Machine Design

2001 Bonneville SSEi - Supercharged road rocket

The first things I noticed when approaching the SSEi Bonneville were what I dubbed its testosteronic bulges bursting out from the body at the front and rear wheels. Pontiac refers to them as "muscular haunches." Whatever you call them, they give the impression of speed and power. (The photo of the black Bonneville seems to hide the bulges. They were much more pronounced on the metallic silver model I test drove).

And the first thing I noticed after adjusting the 12-way driver seat and 8-speaker Bose stereo and firing up the engine, was indeed the power and speed. A supercharger, a device more automakers should include on their offerings, really gives the car exceptional low-end acceleration. Press hard on the gas and you can get to the speed limit in a hurry. Passing at highway speeds becomes a simple matter as well. With the supercharger, standard on the SSEi, the 3.8-liter V6 puts out 200 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. Max horsepower is 240 at 5,200 rpm. For comparison, the nonsupercharged engine generates about 175 hp at 230 lb-ft at 3,600 rpm. Max horsepower is 205 at 5,200 rpm. Mileage isn't bad, averaging 18/28 mpg city/hwy.The SSEi model carries several other nice-to-have options such as the heads-up display, which I used exclusively to display my speed, and the ABS/traction control system. It also features front and side airbags for front seat passengers and an OnStar communication package. Other, less apparent, safety features include a steering column with improved energy-absorbency and dashboard knee bolsters that are now stiff enough to resist coming toward the driver, but resilient enough to prevent leg injuries. There are also self-aligning headrests on the front seats that theoretically lessen the severity of neck injuries in collisions.

The car has a four-wheel, independent suspension and handles well enough. I had no bad weather, bad roads, or bad drivers to contend with, so I never got in a situation where I had to push the handling envelope. The car carries deflected-disc struts up front in a coil-over-strut design with a 30-mm stabilizer bar. A variable-ratio system (Mag-E) for the rack-and-pinion steering makes it easier to turn the wheel at low speeds and helps give the car its 40-ft turning radius. In the rear are coil springs, Cadiz shocks, an independent lower control arm, and a 20-mm stabilizer bar.

The four-door sedan is a blast to drive and could lead to a second childhood if you aren't careful. It sells for $34,745, which includes a $655 destination charge, a $1,080 sunroof, and $595 for 17-in. chrome-plated aluminum wheels.

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