Spannerhead Dot

What Might Have Been:
The ’92-’95 Pontiac Bonneville

April 17, 2013 by Matt

Pontiac Bonneville

It had so much going for it; if only Pontiac had had the resolve, resources and most importantly, the vision to really make this car what it needed to be.

Who knows; perhaps they had the desire to but were simply hamstrung by the corporate culture at GM. All I remember is that when I first became aware of the 1992-1995 Bonneville, while I was pleased with the looks (until a 1996 refresh spoiled them), I was thoroughly disappointed that Pontiac had chosen to build it on a staid FWD platform shared with the contemporary Olds 88 and Buick LeSabre, and that they had declined to offer a manual transmission option.

Would either choice have made any economic sense? Highly unlikely. Pontiac made a killing in the ’90s selling cars that promised excitement based on their looks but routinely wound up near the bottom of comparison tests when pitted against their rivals, helping to consolidate the claim that the average American consumer was more drawn to the appearance of dynamic competence rather than the actual presence of it. So there’s no reason to believe RWD would have been a selling point to the typical Pontiac buyer of the era. Same with the option of a stickshift—the sales of three-pedaled versions of more recent cars such as the Lincoln LS and Cadillac CTS have had enormous difficulty rising out of the single-digit percentages.

Pontiac Bonneville

So from a business standpoint, with the 1992-1995 Bonneville, the blinders-on, here-and-now mindset prevailed, and Pontiac squandered one of their best opportunities to fundamentally alter the brand’s perception. GM had wanted for years to position Pontiac as an “American BMW,” the luxury + performance sweet spot of the GM constellation of marques, and as much as the division’s development team may have wanted the same, they were always constrained by the platform-sharing dictates of upper management. GM’s corporate philosophy seemed focused on giving the customer what they wanted at present, never educating, never driving, never leading, never generating excitement by exceeding the customer’s expectations in opening his eyes to a more complete, satisfying driving experience the way Pontiac’s erstwhile German competitors did.

Pontiac Bonneville

It’s really a shame. If only its handling and general refinement had lived up to its looks, the 1992-1995 Bonneville could have been the perfect BMW 5-series fighter. From the outside, it’s a very handsome car; the fascia and resolution of the C-pillar and decklid are particularly well done. Sure, some of the details are crude, like the awkward position of the side mirrors and the overwrought body cladding, but it’s a great start. If only Pontiac had been set free to turn the supercharged, 225-hp V6 90°, hook it up to the rear wheels via a 5- or 6-speed manual transmission and invest in suspension tuning, they would have drawn a crowd of enthusiasts overnight. It turned out to be another missed opportunity for Pontiac to be who they really wanted to be.

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Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting key decisions I wish automakers had made differently, for divers reasons. Read the other installments here:

Filed under: Pontiac, What Might Have Been


  1. John D says:

    What you are suggesting would have put it head-to-head with the ’94-96 Chevy Impala…which had and still has quite the following for just the reasons you described. It really put the Impala on the map from an enthusiast point of view. I still notice them around and think what a great package that car is…

    • Matt says:

      Maybe. The Impala SS was a size larger and more traditionally American; I think the Bonneville, done properly, could’ve made inroads on the German competitions, or at least given GM a shred of credibility with the enthusiast crowd.

  2. Matt says:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. I love my 96 Bonneville se, but just wish it was rwd like the F and B body cars. Rwd 3.8 V6 with a 5-speed like the base model firebird!

  3. Matt says:

    A two door coupe model with rwd would have been a great competitor to the Ford Thunderbird of the ’90s!

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