2002 Pontiac Sunfire

By April 11, 2002
2002 Pontiac Sunfire

The Pontiac Sunfire is agile and easy to drive. It comes in two-door coupe and four-door body styles and starts at a retail price $14,565.

For 2002, the Sunfire offers as optional GM’s new 2.2-liter Ecotec engine, designed to offer quieter operation and improved efficiency; it replaces last year’s more powerful 2.4-liter engine.

Model Lineup

Pontiac Sunfire is available as a four-door sedan or two-door coupe. The sedan is available in only one trim level, SE ($15,275). Coupes are available in two models, SE ($14,565) and GT ($17,030). The coupes are more fun, but the sedan offers more practicality with a roomier back seat and a larger trunk.

SE models are powered by a 2.2-liter overhead-valve four-cylinder engine that produces 115 horsepower and 135 pounds-feet of torque.

Optional on the SE and standard on the GT is GM’s new 2.2-liter twin-cam Ecotec engine that provides 140 horsepower and 150 pounds-feet of torque. Although slightly less powerful than last year’s 2.4-liter twin-cam, the Ecotec is quieter, lighter and more fuel efficient.

All Sunfires come standard with air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, a tilt steering column, an AM/FM/cassette audio system and 14-inch all-season tires. Either Sunfire engine can be mated to a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission.

GT adds aerodynamic body trim, fog lights, a CD player, performance tires mounted on 16-inch alloy wheels, plus its more powerful engine and sportier suspension tuning.

A new option for 2002 is the Driver Convenience Package ($130) that includes cruise control, intermittent wipers, a trunk cargo net, assist handles, overhead storage unit and reading lamps. Also new for 2002 is an auxiliary power outlet for all versions and an electronic trunk release.

Walkaround

The Pontiac Sunfire was last restyled for the 2000 model year and changes since then have been minimal. The current model looks dated and the Sunfire has been redesigned for the 2003 model year.

The sedan provides the practicality of four doors, allowing access the back seat while the coupe has sportier styling. Either way, the Sunfire offers a sportier look than the mechanically similar Chevy Cavalier.

Interior Features

The Sunfire’s instrument panel is attractive and includes a digital LCD odometer and trip odometer, a tachometer and a coolant temperature gauge. The floor console provides great functionality and includes a padded armrest. Other interior features include two forward-mounted cupholders, a concealed coin holder, and extra storage space for CDs, cassettes and other items.

A leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and parking brake handle are standard on GT models. Radio and HVAC controls are angled toward the driver. The steering wheel can be equipped with convenient stereo controls that reduce the driver’s need to take his or her eyes off the road. The cloth on the SE’s seats and door trim looks vibrant.

Lots of glass and effective mirrors provide good visibility; you only see a little bit of the sharply slanted hood. Most drivers and passengers should find plenty of interior room. Getting in and out of the Sunfire coupe is easier than many other coupes.

Sunfire’s relatively short deck lid conceals slightly more than 12 cubic feet of trunk space, easily accessed with a low lift-over height.

The PASSlock theft deterrent system that comes on all Sunfire models shuts the car off after a few moments if it is started with anything other than the encoded key. A single key is used for ignition and all locks, and a remote keyless entry system is optional. All Sunfires are equipped with daytime running lights. Whenever the ignition is on and the handbrake is released or the automatic transmission is shifted out of park, the headlights will be on at reduced power. The normal headlights can be switched on manually or by using Pontiac’s Twilight Sentinel system, turning the lights on and off automatically as it senses the amount of available light.

The Sunfire is offered with a fine line of sound systems. The entry-level stereo now includes an AM/FM radio and cassette deck. A retained accessory feature allows the radio to remain powered for 10 minutes after the power is switched off or until the driver’s door is opened. A 200-watt Monsoon premium audio system is optional. Using six speakers, the system is tuned specifically for the Sunfire’s acoustical environment and is capable of completely drenching its occupants with sound. Crisp bass response and clear high frequencies make for great sound. It’s a bargain at $195.

Driving Impressions

Pontiac’s Sunfire is easy to drive and fun to drive quickly. It hangs on confidently in fast corners and stays poised and predictable. It is balanced well, exhibiting surprisingly little understeer for a front-wheel-drive car. The GT seems at its best in transient, or slalom-type, maneuvers. You can really throw it around. Our only quibble with its handling is the unassisted steering that is a little slow.

