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1999 Pontiac Sunfire REVIEW logo 4/5/2017

Con: Option list can overpower sale price, body roll apparent during hard cornering.

Pro: Racy styling, comfy interior, rev-happy twin-cam engine, good value.

What’s New: After Sunfire coupes got a rear spoiler last year, this year it's the sedan's turn, only as an option. The top-line 2.4-liter twin-cam engine is revised to improve breathing, including new fuel injectors, injection rails, exhaust manifold and catalytic converter. Fern Green Metallic is added to the paint color chart.

Review: Pontiac has a winner here. The Sunfire is poised to take on the Neon, Cavalier, Escort and assorted import compacts by offering excellent value, sporty styling and reasonable performance in a well-rounded package. The '99 Sunfire is available as a coupe, sedan or convertible in SE (base) trim, and as a coupe or convertible in the GT (uplevel) series. Dual airbags, ABS and an anti-theft system are standard equipment. A 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine, which last year received a boost in low-end torque, powers base models. Power is rated at 115 horsepower, and can be fed through the standard five-speed manual or optional three- and four-speed automatics. GT models get a slightly larger 16-valve four-cylinder, good for 150 horsepower. The GT's 2.4-liter twin-cam motor is optional on the SE, and we highly recommend it, particularly mated to a five-speed manual transmission. However, one benefit of the four-speed automatic is the standard traction control system that comes with it.

Equipped with the bigger engine and a manual transmission, the Sunfire is downright speedy, about as quick as the Neon Sport Coupe. 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, watch the price soar to the mid-18s, and suddenly the Sunfire isn't such a strong value. Creative fiddling with the options sheet should result in a well-equipped sport coupe priced around $16,000.

Other than offering the convertible in GT trim, Pontiac hasn't changed much for 1999. Improvements to the 2.4-liter twin-cam engine include fuel injectors, fuel injector rails, exhaust manifold and catalytic converter. A decklid spoiler, standard on coupe models, is now optional on sedans, and one new color is available. Sunfire has nooks and crannies in the console and on the door panels to store things like compact discs or cassettes, and sports a huge, 12.7-liter glovebox, big enough to store and average-sized purse or even a 12-pack of soda and an ice pack. For the more musically oriented buyer, a six-speaker sound system is available.

We drove a Sunfire SE Convertible for a week, and had complaints only about excessive body roll, an ineffective climate control system when the top was down and weak stereo speakers (perhaps we should recommend the six-speaker sound system to cure this malady). Otherwise, our twin cam-powered five-speed test car was a hoot, prompting a friend with a 1991 Mustang LX 5.0 automatic to quip, "I better get some different gears in this thing. I can't have Sunfires keeping up with me." Best of all, our well-equipped test car carried an affordable price tag.

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, or its more pedestrian twin at Chevy dealers, the Cavalier. If a small but sporty coupe, sedan or convertible is on your shopping list, check into the Sunfire.


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