front-wheel-drive cars.