The chassis and suspension and steering combine to produce a good blend of ride and handling, and the car projects a secure feeling of stability and solidity. The suspension comprises MacPherson struts up front and a twist beam axle in the rear. It’s not as sophisticated as the suspensions in some of the other cars in this class, but it gets the job done.

Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering gives the Sunfire quick steering response and good on-center feel. At the same time, the Sunfire’s body rigidity provides a ride that’s firm and confident at higher speeds. And it’s quiet. Standard on the GT Coupe are P205/55 performance tires on 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

With the new Ecotec 2.2-liter twin-cam engine, the GT Coupe provides comparable power to a Honda Civic or Dodge Neon. While some engines tend to be peaky, providing maximum power only in a very narrow rpm range, the Ecotec has a broad torque curve and that enhances the engine’s driveability. It develops maximum torque (150 pounds-feet at 4000 rpm) at lower revs than the previous 2.4-liter (155 pounds-feet at 4400 rpm). Pontiac hopes buyers will view the Sunfire as a good candidate as a sport compact, so GM and its suppliers have developed a number of aftermarket parts for owners who want to modify the Ecotec engine to extract more power.

The new Ecotec engine is fuel efficient, EPA-rated at 24 mpg City and 33 Highway with the five-speed transmission, and 23/32 mpg with the four-speed automatic.

The aging 2.2-liter overhead-valve engine that comes standard on the SE achieves only 1 mpg more on the highway than the new Ecotec engine and produces far less power (115 horsepower and 135 pounds-feet of torque). It’s noisier and less responsive than the new Ecotec engine, a $250 option on the SE. We recommend SE buyers spring for the Ecotec engine.

The five-speed manual transmission is built by renowned German transmission manufacturer Getrag and features decent shift feel and a synchronized reverse gear for easier engagement. A cable shift linkage aids shifting, while a reverse lockout mechanism makes for a good safety feature.

Sunfire comes with disc brakes in front, drum brakes in the rear. An anti-lock braking system (ABS) is standard. The Sunfire’s brake components are designed to optimize wheel slip control, reduce noise, improve pedal feel and contribute to reduced weight. However, it is not as sophisticated as the braking systems found on more expensive cars, and overall braking performance is average.

Summary

Pontiac’s Sunfire offers buyers sporty, expressive styling and performance in an affordably priced, American-built car. Its low entry price makes the Sunfire GT Coupe a good value in the competitive coupe market. The optional Ecotec engine is a better choice than the base engine.

Model Line Overview
Model lineup:SE coupe ($14,465); SE sedan ($15,275); GT coupe ($17,030)
Engines:115-hp 2.2-liter ohv inline-4; 140-hp 2.2-liter dohc 16v inline-4
Transmissions:5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard):dual airbags, ABS
Safety equipment (optional):N/A
Basic warranty:3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in:Lordstown, Ohio, and Ramos Arizpe, Mexico
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSPR):GT Coupe ($17,030)
Standard equipment:air conditioning, power steering, tachometer, dual vanity mirrors, intermittent wipers, folding rear seat, PASSlock theft deterrent system, rear window defroster, tilt steering; GT adds AM/FM/CD with graphic equalizer and six speakers, aero extensions, adjustable lumbar
Options as tested (MSPR):Option Group 1SC ($2,135) includes 4-speed automatic transmission with traction control, variable intermittent wipers, cruise control, security package, remote keyless entry, power locks and content theft alarm, cargo convenience net, reading lights, assist grips, overhead storage, power mirrors and windows, 200-watt Monsoon premium audio with CD player and 8 speakers
Destination charge:$540
Gas guzzler tax:N/A
Price as tested (MSPR):$19380
Layout:N/A
Engine:2.2-liter dohc 16v inline 4-cylinder
Horsepower (lb.-ft @ rpm):140 @ 5600
Torque (lb.-ft @ rpm):150 @ 4000
Transmission:4-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:24/33 mpg
Wheelbase:104.1 in.
Length/width/height:181.9/67.4/53.0 in.
Track, f/r:57.6/56.4 in.
Turning circle:37.2 ft.
Seating Capacity:5
Head/hip/leg room, f:37.6/48.7/42.1 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r:36.6/49.5/32.6 in.
Cargo volume:12.4 cu. ft.
Payload:N/A
Towing capacity:N/A
Suspension, f:Independent
Suspension, r:beam axle
Ground clearance:N/A
Curb weigth:2771 lbs.
Tires:P205/55R16
Brakes, f/r:disc/drum with ABS
Fuel capacity:15.2 gal.
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle. All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSPR) effective as of April 11, 2002.Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable. Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-276-6842 - www.pontiac.com