In 1926, General Motors established Pontiac as a brand of affordable yet stylish and high-performing vehicles. Throughout its history, it introduced, redesigned, and discontinued cars according to the changing demands of the American auto market. During the mid-1990s, Pontiac discontinued one of its more popular models, the Sunbird, and replaced it with something slightly different in both name and style: the Sunfire.
1995: The dawn of the Sunfire
Pontiac introduced the affordable Sunfire as compact car based on GM’s third-generation J-body and made it available as a sedan, coupe, or convertible. All these variants could have a 2.2-liter four-cylinder with 120 horsepower and 130 pound-feet of torque. Meanwhile, only the coupe could have a GT engine that was a 2.3-liter inline-four with 145 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. However, the Sunfire failed to impress with its build quality, econobox interiors, and poor performances in side-impact and frontal-offset crash tests.
1996-1999: A sunrise of small improvements
A year after this first release, Pontiac changed the Sunfire here and there by adding options for traction control on 4-speed automatics, remote keyless entry, daylight running lights, and auxiliary steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. Most significantly, the brand replaced the GT engines with a new twin cam 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 150 horsepower and 155 pound-feet of torque.
In 1997, the Sunfire convertible lost its manual shift option and became a 4-speed automatic. It also got a pair of intermittent wipers, a defogger for the glass rear window, and standard cruise control. Two years after this, the convertible also got its engine moved to the GT trim.
In 1998, Pontiac added second-generation airbags on all Sunfire variants, making them much safer than before. It also gave buyers a new sound system option but otherwise left the model alone.
2000-2004: The new millennium of major changes
At the dawn of the millennium, Pontiac made drastic changes to the Sunfire. It discontinued the convertible variants; and gave the coupe a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob, and parking brake handle. The brand altered the exterior by adding plastic bodyside trim cladding, and a new rear fascia with round back-up lamps. Inside, the revamped console had a pair of cupholders, a padded center armrest, and the optional Monsoon audio system. Meanwhile, automatic-transmission models got a lighted console shift indicator and a new manual five-speed transmission variant was added to the lineup.
Two years later, Pontiac also dropped the three-speed automatic transmission option so that buyers could only choose between a four-speed automatic or the five-speed manual. The brand also changed the GT engine to a twin cam 2.2-liter four-cylinder with 140 horsepower, and gave the standard engine a tilt steering wheel.
In 2003, Pontiac further narrowed the Sunfire options by dropping the sedan variant and the GT engine. The brand gave the coupe a four-cylinder 2.4 liter Ecotec engine with 140 horsepower and 150-pound-feet of torque. It also got a major facelift with an upgraded nose, rear-end, and sport suspension for a more streamlined look. Inside, the Sunfire got a new interior trim, retooled dashboard, satellite radio, and OnStar communications. Pontiac even increased the safety features with front side airbags and rear center shoulder belts.
2005: The setting of the Sunfire
Just as the sun paints the sky beautiful colors before it sets, Pontiac also gave the Sunfire a good send-off before replacing it with the G5. The brand made this coupe look sportier with an added package option. Because the J-body was also phased out in 2005, a Mexican-built Sunfire became the last surviving J-body car.