Having owned nothing but imports -- my current drive is a '99 Maxima -- I wouldn't normally look twice at the Bonneville. In fact, I hadn't even heard of this car until an accident with my Maxima put me in a rental SLE for almost a month. When I went to the rental agency, they were out of midsized so they "upgraded" me to a "luxury" Bonneville. Without knowing the car, I protested and the rental agency guy told me I could bring it back in a few days if I still hated it. Well, I returned it rather reluctantly at the end of the full four weeks.
It seemed like absolutely everything about this car took some getting used to. I hated the vents in the dash, the "jet fighter" orange instrument display, the foglight treatment up front. But, in all honesty, that was it. These are minor things really and, after a while, I began to even like the orange display.
So after living with this car for four weeks, what can I say about it? Overall, I have to say that I didn't realize that American-made cars could be this good. The last few rentals I had were Altimas and Grand Ams - and the latter paled against the former to my mind. But this car is no Grand Am. Why it doesn't sell better is beyond me -- perhaps better marketing or a lower list price would at least get it on some people's "to consider" lists.
On to the specifics.
1. It's surprisingly nimble for a car of its size and weight. It drives with poise and corners well at speed. No wallowing, bobbing or leaning here. Its construction is very solid and tight and the SLE's suspension is actually quite sporty. The non-supercharged 3.8L launches this car very smartly too -- 205 hp and its ample torque are available at quite low revs. And the auto transmission shifts extremely smoothly too.
2. Fuel economy is a big surprise -- I got about 24 mpg in combined driving. Very impressive - especially when you consider how comfortably this car can carry 5 people and all their cargo too.
3. Interior room is very good. This is no saloon car but there are few bigger than it out there today. I liked the power driver's seat -- mine was leather -- and found it very comfortable. Headroom was good but not great. I'm 6'1" and I didn't have problems. But I think my Maxima has more headroom. On the other hand, my Maxima has less clearance under the front seats for the rear passengers. On balance, though, I'd prefer the headroom.
4. The trunk is massive and accessible - loadability from bumper height is excellent. Plus the remote key fob fully opens the trunk lid -- to vertical -- without any other intervention. My wife absolutely loved this feature!
5. Safety is excellent. All Bonnevilles have ABS and four airbags up front - front and sides. My model also had a very good traction control system that worked very well on wet roads. Traction is excellent and the standard 235-17-55 Eagle RSAs grip very well. Braking was very good. Visibility too -- although I wish it had HID headlights. Finally, the solidity of the construction and the weight also inspire confidence - confidence supported by glowing crash test ratings from both the NHTSA and IIHS. The latter gives the Bonneville a "best in class" designation.
6. Quality. Okay, this was a big surprise to me. This was no rattle trap. The fit and finish were excellent, no exposed plastic mold flanges, no squeaks or rattles and no signs of shoddy assembly. Alright, I thought some of the plastic components looked chintzy but that's being a little picky. This is a very well executed and assembled car.
The air conditioner worked very well -- GM is known for this -- and while mine was a warm weather rental, I liked the fact that it had heated seats.
This car comes with a host of other features that I liked. Among them, the fact that accessory power remained on for a few minutes after removing the key from the ignition was my favorite. The Onstar feature appealed to me but, being a rental, I couldn't/didn't use it. Finally thoughts here: the "Driver's Information Center" was well set up and easy to use; the stereo produced excellent sound; and I really liked the fact that the ignition was mounted on the dash, not the steering column.
My overall impression was so positive that I actually miss the Bonneville and, while I love my Maxima, I really would trade today -- but I've got another year to go on my lease. I've since done some research around the net on this car and have concluded that the Bonneville stacks up quite favorably against cars like the Avalon, the Intrepid/Concorde and the Crown Victoria/Grand Marquis. Once you check the price and equipment list and consider the excellent reliability record of the 3.8L series II engine and GM transmissions, the Bonneville looks very good indeed. When my Maxima lease ends, I'll be looking at GM's financing rate - if it's still 0%, this car will be a no-brainer for me.
Amount Paid (US$):
2002Model and Options: