New Car/Review

Pontiac

Pontiac Trans AM Convertible (2002)

SEE ALSO: Pontiac Buyer's Guide

by Brendan Hagin and Mikele Schappell-Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 32,083
     Price As Tested                                    $ 36,543
     Engine Type               OHV 16-valve 5.7 Liter V8 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 346 cid/5670 cc
     Horsepower                                   325 @ 5200 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               350 @ 4000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  101.1"/74.4"/193.7"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3649 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  16.5 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                        P275/40ZR17 Speed rated
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                        Four-passenger/two-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            18/26/21
     0-60 MPH                                        6.0 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                                  15.0 @ 96.5 mph
     Top-speed                                           155 mph
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

MIKELE - Having a new Pontiac convertible to drive around in for a week was really fun. A friend in school had a convertible and it was always a high point when we'd get a chance to drive somewhere with him when he had it open. The only thing I didn't like was having my hair blown around and it did it whether he was going fast or slow. But that didn't happen much in this new Firebird and I guess it's because the windshield is raked back at such a sharp angle. When we drove it with the top down and the side windows rolled up, it was almost as windless as a coupe with a sunroof. Even in relatively cool weather it was warm inside with the heater blowing. A convertible isn't very practical, but it's sure a lot of fun.

BRENDAN - It's also a lot of fun to drive a big V8-powered American "pony car," but our Trans Am version isn't the stormer that the original Trans Ams were in the early '70s. Back then they had as much as 335 horses but those numbers are kind of pessimistic since the auto makers were put on order that excessive power and performance were dirty words in Washington. Scaling it down made better publicity. And the engines themselves were much larger. The biggest was 455 cubic inches. But the 350 cubic-inch engine in our test Trans Am is not exactly a slouch. It puts out 325 horsepower and 350 pound/feet or torque but it relies on the same antiquated technology that was used in the Pontiacs of three decades ago. However, there have been lots of changes. The heads and block are aluminum now and Trans Ams aren't built with four-speed stick-shifts anymore. And that's probably a good thing. Even back then it was hard to deal with a clutch, a low first gear and lots of horsepower if you were driving in commuter traffic. The rear end on the new version is still a solid unit but now it's carried on coil springs and the rear end suspension geometry is more carefully tuned.

MIKELE - I didn't do well in geometry in high-school, so I'll take your word for it. But I do know something about design, and the profile and general overall line of the Firebird are very flowing, with the low nose and high tail portraying a current "performance" image. With its hood bulge, covered headlights and nostril-like air intakes between them, the car has an almost sinister look up front but its big round low-mounted fog lamps tend to soften it up a bit. The 17-inch performance tires kind of add to this overall perception of power. Fortunately, I'm fairly tall for a woman but a shorter person is going to feel "submerged" in the front seats of this Trans Am. Its belt line is very high and its just about even with the tops of the seats. Reaching the controls is going to be a bit of a hassle for smaller people, too. The Firebird Trans Am was designed more for style than convenience and even the view out the back is tough, especially when the top is up.

BRENDAN - I don't think many female engineers had input into the Firebird Trans Am because it's a typical macho-wagon. It rides hard and corners like it's on rails, although the rear end has a tendency to jump around a bit when the car is tossed into a turn that not too smooth. Our car had an automatic four-speed but there's a six-speed manual transmission available. I can't imagine a situation where it would be very useful except for bragging rights. A better choice would be the standard Firebird convertible with the V6 engine and an automatic transmission with traction control. It has the same flashy lines as the Trans Am but it would be lots easier to drive around town. I'm not too crazy about convertibles anyway, so next time we get a Firebird to evaluate, lets ask for the milder model with a hard top. With the top down on hot days, the leather upholstery is hot on your legs and after it sits in the sun for a while, it's even hard to hold onto the broiling steering wheel.

MIKELE - The more we test these fancy hot-rods, the more impressed I am with how grown-up you're becoming.

BRENDAN - Thanks for the compliment - I think.

 

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