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The Sunfire has the most bang for the buck in the 2003 Economy Car class if quick acceleration is your top criteria.

2003 Pontiac Sunfire Coupe Road Test
It's a looker

By Bill Roebuck

The Sunfire is certainly the sportiest looker of the economy cars we've tested recently. It's always had a sleek appearance, and Pontiac improved it for 2003 with new front grille, hood and rear decklid, as well as 60/40 split folding rear seats. Side body cladding also now appears on this top-seller.

General Motors expects these improvements to maintain Sunfire's popularity -- between 40,000 and 45,000 of them (and another 50,000 Chevrolet Cavaliers off the same platform) are predicted to be sold in the 2003 model year in Canada.

The Sunfire's performance matches its looks. The handling is steady and firm, and the ride is smooth and quiet on the highway. The engine rattles somewhat at low speeds, though.

The coupe is easily the fastest car in this group. Its 0-100 km/h time is 8.0 seconds, just about as fast as the PT Turbo Cruiser (see Family Vehicles). It's also faster than the PT Turbo in the 80-120 km/h passing acceleration test at 6.0 seconds, compared to 6.7 seconds.

However, that accolade is diminished by the fact it was the poorest in the braking tests -- taking more than six metres further than the best in the class to reach a stop.

Its 2.2-litre engine, the largest in this group, puts out 140 hp, 25 more than last year's model. The new Ecotec engine has the poorest city fuel economy in this category, odd considering it's linked to a smooth-shifting, five-speed manual transmission.

Despite the Sunfire's mid-range pricing, it was not equipped with any power options, nor did it have air conditioning. The radio in our tester was a basic unit with no cassette or CD player.

The fit and finish of the exterior didn't garner any compliments from our team. A few of the gaps between body panels were wide or inconsistent, and the lamp lenses didn't sit flush to the body as they did on other models in this group.

The 2003 Sunfire delivers more sporty performance and good looks than ever, all for under $16,000.

* Price as tested: $15,970

© Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2002.

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