Overview & Reviews
Bells and whistles are nice, but for some car shoppers, the primary need is for cheap, basic transportation. With these frugal buyers in mind, Pontiac launched its budget-priced Sunfire in the mid-'90s.
Budget cars of recent years have undergone an evolution of sorts. Many models have shattered our ideas of what to expect in this segment, offering a level of overall quality that belies their low price tags. The Pontiac Sunfire, unfortunately, wasn't one of them. Build quality was unimpressive and interior materials made no attempt to disguise this Pontiac's econobox status. Safety was an issue; the Sunfire performed poorly in side-impact and frontal-offset crash tests. Also, the fact that Pontiac opted not to give the car any substantial revisions in its many years on the market didn't do the Sunfire any favors. By the time it was retired in 2005, the car was riding on a severely dated platform, lagging well behind its newer competition.
But the Pontiac Sunfire did shine in a couple of respects. More recent models offered a lively engine. Feature content on newer models was also noteworthy, with luxury-themed amenities like OnStar and a sunroof offered as options. It was also one of the most affordable ways to get into a convertible.
Still, these strong points aren't enough to earn the Pontiac Sunfire a recommendation. Though it's inexpensive, used-car shoppers are advised to ignore this siren call and consider more desirable small sedans and coupes instead.
Most Recent Pontiac Sunfire
The Pontiac Sunfire was available in one generation, built from 1995-2005. Upon its introduction, this Pontiac was available as a coupe, sedan and convertible.
Initially, sedans and convertibles came in one trim level, the SE. Coupes, however, were available in both base SE and GT trims. In 1999, the convertible's sole trim level had its name changed to GT; a couple of years later (in 2001), the convertible was dropped from the lineup. The Sunfire's lineup was further streamlined in 2003 with the elimination of the sedan, leaving the coupe as the sole offering. That year, the Sunfire coupe was only available in base trim, but in 2004, an even more inexpensive Special Value trim was added to the lineup.
When the Pontiac Sunfire was introduced in 1995, two engines were available. Base models were powered by a 2.2-liter four-cylinder capable of 120 horsepower and 130 pound-feet of torque. GT models got a more muscular 2.3-liter inline-4 good for 145 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque. The following year, the 2.3-liter was replaced with a more powerful 2.4-liter that promised 150 hp and 155 lb-ft of torque. In 2003, both engines were dropped from the lineup and a more fuel-efficient 2.4-liter "Ecotec" four-cylinder good for 140 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque became the sole available engine. Buyers had three transmissions to choose from: a three-speed automatic (which was dropped from the lineup in 2002), a four-speed automatic and a five-speed manual (standard on most Sunfires).
Though the Sunfire saw no redesigns, it did see a few tweaks and upgrades over the years. The standard features list on early Sunfires was sparse, with little more than cloth seats and an AM/FM radio; on the plus side, ABS was standard. Options included air-conditioning and a power moonroof. In 1996, traction control, remote keyless entry and auxiliary steering-wheel-mounted audio controls were added to the options list. The following year, convertible Sunfires saw upgrades in standard equipment, with an automatic transmission being added to that roster. In 1998, safety got a boost, thanks to the addition of second-generation airbags to the standard features list; a new sound system was also added to the options list.
Further revisions in 2000 added new front and rear fascias and a new five-speed manual transmission; a premium Monsoon audio system was also added to the options list. In 2003, the Sunfire got another refresh, with an upgraded sport suspension and new front and rear fascias. ABS was no longer standard on base models, though it was available as an option. Satellite radio, side airbags and OnStar became available as options.
The Sunfire won't win any awards for cabin design. Materials quality is subpar, build quality is lacking and the overall aesthetic falls short when it comes to style. Furthermore, its seats don't offer much by way of comfort. Still, later models do offer impressive options like OnStar and satellite radio.
In editorial reviews, the Pontiac Sunfire scored decent marks for overall handling, though its manual shifter drew some fire for being somewhat imprecise. The Ecotec engine was also praised for its power and smooth delivery.
We'd recommend avoiding this vehicle, but if you've got your heart set on one, choose a 2003, 2004 or 2005 model to enjoy a Sunfire with the Ecotec, the model's best available engine.
User Reviews:Showing 1 through 10 of 449.00
Super reliable and sporty little car. - 2003 Pontiac Sunfire
By Ray Olson - October 29 - 7:58 pm
I got this car second-hand from a friend, so I know the entire history. Replaced the starter motor twice, the alternator once, brake pads three times, cooling fan once, several batteries, several sets of tires. Thats it. The car still looks, runs and drives just like new after 17 years and 212,000 miles. Great handling, fun to drive, decent power and good gas mileage. My only complaint is that the ABS system seems to screw up on ice and snow. I think Id be better off without it, but its a minor issue. I always buy cheap, old beaters and this is far and away the best one ever. I think this will be the first of my cars to crack 300,000 miles.
