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