Compact car; Built in USA
  • 2-door convertible
  • 2-door coupe
  • 4-door sedan
  • transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $1,400 – $4,400*

1996 Pontiac Sunfire SE 2-door coupe

1995 Pontiac Sunfire SE 4-door sedan

1996 Pontiac Sunfire GT 2-dor convertible

1997 Pontiac Sunfire SE 2-door coupe

1997 Pontiac Sunfire SE 2-door convertible

  • Antilock brakes
  • Fuel economy
  • Instruments/controls
  • Noise
  • Rear-seat comfort
  • Rear visibility

Well-equipped when new, Sunfires make good choices in the subcompact league. Except for sportier styling touches from Pontiac, however, differences between Sunfires and Cavaliers are modest.


Pontiac shelved its Sunbird subcompact after 13 years and launched a new Sunfire for 1995, sharing its front-drive chassis and mechanical components with Chevrolet’s Cavalier. Dual airbags and antilock brakes were standard, along with a tachometer and a tilt steering wheel. At first, Sunfire was available as a 4-door sedan and a coupe. Later in the season came a convertible and a sportier GT coupe. SE models used a 2.2-liter 4-cylinder engine, rated at 120 horsepower. A 150-horsepower, 2.3-liter Quad 4 with dual-overhead camshafts was standard in the GT, optional in SE. A 5-speed manual transmission was standard; 3-speed automatic transmission optional with the 2.2-liter, 4-speed automatic with the Quad 4.

Yearly Updates

1996 Sunfire
Replacing the Quad 4, was a new Twin Cam 2.4-liter 4-cylinder. Also, traction control became standard on Sunfires with 4-speed automatics. Daytime running lights were installed, too.
1997 Sunfire
A 4-speed automatic now became standard on the convertible; no more manual shift. The soft top also gained intermittent wipers, a defogger for the glass rear window, and standard cruise control.
1998 Sunfire
No changes were made to Sunfire for ’98.
1999 Sunfire
Convertibles moved from SE to GT trim for ’99. Other models continued unchanged.
2000 Sunfire
Sunfires earned subtle cosmetic changes, including revised lower bodyside trim and a new rear fascia with round back-up lamps. GTs got a reworked nose with integral fog lamps. A revamped console held two cupholders and a padded center armrest. GTs gained a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob, and parking-brake handle. Automatic-transmission models got a lighted console shift indicator, and a Monsoon audio system became available. Convertibles were dropped during the model year.
2001 Sunfire
New standard equipment for 2001 included an in-trunk emergency release, cassette player, and a rear spoiler on coupes.
2002 Sunfire
A 140-hp twincam 2.2-liter 4 cyl replaced a 150-hp 2.4 after the start of ’02 production. Also for ’02, the SE got a standard tilt steering wheel (the GT already had it) and both gained a trunk release switch for the driver.
2003 Sunfire
Sunfire drops its sedan for 2003, but the surviving coupes get first-time availability of front side airbags. The GT trim level is also dropped, so the line is now based on an SE model that inherits the GT’s 140-hp 4 cyl as its only engine. A restyled nose, revised rear-end appearance, new interior trim, rear center shoulder belt, retooled dashboard, and XM satellite radio are other changes for ’03
2004 Sunfire
The Sunfire received only minor trim changes in 2004.
2005 Sunfire
For Sunfire’s last season, a Sport Appearance Package option was added. It included 16-inch chrome wheels, firmer suspension, sport interior trim, and chrome-tipped dual exhausts.


transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive

Base engine was a 2.2-liter 4-cylinder, developing 120 horsepower. In 1995, a 2.3-liter Quad 4, with dual-overhead camshafts and a 150-horsepower rating, was standard in the GT and optional in the Sunfire SE. For 1996, a 2.4-liter Twin Cam 4-cylinder engine replaced the 2.3-liter four, with the same horsepower rating but five more pound-feet of torque. Any model might have the standard 5-speed manual transmission. A 3-speed automatic transmission was available for the base engine; 4-speed automatic for the dual-cam engine (or for both, after 1995). A 140-hp twincam 2.2-liter 4 cyl replaced a 150-hp 2.4 after the start of ’02 production.

ohv I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.2/133
Engine HP 115
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 135
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
3-speed automatic
ohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.2/133
Engine HP 120
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 130
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
3-speed automatic
4-speed automatic
dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.2/134
Engine HP 140
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 150
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.3/138
Engine HP 150
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 145
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.4/146
Engine HP 150
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 150
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic

Road Test

The original engine is somewhat coarse under hard throttle, but acceleration is adequate with either manual or automatic shift. The Quad 4 and later Twin Cam engines are better–smoother, quieter, and more powerful. Acceleration off the line is lively, and they work well with the 4-speed automatic. You can expect about 25 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway with either engine.