My 1st car - 2002 Pontiac Sunfire
By Thatsunfiredude - December 20 - 7:35 am
Bought this car used around July 2016, as every 1st time car buyer I was skeptical at 1st but when I drove it for the 1st time I loved it. Also the previous owner installed a Bluetooth radio so Im always jamming out. 😂 However Id say that around a month after I got the car the shift cable broke and it was a $200 fix including the part for it. Then a couple months later at around 175,000 miles the brakes were bad when I got this car ( I knew it but didnt have enough to get it fixed) so I finally took it to get it repaired and I had a brake fluid leak, my brake shoes, drums, pads, and rotors needed replacing so all of that came out to a $300 fix. Now the car drives sooo smooth. However the check engine light keeps coming on and sometimes when driving all the dashboard lights come on and Im pretty sure its a sensor error somewhere. Every part of this car I want to restore before I eventually sell it but for now I really love this car. I have a red 2002 se and still driving like a champ. Might have a few dents and sun damage but its a cool ass car. However room interior could be better. This car I can clearly tell was made for the younger generation. This car is a smart investment because if you have any problems its pretty cheap to fix than cars nowadays. 😂 Like they said in the Pontiac commercial. "The Pontiac sunfire, get one for yourself." Also, awesome on gas compared to a Honda. For an older car it sure keeps up with time. If you ever see these cars on the road especially any Pontiac brand that owner is probably proud of their car.
You Get what you Pay for. - 2003 Pontiac Sunfire
By Tami - December 31 - 10:10 am
Even though the car looks like a 40,000 dollar sportscar, it is about as good as a used car with a new paint job! Ive put more parts on that car in the first 50,000 miles than I put on my first car (used). I replaced two turn signal controls, the fuel pump, the left and the right power window motors, the pasanger seat adjusting handle, the heater temperature control and the seat belt lock. On top of that, you hear every sound outside. Its like riding a bus. Did I forget to mention that the car will slide on spit. If it rains slightly, you should buckle up and say your prayers, that is if the buckle works.
its been a long ride - 1997 Pontiac Sunfire
By almost done - December 25 - 11:33 am
at 180K + miles it still has the original alternator, original timing chain, replaced the battery maybe 3 times, replaced the brakes 2ce. Ive taken it places that are made for 4 x 4s, yet suffered only minor brush scrapes to the paint from the tumbleweeds. This car is legend in my office for the abuse it has taken. I live far from dealerships--never had the recall items replaced. Manual transmission has decent acceleration for 4 cylinder. Perfect size for 53"-510" person, very comfortable. Handles sudden stops well--had to slam the brakes and veer one eve to avoid a burro at 80 mph, slid and stopped without spinning or rolling.
Best car ever - 1997 Pontiac Sunfire
By kom_stat - December 24 - 8:16 am
I use my Sunfire as my work car. I practically abuse this car. I certainly dont baby it. It may get its oil changed every 8-9k, and couldnt tell you the last time I ever checked anything on it for maintenance. Its also been known to see the redline getting on the interstate. Been in two major accidents and now has over 210,000 miles and never given me any trouble. When I say never, I mean never. I havent repaired anything on this car other than body panels but that certainly isnt Pontiacs fault. Also has awesome performance for being an entry level compact car that gets 36mpg even with a lead foot.
Great car - 2005 Pontiac Sunfire
By Amanda - December 2 - 9:00 am
This is the 4th Sunfire I have owned. I have loved everything about this car. Due to a recent accident I no longer have this vehicle, which is why I am writting. My husband and I hit a telephone pole at approx 50 mph and even though the car suffered major damage we both walked away with only a small bruise. I am very happy with the way the interior of this car stood up. A lot of times you see cars that completely fall part this car is amazing! I just wish they still made them so I could have another new one.
Pontiac Headlight Problems - 2003 Pontiac Sunfire
By smithjonathond - November 11 - 10:00 am
The car is a lemon...I have continuous headlight problems.
Awesome car! - 2003 Pontiac Sunfire
By Krystle Heartso - October 16 - 10:00 am
I just got my 2003 Pontiac Sunfire, its awesome. It rides well and its fun. I dont like the older ones, but this of is defanitly nice. I had a problem the day I got it with the air conditioner, but I took it back to get it fixed.
Sunfire GT - 1997 Pontiac Sunfire
By Wyatt and nik - October 2 - 10:00 am
I bought my sunfire second hand. I havent had any real problems. Great car. Great on gas. Real sporty. So far I have had to change the wheel bearings in the front and soon I will need to change the plate on top of the front wheels suspention. They are ceasing the coils at times and you can hear it. It is not dangerous just anoying sound until I can get them replaced. I love my car.
Great car overall - 2005 Pontiac Sunfire
By ToddF - August 26 - 2:56 pm
I have owned this car 3 1/2 years and driven it 25,700 miles, mostly to and from work. I love it. It has been trouble free, except for a few blown fuses (turn signals and lighter). For the price, I couldnt ask for much more. My complaints about the car are very cheap upholstery(even for a cheap car), lousy cup holders (worthless for anything other than a 12 oz can) and for me the seats are uncomfortable on long trips (although they are fine for short trips) I do avoid taking this vehicle on long trips because of the seats. The car has developed a few squeaks and rattles in the suspension. Overall, though, I love this car and plan to keep it for as many years as it remains trouble-free