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2002 Pontiac Sunfire REVIEW logo 4/5/2017

Con: Lack of refinement, overdone styling, old-tech engineering, sloppy handling, poor crash-test scores, uncomfortable cabin.

Pro: Rev-happy twin-cam engine, dealers are rebating these cars like there's no tomorrow.

Edmunds Say: An aging econocoupe that's been left behind by younger competition.

What’s New: All models get a tilt steering wheel and an electric trunk release as standard equipment. Three new exterior colors debut, while the three-speed automatic transmission gets dropped from the lineup.

Review: The Sunfire is available as a coupe or sedan in SE (base) trim, or as a coupe in the uplevel GT series. Base model SEs come with a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 115 horsepower. A five-speed manual is standard with a four-speed automatic transmission optional. 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. Equipped with the bigger engine and the stick shift, a Sunfire is downright speedy when compared to other four-cylinder compacts.

Sunfire SE comes equipped with standard air conditioning, an AM/FM cassette stereo, antilock brakes and 24-hour roadside assistance. GT models add the upgraded 2.4-liter engine, 16-inch performance wheels and tires, a six-speaker CD stereo, leather-wrapped steering wheel and upgraded leather/cloth interior. More options are available, but be warned, adding them to the bottom line quickly raises the Sunfire's price well into the high teens. However, a careful buyer who chooses wisely should be able to score a well-equipped version for around $16,000.

Driving the Sunfire isn't much fun, never mind all the spoilers and spats decorating the exterior. When it is pushed on a twisty road, it tends to exhibit an excessive amount of body roll and tire squeal. The steering is numb, and the rear brakes are of the drum variety rather than discs. We think that at the very least the GT model should offer a more sporting demeanor to back up the car's racy looks and powerful engine.

Inside, there's practical room for four occupants, though they might find it difficult to get comfortable. The dash is composed of surprisingly good pieces of soft-touch material, and all controls are logically located and operate with refreshing simplicity. Still, there's little here to recommend. Even the premium Monsoon audio system has taken heat from our evaluators.

We think the Sunfire has little merit in the crowded compact marketplace. If it's a nice daily driver you want, nearly every other manufacturer offers something more pleasing. If performance is what you're looking for, a revival of "pocket rockets" is underway, and for the same price as a well-equipped Sunfire GT, you can buy something like a Ford SVT Focus or Nissan Sentra SE-R. And if you're simply looking for utility, take a look at Pontiac's ownVibe sport-wagon instead. It features brilliant packaging, handsome styling and Toyota running gear for around $20,000.


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