2002 Pontiac Sunfire SL 4-Door 2.2L SPFI Pushrod
Decent, basic transportation
The passenger side ball joint has a small hole in the seal, allowing the grease to run out. Unfortunately, it's a sealed unit, so it needs to be replaced. Fortunately it is still under warranty.
Nothing else has failed so far.
I use this car for a daily commute of 58 kilometers in each direction. I find the seat to be quite comfortable, and the ride is reasonable for a small car.
At highway speeds in fifth gear, the engine noise is minimal, and road noise is tolerable. My car came with Goodyear Conquest 14" tires, and I have found that using a better tire reduces tire noise at highway speeds. Wind noise is always noticeable, but never intrusive. On higher fan speeds, the air moving through the ducts can get rather loud.
I purchased the optional CD stereo system with 6 speakers, and am very satisfied with its performance. It produces nice clear highs from the front speakers, and the rear 6"X9" speakers produce adequate bass for most types of music.
The heating and ventilation system works very effectively, although as I mentioned it can be rather loud on higher fan speeds. I don't have air conditioning, so I can't comment on its performance.
The engine idles fairly smoothly, although not with the refinement of some newer overhead cam designs. Under acceleration, it can get quite noisy if you bring the revs up over 3000 RPM, but seems to quiet down once you're on top gear. I have noticed that you can hear a fair bit of valve-train noise between about 1500 and 2500RPM.
The transmission is a Getrag 5-speed manual. I like the fact that reverse gear is synchronized. Occasionally it is a bit stiff going into first gear, and I have to double clutch. Shifting is quite sluggish when it is cold (below freezing), but becomes much smoother with a positive feel when warmed up. In the summer months, shifting is never an issue. GM claims that I should never need to change the transmission fluid in this particular trans-axle, but I think I'm going to try some synthetic in it when I get near the 100,000km mark. Maybe this will help my cold shifting issues.
The handling of the car is fair. My only complaint is that if you take off in a bit of a hurry it tends to make the front end hop. This can occur during dry or wet conditions. It does seem to be related to the tires though, as I didn't experience this last summer when I had different tires installed (16" Eagle RS-A).
I find the car has a rather sporty look for an entry level car - mainly from the front. Inside, I'm not particularly fond of the seat fabric (which is also on the door panels), but it seems to be durable so far. The premium model Sunfires came with nicer materials on the seats and doors. The dashboard is fairly well laid out. The gages are very legible, and the orange back-lighting makes them very easy to read for night driving. My only complaint is the location of the ventilation controls - right behind your coffee or water bottle. They are very low on the dash and if you place anything in the cup holder, it is very difficult to adjust them. The standard armrest on the center console is a nice touch, and it seems to be just the right height for me.
My wife finds that entry and exit aren't as easy as some other cars we tried, most notably the Toyota Echo. I find this especially true in the back seat. I also find that the back seat feels very low to sit in, and legroom is in short supply, even with average sized people sitting up front. The trunk is very spacious. I would have appreciated a split folding rear seat. I noticed that they are now standard on 2003 models.
On very cold days, the dashboard seems to rattle and vibrate somewhere inside until the car begins to warm up. I suspect that it's just the plastic parts contracting from the cold, but it still can be rather annoying for the first few minutes in the morning. Fortunately, it has that good stereo to help compensate.
Overall, I am quite happy with the purchase. The dealer was pleasant to deal with for the sale. I like to do my own maintenance, so I haven't had to deal with their service department yet. I will get them to deal with the ball joint before my warranty expires this summer, so I guess I'll find out at that time. For the money, it offers a fair bit of car and features. Fuel economy is decent, as I tend to average between 7 and 8 liters per 100km, with about 80% highway driving between 110 and 120 km/h.
I am just hoping that its reliability continues after the warranty expires. I plan on putting on at least 400,000kms while owning it, so I guess I'll find out.
In general, not quite as refined as some of the competition, but priced accordingly (with incentives factored into the equation). Good basic low-maintenance transportation from a domestic manufacturer.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 7th February, 2003
This is actually an addition to the review. Today (April 5/03) I took the car into the dealer to have the ball joint replaced. When I called to make the appointment, the girl who answered the phone seemed somewhat "short" with me, wondering who told me it needed a ball joint. She seemed somewhat reluctant to make the appointment at first, unless I had it in for a diagnostic check beforehand. I assured her that the large hole in the boot (which developed over the winter) isn't supposed to be there. Finally, she allowed me to make the appointment.
The person I dealt with at the dealer was much more co-operative with me, and gave prompt service.
The technician who worked on the car seemed to be fairly careful with his work, but in order to get his air hammer where he needed it to be, he pulled hard enough on the components still attached to noticeably stretch the brake flex hose, and even bend the bracket which attaches it to the car. He didn't seem to be very concerned about it - probably since it wasn't "his" car. At least he bent the bracket back when he was done.
They did wash the car for me, and it was returned without any greasy fingerprints added.
Overall, I was pleased with the service I received at the counter, but was quite unhappy with the workmanship displayed by the technician. They also took it for a "test drive" after the work was done, and judging from how much everything in my trunk moved around, I think that they drove rather aggressively. I can't blame them too much though - if it's going to break, it's better for it to happen to them than let the customer find out.
The mileage on the car is now 42,655km, and no further repairs have been required. I inspected the brakes last week, and found that the front ones are approximately 40% worn, and the rears about 20%. The tires are wearing well with no distinct wear patterns developing. The maintenance to date has been very low-cost. I hope that it remains this way throughout its lifetime (allowing for normal wear and tear, of course).