Through twisting roads, a GT corners with minimal body lean and tight grip. Under comparable conditions, an SE exhibited greater body lean, less grip, and slower reaction in its steering. Both Sunfires absorb bumpy surfaces handily, but can toss occupants around a bit on rough surfaces.

Interior space is adequate for four adults. A low rear-seat cushion forces an uncomfortable knees-up position, and head room is only marginal. Front head and leg room are a lot better. Gauges are unobstructed and controls operate smoothly. Forward visibility is fine, past a low dashboard. Backing up is difficult because of the Sunfire’s high rear parcel shelf. The glovebox in Sunfire can hold a 12-pack of soda cans and front doors have map pockets. Trunk space is ample, too, but the 2-door’s trunk opening is too small to easily load bulky cargo.


Model Tested: 2002 Pontiac Sunfire SE coupe

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 3
Fuel Economy - 6
Ride Quality - 4
Steering/Handling - 3
Quietness - 3


Controls/Materials - 4
Room/Comfort Front - 3
Room/Comfort Rear - 2
Cargo Room - 3


Value - 3

Total: 34


2-door convertible
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
104.1 182.4 68.4 51.9
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
9.9 15.2 4
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.8 38.5 42.4 32.7
2-door coupe
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
104.1 181.9 67.4 53.2
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
12.4 15.2 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
37.6 36.6 42.4 32.0
4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
104.1 181.7 67.3 54.8
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
13.1 15.2 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.9 37.2 42.4 34.4
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1999 Sunfire 2-door coupe


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 3
Front Passenger Injury - 4

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - 1
Rear Passenger Injury - 2


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision 118
Injury 118
Theft 47

Trouble Spots

Brake wear
Description: Original equipment front brake pads do not last as long as most motorists believe they should, so GM offers a revised pad with a longer life lining. (1995)
Dashboard lights
Description: The antilock brake system’s hydraulic modulator is susceptible to failure. (1995)
Engine temperature
Description: Overheating and coolant loss may be due to rough surface on radiator filler neck. Neck should be sanded smooth and cap replaced. (1999-2000)
Oil consumption
Description: High oil consumption on 2.2-liter engine may be due to a loose baffle in the valve cover. (1998-2000)
Traction control indicator light
Description: The traction-control system may malfunction and, when it does, the cruise control quits working. (1996)
Description: Fog lamps may be dim or quit working due to corrosion in the wires located behind the front bumper. (2003)

Recall History

Description: Welds were omitted from lower control arms; excessive loads can result in separation.
Description: Automatic-transmission indicator may not reflect correct gear position.
Description: Front or rear hazard warning lamps (four-way flashers), or both, do not flash when switch is activated.
Description: Kinked accelerator cable in a few cars can result in unwanted acceleration.
Description: Interior lamps might come on unexpectedly while vehicle is being driven.
Description: If the key is held in the “start” position for an extended period, high current flowing through the ignition switch can melt internal switch parts.
Description: Airbag could deploy inadvertently in a low-speed crash, or when an object strikes the floor pan.
Description: Rear-suspension trailing-arm bolts can fatigue and break.
Description: Faulty power-steering bearings may have been installed on certain vehicles, resulting in difficulty turning the steering wheel. Dealers will inspect and replace all affected parts.
Description: Spare tire on a few cars may have incorrect rim.
Description: Wheel lug nuts on a few cars were not tightened securely, resulting in fracture of studs.
Description: Instrument-panel backlighting may not function after driver adjusts interior-light intensity.
Description: Due to inadequate contact, rear lamps that provide stop, turn-signal and taillamp functions could stop working; could also prevent cruise control from engaging.
Description: In a severe crash, upper seat belt anchorage may separate, reducing effectiveness of the belt.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.

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