- Monstrous V8 power.
- Few direct competitors in price or performance.
- Fairly reliable engine for a GM product.
- One of the highest bang-for-buck factor ever.
- Sharp, aggressive exterior.
- Manual transmission skips from first to fourth gear at low throttle.
- Build quality is at Pontiac's usual low 1990s standards.
- Tight back seats.
- Annoyingly noisy ride.
- No more built after 2002.
Press Coverage :
The V8-powered Pontiac Firebird will always be remembered for leaving the stench of burning rubber at every traffic light. The Firebird Trans Am has the one of the highest horsepower-per-dollar ratio ever - a ratio beaten only by the new supercharged Mustang Cobra. And in WS6 trim, it could pretty much go head-to-head with 75-grand Porsche 911s at the dragstrip. No wonder the Firebird became a cult classic by the time it was discontinued at the end of 2002, along with its Camaro twin.
Available in coupe or convertible form, the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am came standard with a 310 hp V8 engine derived from the Corvette LS1 small block. The Trans Am WS6 is a higher trim level, tuned by F-Body tuners SLP, which added a Ram Air cold air intake, hood scoop and 15 more horses. The WS6 package is also available on the Formula, which is essentially a stripped-down version of the Trans Am. The loaded Trans Am came with an electric driver's seat, rear spoiler, unique front bumper and removable roof panels on the coupe, in addition to the Formula's high-speed tires, sporty suspension and 10-speaker stereo. Transmission choices were a four-speed automatic and a six-speed manual in which both fifth and sixth gears were overdrive. SLP also offered a Firehawk version with an optional exhaust system that bumped up horsepower to 335 hp. Traction control, ABS and dual airbags are standard on all models
Performance is unbeatable for the price. In true rear-wheel-drive muscle-car fashion, a bone-stock Trans Am WS6 can dispense with the quarter-mile in just over 13 seconds. You can pull 5-minute smoking burnouts, thanks to an overkill 300+ horses at your disposal. You can pull doughnuts around blown front-driven Hondas and Nissans whether they pack NOS tanks or not. And you can powerslide to eternity and back. You can even attack mountain curves, but only to a certain extent. A good driver in an Integra Type-R can easily cause your face to go red at a twisty racetrack. The Firebird generates nowhere near as much lateral grip as the Corvette. However, its structure is surprisingly stiff given its 1993 roots, even in the convertible.
In 1999, a 30th Anniversary edition was available, identifiable by its racing stripes, interior covered in special embroidery and unique 17-inch aluminum wheels. Only 1000 T-top coupes and 500 convertibles were produced in this trim. For its final year of production, GM offered a special edition in yellow, with special wheels and body decals.
Driving relatively easily, the Trans Am is a gem. Macho drivers-and there will be plenty with the WS-6-will abuse the car and push to its limits, but when it's driven reasonably and within the law, it is highly rewarding and not the least bit uncomfortable or difficult.
The power steering is not heavy, but it is a compromise; women might like easier turning for parking, but precision would then be lost in the cornering-and this is, after all, a high-performance car. The steering is direct and steady, no roaming or twitching at all, both in the curves and on the freeway.
The suspension performed admirably. Never once were we jarred, which is saying quite a lot. And never once did we feel the car undulating, even slightly. We suspect that extremes in both road conditions and driving aggression could indeed produce those responses from this Trans Am-at least we hope so, because the suspension wouldn't be correct if they didn't.
The six-speed gearbox with Hurst linkage feels solid, though not quite buttery. It might be overstating things to call it quirky, but it requires some understanding. The pattern is closely spaced for quick shifting, which means you sometimes find yourself in third gear instead of first, when pulling out. There is a lockout of second gear at certain rpm and at a certain pace of acceleration designed to save gas. Accelerating slowly causes the computer to force you to shift from first gear into fourth. Basically, it won't let you drive sharply and casually at the same time. You either accept it or you learn how to get around it. The good news is there's so much torque that you actually can go from first to fourth gear, even at a tame 2500 rpm, without bogging the engine.
Sixth gear will save you more gas, because the ratio is so tall. It might also get you a ticket. Sixty-eight miles per hour is only about 1500 rpm, and because there is so little engine compression to slow you down when you lift off the throttle in sixth gear, the car wants to keep rolling on into the 70s and 80s. With such low rpm, you don't hear it or feel it. You really need to use cruise control in sixth. On an open highway, it does indeed save gas.
One of the changes for the 2000 model is to the throttle linkage, and the delivery of acceleration is more than manageable. Pulling away in first gear does call for some attention, however. It's easy to stall the engine if you're too casual with throttle application, especially at red lights on the steep streets of San Francisco.
Our aging backsides and slower reaction times appreciated the Firebird's other options, like custom bucket seats and electronic traction control. In fact, only the Hurst shifter left us griping about its clunky and imprecise feel.
Issues like useless rear seat accommodations and cargo space, inconsistent interior materials and questionable build quality continue to permeate the Pontiac. We'd also like to see some functional cupholders, tilting headrests and better underhood service point identification.
1996-1997 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am WS6
5,665 cc / 305 hp / 345 lb-ft / 3463-3666 lbs / 0-60 mph 5.5 sec.
Competitors : Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4 (1994-1999) Ford Mustang SVT Cobra (1999-2001) Toyota Supra Turbo (1993-1998)