Home » One Gallon Of Displacement Each: 2002 Ford Mustang vs 2002 Pontiac Bonneville

One Gallon Of Displacement Each: 2002 Ford Mustang vs 2002 Pontiac Bonneville

Sbsd 1 24 2024
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Welcome back! Today we’re looking at two cars with the same engine displacement: 3.8 liters, or between 231 and 232 cubic inches, or if you prefer, just a little over a gallon. They’re similar designs, but from crosstown rivals, and installed in very different cars.

But first, we should wrap up yesterday’s Mitsubishi V6 faceoff. Sometimes, I can sort of guess which way the voting is going to go based on the comments, but this was not one of those times. Lots of love (or at least lukewarm support) for the Shadow in the comment section, but it didn’t translate to votes. We love it when you read, and it’s even better when you participate by voting, but a comment explaining your vote is the best. This is like math class: You have to show your work.

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As it happens, I disagree with the silent majority. I don’t dislike the third-generation Eclipse in the way some of you seem to, but I really dig the Shadow/Sundance twins, and this is a good spec. I don’t even mind that it’s all white, though it occurs to me that “White Shadow” sounds like a second-tier superhero, like one of the Mystery Men or something.

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Now then: Units of measure are a funny thing. It’s not something that most places in the world struggle with; everything’s metric, and that’s that. But here in the US, we have stubbornly clung to our inches and quarts and acres, except when it comes to manufacturing, where the metric system is used incompletely. Most American cars built since the 1990s or so will require metric tools, but sometimes only for the engine; chassis components may still be in inches. Or vice versa. It gets really confusing sometimes.

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However you want to measure them, the engines in these two cars have more similarities than differences: Both are 90-degree V6s, both are overhead-valve designs, both have seen use in front-and rear-wheel-drive applications. The cars they’re installed in are very different, though. And there’s more to a car than the engine anyway. Let’s check them out.

2002 Ford Mustang – $3,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.8 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Sacramento, CA

Odometer reading: 109,000 miles

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Operational status: Current tags and smog certificate, so I guess it runs well

Base-model Mustangs are strange cars. They have the look and feel of their more powerful siblings, but without the power to back it up. All hat and no cattle, I believe is the expression. But Mustangs weren’t really high-performance cars to begin with, and a base engine has always been a part of the equation. And although I haven’t checked the sales data, I imagine you’d find the base models sell a whole lot better.

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In fact, in 1974, the first year of the Mustang II, there was no V8 option at all. The fastest Mustang on offer featured a wheezy 2.8 liter V6 making only 115 horsepower. The V8 returned a year later, but it didn’t actually start to help matters in the performance department for almost another decade. Base models, meanwhile, suffered along with a 2.3 liter four-cylinder engine, all through the Mustang II and Fox body days. In 1994, Ford finally banished the little engine that couldn’t and replaced it with the Essex 3.8 liter V6, making more power than the new-for-1975 V8.

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This “New Edge” Mustang couples the Essex V6 to a four-speed automatic. It’s not ideal for performance, but again, base-model Mustangs with automatics date all the way back to the beginning. It has low miles, current tags, and a recent smog certificate. I’m always a little leery of cars with these cheap Wal-Mart seat covers; I worry about what they may be hiding. But the rest of the interior is so clean that I think these covers might actually be doing what it says on the box – protecting the upholstery, not covering up flaws.

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Outside, it looks OK, but not great. It has a scrape on one side of the front bumper, and a scrape and wrinkle behind the right door. It looks as if someone was inept at maneuvering it in and out of a narrow garage. Worse than the scrape, however, is the knowledge that 2002 Mustangs were available in some really great colors, and whoever ordered this one originally chose boring silver.

2002 Pontiac Bonneville SLE – $2,195

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.8 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, FWD

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Location: Bloomington, IN

Odometer reading: 154,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives great

Pontiac’s big sedan named after a dry lake bed dates all the way back to 1958, but even before that, the name was used on a convertible version of the Pontiac Star Chief, and a really cool bubble-topped show car. The best-known Bonnevilles, however, were the V8-powered monsters of the 1960s and early 70s, and the front-wheel-drive models introduced in 1987, powered by increasingly-improved versions of the 3.8 liter V6.

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This 2002 Bonneville features a 3800 Series II engine, sending 205 horsepower to the front wheels through a 4T 65E automatic transmission. It’s a fantastically reliable and durable engine, with only a few potential trouble spots, mostly centered around the plastic intake manifold and valve covers. There was a recall for the valve covers; it’s worth finding out if that work has been done on this one. The seller does say it runs and drives great at the moment.

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This is not the greatest era for General Motors interior design. It’s too busy-looking, too cheap and flimsy. This car has “all the bells and whistles,” but they’re all controlled by crappy little gray plastic buttons. At least it all looks like it’s in decent shape. This car is afflicted with a seat cover as well, and I have less confidence that there isn’t some torn leather or a popped seam under there.

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Outside, it looks good – until you get to that left rear wheel well. That is a lot of rust. This is a Midwestern car, after all, with all the crispy edges and possible structural problems that go with that distinction. And the left side always gets it worse, I think because it gets sprayed with salty water from oncoming traffic.

