The Pontiac Sunfire was introduced in the 1995 model year as the compact car to replace the Sunbird. Not only was the name changed, but dramatic styling changes were included as well. The new styling was shared with the Chevrolet Cavalier, though Chevrolet did not change the Cavalier name. Also during this time, the J platform was updated structurally to meet more stringent safety standards. The Sunfire could be purchased as a coupé or a convertible. However, the convertible models were not sold after the year 2000, when Pontiac introduced a refreshed Sunfire. The Sunfire name was recycled from the Canada-only Asüna Sunfire sold only in 1993.
The Pontiac Sunfire was available in standard and GT trim. In the US, only the coupe was available from 2003 to 2005, becoming the only two-door car on Pontiac's lineup between the demise of the Pontiac Firebird in 2002 and the relaunch of the Pontiac GTO in 2004. The sedan continued to be sold in Canada until the end of the overall production run.
Sunfires were built in Lordstown, Ohio (until 2004, before retooling to build the Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac Pursuit models) or Ramos Arizpe, Mexico. Production of the Sunfire ended in June 2005. Over 36,000 Sunfires were sold in the US and 33,724 units were sold in Canada in 2004, each for approximately US$11,500. The Sunfire has, as of 2006, not yet been replaced in the US market, while GM Canada sells a version of the Chevrolet Cobalt as the Pontiac Pursuit. GM will replace the Sunfire in the United States with the Pontiac G5 for 2007.
The base model had the 2.2 L engine from 1995 until 2002. The sporty GT model had a much more powerful 2.3 L engine in 1995, which was replaced by an even more powerful 2.4 L engine in 1996. In 2003, both the 2.2 L and the 2.4 L engines were replaced by the new 2.2 L Ecotec. The Ecotec was also available as an option in late 2002.