The Pontiac Sunfire is an American-made, compact car built to replace another compact: the Sunbird. With a new name and new styling, the Sunfire was launched in 2005. It was powered by a 4-cylinder, fuel efficient engine, ranging from 2.2- to 2.4-liter. Moreover, it was economically priced, with few bells and whistles", making it an attractive choice for frugal buyers seeking low-cost, basic transportation. Even though the rear seating seemed cramped and the trunk space was somewhat limited, the 4-passenger seating made its models suitable as a modest family car.
During its production years (1995-2005), the Sunfire was produced by General Motors (GM) in factories located in Michigan, Ohio, and Mexico. The Michigan factory limited its production to convertible models only. In order to meet stringent auto safety standards in effect at the time, the Sunbird was launched in 1995 with an updated J-body platform.
Without any dramatic redesigning, the Sunfire models went through some changes over the next decade. Originally all three model types- sedan, coupe, and convertible- came with the standard SE trim. An upgraded, sporty GT trim was available for the coupe and convertible. Yet, the convertible was short-lived and was discontinued in 2000. By 2003, the sedan was dropped in the US, even though the sedan continued to be sold in Canada and Mexico, leaving the Sunfire coupe as the sole survivor in the US market. The coupe's engine was modified with a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine, called the "Ecotec" engine, increasing its fuel efficiency and reducing emissions.
Sunbird consumers had a choice of three transmissions. A 5-speed manual transmission was standard and the 3-speed or 4-speed automatic transmissions were options. The standard SE trim used a 2.2-liter, 4-cylinder engine with 120 horsepower; whereas, a more powerful 150-horsepower, 2.3-liter Quad 4 engine was standard in the GT trim. Standard features were minimal, but, surprisingly, included anti-lock brakes in the GT trim. A standard package in the SE base model consisted of a manual transmission, AM/FM radio, dual airbags, and tilt steering wheel. Yet, the list of options was much longer: automatic transmission, traction control, side airbags, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, satellite radio, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, power moon roof, and OnStar, a subscription-based in-vehicle security, communication, and diagnostic system.
The Sunfire's 10-year lifespan in the auto industry was even shorter than its predecessor, the 13-year-old Sunbird. Fuel efficiency was a plus, but quality and performance fell short and were not impressive enough to win consumer appeal. Safety was an issue, as the compact performed poorly in both frontal and side-impact crash tests. Ultimately, the production of the Sunfire was discontinued in 2005.
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