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New Car/Review


by Matt/Bob Hagin


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 18,015
Price As Tested                                     $21,825
Engine Type                             3.8 Liter V6 w/SFI*
Engine Size                                 231 cid/3791 cc
Horsepower                                   200 @ 5200 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               225 @ 4000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  101.1"/74.1"/193.2"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3298 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  15.5 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P215/60R16
Brakes (F/R)                              Disc-ABS/disc-ABS
Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                        Four-passenger/Two-door
Domestic Content                                 86 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            19/29/25
0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds         
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       16.5 seconds @ 84 MPH
Top Speed (Est.)                                    105 MPH
     * Sequential fuel injection

(Back in the '60s, Bob Hagin was servicing first generation Pontiac Firebirds when they were still new. Matt Hagin remembers those cars with reverence, but likes the newest version much better.)

MATT - It's interesting that Pontiac makes such a to-do about its V8 Firebirds Dad. The V6 version carries the same body, has 200 horsepower, the sticker price is less, and is lots cheaper to insure.

BOB - Even in its original form in '67 there was a six-banger offered in the Firebird, but it was an anemic straight six. This new version is a far cry from that car. The V6 puts out 200 horses and 225 pound/feet of torque. Pontiac made a good move when it pulled the 3.4 liter V6 from the contemporary base model in '96 and replaced it with its old reliable all-iron 231-inch version. Although its been around for a long time, it still puts out enough power that its acceleration isn't an embarrassment from a stop light. On top of that, it gets 27 MPG on the highway. What's interesting is that this new engine puts out almost as much power as the 5.0 liter V8 engines of just a few years ago. Pontiac engineers have lightened the valve train, which allows the engine to spin faster, so it "redlines" at 6100 rpms now. It also now sports an internal balance shaft that cancels out some of the roughness that V6 engines display when the manufacturers add more power. It also uses a higher compression ratio, as well as a more efficient computer system to get very reliable horsepower increases.

MATT - Pontiac says that more females than males buy the standard Firebird coupe than males. Maybe it's because they're more interested in looking sharp and getting a good bargain. There's been some changes in the Firebird this year, and it goes deeper than the obvious cosmetic changes to the front fenders. The V6 gets the same larger brakes as the V8 versions, which includes better gripping discs on the rear. Inefficient drum brakes were there before. The front and rear springs are a bit stiffer, while the sway bars are smaller, eliminated some of the previous car's harshness, but improves its handling characteristics.

BOB - The new Firebird isn't the stormer that its steroid-enhanced V8 powered siblings are, but it can be tricked out in its own right. There's an options package that adds limited slip and a 3.42 axle ratio to the differential. The steering is make a little quicker too, and puts it right on par with the Trans Am in this department. The tires can also be upgraded to 235/55RR16 radial touring tires which are more performance-oriented than the standard rubber. All of this stuff won't make it a weekend warrior on the race track, but coupled with the standard five-speed manual transmission, it makes the Firebird a great high-speed cruiser without drawing the attention of every squad car in the area. My choice would be the five-speed version.

MATT - Our test car had the optional four-speed automatic transmission, Dad, and it's by far the transmission of choice for most Firebird owners. There's nearly a half-dozen sound systems available, and they range from a plain-old AM/FM radio through a top-line concert hall unit that includes a six disc CD player. Leather upholstery is an option, as is an appearance package that adds some fancy stuff on the body. Unfortunately, the T-tops with their sunshades aren't such a good buy at almost $1000.

BOB - I wish that Pontiac offered a full-sized spare tire - even as an option. But I guess it's better than no spare at all - like some of the more exotic sports cars on the market today. Traction control is an option that works wonders on ice and snow, but it isn't even available in the V6 model. The V8 that's offered on the other Firebirds is a new all-aluminum unit now, and is pretty high-tech.

MATT - I guess in a way that makes owning a Firebird with a V6 a better insurance risk, Dad. Besides having an anti-theft system as standard equipment, bad-guy "chop shops" would pass on the iron-engined V6 and go for the V8 that's in the Formula and the Trans Am.

BOB - Matt, Sometimes I think you should have become an insurance agent.