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1996 Pontiac Sunfire REVIEW

Edmunds.com logo Edmunds.com 4/5/2017

What’s New: Traction control, remote keyless entry and steering wheel radio controls are newly available. Old Quad 4 engine dumped in favor of new 2.4-liter twin-cam engine. Two new paint choices spiff up the exterior.

Review: Pontiac has a winner here. The Sunfire is poised to take on the Neon, Cavalier, Escort and import compacts by offering excellent value, sporty styling, and reasonable performance in one well-rounded package. For 1996, Sunfire is available in coupe, sedan and convertible body styles.

Dual airbags and ABS are standard equipment on the Sunfire. Base models are powered by a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that was carried over from the old Sunbird. GT models get a twin-cam motor good for 150 horsepower. The twin cam is optional on the SE, and we highly recommend it, particularily mated to a five-speed transmission. However, one benefit of the automatic is the standard traction control system that comes with it.

Equipped with the twin cam and a five-speed manual transmission, the Sunfire is downright speedy; about as quick as the Neon Sport Coupe and Escort GT. The automatic raises acceleration times by about one second in the dash to 60 mph. Options on the Sunfire include sharp alloy wheels, a power sunroof, and a variety of sound systems, among others. Equip an SE Coupe to the gills and suddenly the Sunfire isn't such a value at $17,000. Creative fiddling with the options sheet should result in a well-equipped sport coupe priced under $15,000.

Though it's less than one year old, Pontiac has made several improvements to the Sunfire for 1996. The 2.4-liter twin-cam engine replaces last year's rare 2.3-liter Quad 4 motor, and the traction control-equipped four-speed automatic is new. PASSLock anti-theft is standard on all 1996 Sunfires. Ride and steering have been improved, and two new paint choices are available. Daytime running lights are newly standard, and buyers can now order remote keyless entry and steering wheel radio controls.

We think the Sunfire has what it takes to succeed in the crowded compact marketplace. If anything, the Sunfire makes a strong argument against purchasing its slightly larger stablemate, the Grand Am. If a sporty coupe, sedan or convertible is on your shopping list, check into the Sunfire.

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