New Car Review

Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Convertible

by John Heilig


ENGINE:            5.7-liter V-8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 305 hp @ 5,200 rpm/335 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:      18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, 17.6 mpg test
WHEELBASE:         101.1 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    193.8 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    52.0 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     74.5 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       3,605 lbs
FUEL CAPACITY:     15.5 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  8 cu. ft. (est.)
TIRES:             P245/50ZR16
INSTRUMENTS:       Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                   water temperature, oil pressure, 
                   battery voltage, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:         Power windows, power door locks, 
                   power mirrors, cruise control, 
                   air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio 
                   with cassette and remote CD, 
                   traction control, four-wheel 
                   disc brakes with anti-lock braking, 
                   dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:     $31,565	

The Pontiac Firebird has always suffered a little bit from comparison with its platform mate, the Chevrolet Camaro. Camaro's sales are usually higher because it's a Chevy and there are more Chevy dealers around. Camaro also gets a lot of ink, even though the cars are virtually identical under the skin.

Firebird retains its individuality through its unique styling, which as served it in good stead. Firebird styling has always tended to be more dramatic and there were even times when you could get one with a big bird painted on the hood. Camaros, on the other hand, have tended to be more conservative. Although conservative and dramatic in describing these two cars are not very far apart.

The Firebird has an extended nose and pop-up headlights and a look that is unique to itself. You can tell the Firebird from the rear as well with mosquito-eye-like coverings over the tail light lenses that give the car its own unique look.

Firebird has also had its own spoilers that cup the air. It's probably one of the more efficient spoilers on a street ar today.

The cars are similar for 1998 as well. Our tester had the 5.7-liter LS1 engine that is a derivative of the Corvette engine. It is rated at 305 horsepower which is far more than the car needs.

This engine drives the rear wheels through a four-speed automatic gearbox. "Automatic gearbox," you'll say. "Why not a manual?" The automatic is very good for this car. You can shift it if you want. You can leave it in Drive and drive it hard or conservatively. An automatic in a car like this is probably the best choice unless you're going racing. If you had a five-or six-speed manual, how often would you be in top gear? The engine develops so much power and torque that you'd spend almost no time in top gear. So why not let the transmission worry about what gear it should be in?

A nice feature about this engine is its roar. Every time you step on the accelerator you attract attention. Everyone knew when I was starting the Firebird at work and it was impossible for me to sneak out early because everyone knew where the car was.

Our tester was a beautiful black convertible. Unfortunately, we never had a chance to put the top down because of inclement weather, but we've worked with the automatic top before and it's a nice package. The Firebird nose also made for a dramatic appearance when my co-workers looked out of their windows to see what the car of the week was. One problem with the convertible is that there is a lot of road noise.

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