2002 Pontiac Sunfire GT coupe - A compact with some zip

. This gives the subcompact coupe a fair amount of zip, particularly when coupled with the five-speed German manual transmission. Quiet operation is said to be one of its more noteworthy features, and I would have to agree. A high compression ratio (10:1) also lets the powerplant deliver a lot of torque at low speeds, further boosting the car's driveability.

Except for its new Ecotec engine and Getrag shifter, the mechanics of the Sunfire basically have not changed much over the last eight years. The strut suspension on the coupe is simple but seems to do the job on all but the roughest roads. Roll bars front and rear keep the car relatively flat through moderate turns. The rack-and-pinion steering seemed a little mushy for such a small car, but isn't objectionable. The front 10.2-in. vented discs and 7.87-in. drums in back do an adequate job of stopping the 2,771-lb car. ABS is standard. The GT also comes with 16-in. cast-aluminum wheels carrying performance tires which were grippy even in the relatively cold weather that characterized our time with the car.

The exterior on the coupe comes outfitted with a rear spoiler, fascias front and rear, and side moldings which combine to give the car an aggressive look. Buyers can get even more of a "look fast" appearance by adding an aerodynamic ground-effects package featuring urethane bodyside moldings, fascia extensions, a ram-air hood, and body-side graphics. Also available is an even more radical-looking rear-wing spoiler.

The strong points of the interior included a well-laid-out instrument panel, nice looking dash, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The cloth seats were comfortable enough during commutes. Other reviewers have complained that the rear bench-type seat is cramped and hard, but the Labrador Retriever that tried it during our review didn't seem to care. Besides, our experience is that rear seats in small coupes are seldom used and aren't really a concern for the people most likely to buy these cars. Perhaps the best thing about the rear seat is that it folds down completely to give more room for trunk storage.

Our test vehicle came with a $2,690 option package that included refinements such as remote-keyless entry, power-door locks, mirrors, windows, and glass sunroof; controlled-cycle wipers, cruise control,

200-W Monsoon sound system, and a security system that flashes the lights and honks the horn. Air conditioning is standard, as is a tilt-steering wheel, electronic-trunk release, and auxiliary power outlet.

Overall, the Sunfire coupe is worth considering as a small sport coupe, particularly now as dealers are discounting it significantly. The base price for the vehicle we tested was $16,855, which climbed to $18,775 after adding in the option package and destination charge.

Lee Teschler