By Jeremy Cato
The Pontiac Sunbird and its Chevrolet twin the Cavalier were first
introduced in 1982 and together they’ve been top sellers in Canada and the
U.S. for the better part of two decades.
Why? Reasonable pricing and easy availability have been two key reasons,
for in other areas neither of these models from 1990-94 were as technically
sophisticated and roomy as many rival import subcompacts of the same era.
That’s not to say the Sunbird’s comfort level isn’t adequate. It is. But
it’s certainly not above average in any way. The same holds true for
handling which is capable but not inspiring. Might as well throw in the
early four-cylinder engines, which were able to deliver only so-so power and
fuel economy. That is, especially if mated to the three-speed automatic transmission, which robs the car of some get-up-and-go and makes the engine slurp down a bit more gas. What’s more, some of the Sunbird’s competitors offered four-speed automatics which were smoother and easier on the fuel bill.
The best engine choice would be one of the later four-cylinders produced
closer to 1995, when an updated version of the Sunbird/Cavalier arrived.
Early four-bangers were rated at just 96 horsepower, while later ones ranged
to 110. Pontiac also offered a turbocharged four-cylinder (165 hp.) for a
time, and a 3.1-litre V6 (140 hp.).
Body styles? The Sunbird was commonly available as a coupe, sedan and two-door convertible. By 1991, the turbocharged engine had been retired. By 1992, anti-lock brakes had become standard and a new fuel injection system added more power to the base engine – 100 hp. That same year the convertible top gained a new glass rear window.
There were other tweaks made to the Sunbird lineup from ’90-94, but none
completely resolved all the quality and reliability issues which were not
uncommon with this model. If you’re searching for a used car, you’ll find
Sunbirds available for a fair price. Just be certain to get a thorough
mechanical inspection before signing on the dotted line.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.