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These old pushrod V6s are technological dinosaurs, but I love them for that reason. They’re mechanically simple, low-stress, and more efficient than you might guess, especially with nice tall gearing to take advantage of the low-end torque. They have low power output for their size, but keep clean oil and coolant in them, and they’ll just keep spinning. Which one do you prefer?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Stephen Walter Gossin
Stephen Walter Gossin
1 month ago

Bonneville all the way.

Great Showdown as always, Mark – thank you!

Richard Anderson
Richard Anderson
1 month ago

The Pontiac might have an awful interior but in all honesty it isn’t that much worse than the Mustang. If I had to spend any time in either one at least the seats in the Pontiac would be almost comfortable.

Marc Smith
Marc Smith
1 month ago

I prefer the FWD of the Potniac to the RWD of the ‘Stang….better in the snow.

Robert Stanley McLaughlin
Robert Stanley McLaughlin
1 month ago

I friend at work showed me his 2002 Bonneville back then. I had to laugh out loud at the Fischer-Price interior. Literally pathetic

Here4thecars
Here4thecars
1 month ago

Not a fan of either car, and although I like the 3800 in the Pontiac I had to go with the newer, lower-mile Mustang.

Benkone
Benkone
1 month ago

I was gonna go with the Bonny until I saw the rust. That mustang is as boring as it gets.

Benkone
Benkone
1 month ago
Reply to  Benkone

I really need to start reading everyone else’s comments before I post.

Erik McCullough
Erik McCullough
1 month ago
Reply to  Benkone

bingo 100% agree!

rctothefuture
rctothefuture
1 month ago

For everyone hating on the Bonnie’s rust, it’s sadly a common problem with this model. GM used some foam that attracted and held water and rust did its thing.

That being said you can cut it out or spray some converter on it and let it be. That 3800 will run until the chassis rusts out from under you.

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
1 month ago

I’ll take the Bonny! Way better than Ford

Gene1969
Gene1969
1 month ago

The Mustang would make my soul happy. I’ll go with that.

Cyko9
Cyko9
1 month ago

If the Pontiac weren’t rusty, I might’ve thought again about it. Both aren’t cars I’d really keep, but the Mustang barely wins out.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
1 month ago

I was ready to vote for the Bonny until I scrolled down and saw the rust. Never mind, Novocain Mustang it is.

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
1 month ago
Reply to  ColoradoFX4

Exactly! Why bait us with the wonderful 3800 in what was a pretty solid car (“Wider is better!”), and then pull the rug out by mentioning the rust at the very end?! I feel like I’ve been trolled, lol.

Myk El
Myk El
1 month ago

Ah, two cars I’ve had as rentals in exceedingly similar specs. I’ll take the Mustang, I guess, if I have to.

Turbotictac
Turbotictac
1 month ago

As someone with a 2004 Mach 1 Mustang with 116k miles I wouldn’t call 109k especially low, although I suppose by comparison it is here. I would choose that one. I have owned a 2004 V6 and now the Mach so I know the platform well enough. The Pontiac is probably fine especially with a 3800 series but I would choose the creature I already know the quirks of.

Studdley
Studdley
1 month ago

Is that nautical gallon or Roman gallon?

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
1 month ago

The New Edge Mustang is the ugliest Mustang. And with the V6/slushbox combo, it’s also the worst spec.

And the Bonneville is cheaper, has comparable performance, is more practical and has better fuel economy

So the Bonneville gets my vote.

Zepharious
Zepharious
1 month ago

I’d take the Bonneville too, but if it has rust on the panels, the frame is probably toast.

Turbotictac
Turbotictac
1 month ago

Not often I see someone call the New Edge the ugliest but I do think it is one of the least Mustang looking Mustangs…which may be why it is my favorite.

Greensoul
Greensoul
1 month ago

This gen of Mustang always looked like it was wearing an ill fitting baseball cap to me. Bonneville on this for the 3800 alone. I’ve noticed a few of the GM’s from this platform and era I’ve seen have some funky rust going on around the fuel filler area like this one does.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 month ago

I assume you knew there was a White Shadow TV Show back in the 70s. A retired basketball player turns inner city coach, and rescues an inner city team from losers to winners on and off the court.

Greensoul
Greensoul
1 month ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

There was actually a weekend marathon a few months ago of that show on Catchy TV. That show had to have had one of the most annoying theme songs of all time. I thought of that show when I seen the white Shadow, too

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 month ago
Reply to  Greensoul

I mostly was aware of its existence as I was not a fan. But we don’t have Catchy TV network, It seems where there was once 1 oldies network now there are many splitting the old shows. And DishTV having lost a few catalogs I don’t get many oldies.

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
1 month ago
Reply to  Greensoul

Damn, and here I was going to say that it was one of the more iconic theme songs by the legendary Mike Post. Not that he ever topped “Hill Street Blues”, but he still had one hell of a track record.

Gene1969
Gene1969
1 month ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Thank you! It was an awesome show. Remember the one where they built a public bathroom in a park? Epic!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 month ago
Reply to  Gene1969

Past the title I remember nothing

Gene1969
Gene1969
1 month ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

That’s ok. It was the 70’s. I understand.

Xpumpx
Xpumpx
1 month ago

right wheel drive takes it

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
1 month ago
Reply to  Xpumpx

So you voted for the Bonneville?

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 month ago

I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for either.

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