Pontiac Bonneville GXP

This might be the first stripped-down sedan in which you’d ever take an interest. All that body-side cladding that had clung to the Bonneville since the 1980s, inspired by hot-rod Mercedes-Benzes of the Miami Vice era? Stripped away like so much waxy buildup. That 3.8-liter V-6 with a supercharger wheezing away on top of it? Stripped and tossed onto the ash heap of history.

The GXP is actually the premium model of the made-over ’04 Bonneville, and it’s now a car for grown-ups, a lot like the Oldsmobile Aurora that we remember so fondly. Just as in the Aurora, there’s a DOHC Northstar V-8 now driving the Bonneville GXP’s front wheels, and an added benefit is the same four-speed automatic transmission with adaptive shift logic. It’s a responsive powertrain that makes you wonder how we ever put up with the soggy supercharged V-6, and it gets this 3790-pound car from 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds.

The Bonneville always has handled decently, and now Pontiac has dramatically increased structural rigidity at the front of the car and added high-pressure, gas-charged dampers, big brakes, and 235/50WR-18 Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires. As before, the Bonneville is still meant for running down the turnpike, belly to the ground. But now you can hammer this big front-wheel-drive car over a narrow, winding secondary road, as we did on the way to Jalama Beach, and it stays on top of its tires like a sport sedan.

Unfortunately, the GXP’s makeover didn’t extend to the Bonneville’s interior, which still looks as if a tub of plastic had been whipped into a froth. There are ergonomic issues as well, such as limited seat travel and an accelerator pedal with a tip-in that’s too aggressive.

As a whole, the Bonneville GXP is a strong piece. Rear-wheel drive is coming into fashion for cars such as this, but the Bonneville shows us that the standard set by the Detroit-label, full-size, front-wheel-drive sedan is far higher than critics realize.

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