With frugal buyers in mind, Pontiac launched their budget-friendly Sunfire to shoppers interested in cheap, basic transportation. Debuted for the 1995 model year, Pontiac introduced the Sunfire as the compact car that would replace the Sunbird in the compact car segment of Pontiac's lineup. More than just the name was changed, but very dramatic styling changes were also unveiled. The all new styling was shared with the Chevy Cavalier, but General Motors didn't change the Cavalier name. The J platform was also updated structurally to meet the more stringent safety standards of the time.
Initially the Sunfire was offered as a 2-door coupe or convertible in either base or GT trims. The Pontiac Sunfire was available as a coupe, convertible or as a sedan, and all three types came in the standard SE trim level. The coupe and convertible offered an upscale GT trim level. This trim level came standard with the 2.4 liter LD9 engine, dual exhaust, 16' alloy wheels and a front fascia that ‘more aggressive looking'. After the 2002 model year the GT trim level was dropped. Until 1999, the convertible was only available in the SE trim level, but it was then offered in the GT trim. After the 2000 year the convertible was discontinued.
The base Sunfire had the 2.2 L engine from 1995 until 2002 with a 115-hp I4 engine and the GT upped to a 2.4-liter 155-hp I4. An optional, much more powerful 2.3 L Quad 4 engine was available on the GT trim level in 1995 and was replaced by the 2.4 L LD9 engine in 1996. Both the 2.3 and 2.4 liter engines were optional in the 2 and 4-door SE trim level. The 2.2L and the 2.4 L engines were replaced by the 2.2 L Ecotec engine. This would be the only powertrain available for the remaining production period. This Ecotec engine was also an option for the 2002 model year.
Until 2004 the Sunfire was constructed in Lordstown, Ohio and in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico. Lansing, Michigan was the home of the convertible production. More than 36,000 Sunfires were sold in the U.S. and a total of 33,724 units were sold in Canada in 2004. Each of these models was priced around $11,500.
The Sunfire was especially popular with the younger shoppers, more specifically, young women. Sharing a platform with the Cavalier, the Sunfire had a very sport look with a rear spoiler and low roofline. It was also popular with its low price tag and good fuel economy. The Sunfire also was extremely light, and it didn't take much for this peppy little compact to go fast.
The Sunfire underwent major updates, once in 2000 and once again in 2003. The coupe was the only model available in the U.S. from 2003 until 2005. In 2000 the convertible was dropper, and once the Firebird was dropped, the Sunfire filled the role as Pontiac's only two-door car until the GTO arrived in 2004. The Sunfire was now only available with a 2.2-liter I4 that achieved 140-hp and had only few standard features beyond AC, rear defrost , and a rear spoiler. Plenty of convenience options were available though.
In Canada and Mexico the sedan continued to be sold until the end of the production run in 2005. In June of 2005 production of the Pontiac Sunfire coupe ended and was replaced with the G5 for 2007.By Jessica Donaldson