SEATTLE, WASH: Though I think his days are numbered in this capacity, Sylvester Stallone has been the commercial voice of the Pontiac Bonneville for the last couple of years.
The ad-meisters at Pontiac believed Stallone's cocky-Rocky persona was a good fit for the luxury-esque sports-sedan, and I agree. Stallone has always had that image of a smart but un-schooled guy who worked hard and became a success, as a consequence of which he made more money than most guys like him would have expected to.
These folks want everyone to know that they managed to clamber their way up quite a few steps on the social scale, but they haven't sold out for the Teutonic travel machines so popular with folks born to the upper-middle class. Yo, Pontiac.
So a Bonneville rather than a Bimmer, making it clear to people that he has money but isn't going to let someone else tell him what he should do with it. Hence the "luxury with attitude" advertising slogan of the previous Bonneville.
While that slogan is likely to join Stallone in the Pontiac history books, the reasoning behind both of their appearances continues to inform the 2000 Bonneville.
There's still an essence of self-made man about the completely revised car, and that should appeal mightily to enough men (and I use the term on purpose, since few women buy Bonneville) to make it a success.
The car's tone is perfectly struck by its exterior styling, which is a little overdone, the way the Bonneville buyer's custom-made tuxedo might be, but not as garish as it was in its previous generation.
"I can go fast," the car makes it plain for all to see, "and I probably will, whether you want me to or not."
In point of fact, the new Bonneville is just about as good at actually going fast as looking like it will. This was quickly evident from the moment I turned over the engine, or even before, when I turned to the page in the press kit that explained the powertrains.
Bonneville is another extremely competent large sedan to take full advantage of one of my favorite engines and one of the best ever created at suiting North American driving styles -- the 3800 V-6, both without, but particularly with, the Eaton supercharger.
The normally aspirated version of the 3800 delivers 205 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 230 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm and is standard in all three models. The supercharged version is optional on the SSEi alone and serves up 240 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 280 pound-feet of torque at 3600 rpm.
Both engines are hooked up to the same 4-speed automatic transmission, though each trim level carries a final drive ratio that provides progressively quicker launches.
These engines work well in North America because they concentrate on providing the low-end torque that delivers the launch that drivers on this continent love. If you're supposed to stop accelerating at 100 km/h, the enjoyment seems to be in getting there as quickly as you can, and certainly before the guy next to you.
This was the thinking in the previous Bonneville, but for 2000 the skeleton that lies under this muscle has been improved. In techno-geek-speak, that would mean that the new architecture has 27 per cent more bending stiffness and 62 per cent higher torsional rigidity. This means less flex when the car's being pushed, which means more precise handling and a more secure feel.
Better handling has been further provided for with the move to a longer wheelbase and a slightly wider track and improvements to the steering and suspension geometry.
Beyond even that is the availability of the StabilTrak integrated chassis control system, which actually takes emergency handling to a level that even the best driver cannot reach because it can activate exactly the correct of the four disc brakes to bring the car back under control -- sometimes. The rules of physics still apply.
Other technical features of note on Bonneville for 2000 would include automatic level control, front seats with seatbelts built right into them (which hold you in place when driving and provide you with better protection in a crash), head restraints that move in a crash to reduce the possibility of whiplash, optional dual-zone air conditioning, driver and front passenger side impact air bags, a tire inflation monitor, an optional oil life monitor, PASS-Key III anti-theft, and express-down power front windows, among other things.
What's carried over from previous Bonnevilles is the model line nomenclature of SE ($30,740), SLE ($35,685) and SSEi ($41,995), with the final model being the most tricked-up and overdressed.
There is noticeable exterior differentation of these models for 2000 and, interestingly, the base design is the most attractive to my bi-focalled eyes. This will not make sense to the guys who desire the SSEi, of course, since what's the point of buying the model that's less likely to attract attention.
This is of course the point of the Bonnvelle, attracting attention to yourself. Nothing wrong with that, and Pontiac has been kind enough to allow you to drive a good car while making people stare at you.
Yo, Pontiac, indeed.
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