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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Jim Flammang
March 26, 2003
Vehicle Overview Ford created a flurry of excitement when the revived Thunderbird appeared as a 2002 model. Though it is fully modern underneath, its a throwback to the original two-passenger T-Bird of 1955 1957. The new model has styling touches reminiscent of that fabled model, which include an eggcrate grille and round headlights.
Adapted from the Lincoln LS platform, the rear-wheel-drive (RWD) Thunderbird has a 3.9-liter V-8 engine which gets a boost from 252 to 280 horsepower for 2003 and a five-speed-automatic transmission. The convertible comes in Deluxe and Premium trim levels. A removable plastic hardtop is optional, and the cars hood, fenders and rear deck are also made of plastic. An electronically controlled throttle has been installed on 2003 models, which also have all-speed traction control. The analog gauge cluster has been restyled, and heated seats are newly optional.
Even though Ford shuns the retro label, designers gazed backward to a dramatic era of the companys heritage to revive the Thunderbird convertible. Like its long-ago predecessor, the new Thunderbird seats two occupants and is equipped with RWD, but it incorporates all the benefits of modern technology.
Styling kinship to the original Thunderbird is obvious: its eggcrate grille, round headlamps, hood scoop and porthole-style quarter windows. The basic reverse-wedge profile and taillight shapes also hark back to the past. Still, the 21st-century version is definitely not a copy of its ancestor.
The new Thunderbird measures 186.3 inches long overall and has a 107.2-inch wheelbase, vs. a 175.3-inch overall length and a 102.0-inch wheelbase in the original. Five colors are available: Torch Red, Evening Black, Whisper White, and new for 2003: Mountain Shadow Gray and Desert Sky Blue. A fabric convertible top is standard, but buyers may request an optional removable hardtop that incorporates classic porthole windows. Cast-aluminum wheels hold 17-inch all-season tires.
According to Ford, the two-seat cockpit reflects the exterior design and the cars romantic heritage with bold style combined with the comfort and convenience todays customers demand. The interior trim complements the body color. Standard features include automatic dual-zone air conditioning, a tachometer, a six-way power drivers seat, a leather-wrapped tilt/telescoping steering wheel and an in-dash six-CD changer. Trunk capacity is 6.9 cubic feet.
Under the Hood
An aluminum, 3.9-liter, dual-overhead-cam V-8 engine now produces 280 hp and drives a close-ratio five-speed-automatic transmission.
The Thunderbird is the first Ford convertible with head and chest side-impact airbags. Four-wheel all-disc antilock brakes are standard.
The Thunderbirds ride quality isnt bad on smooth highways and handling is agile enough, but the suspension is on the stiff side. The Thunderbird also takes some bumps rather hard. Acceleration from a standstill is outstanding, with brisk passing and merging abilities.
Slipping inside the T-Bird demands a significant twist of the head. The seats are cushioned beautifully. The mirrors are ample in size, but serious blind spots make lane-changing dicey.
Even though its more ordinary than the flamboyant shape suggests, this two-seater delivers a generally enjoyable experience a flashback to the Fifties. Its style and image make up for a shortcoming or two.