A year ago, the Ford Probe was one of the hottest cars on the market. Consumers scoured dealerships, trying to find one of the 2-door sport coupes. When they did, salesmen were demanding full sticker price, if not more. It was almost like
trying to get your hands on a Mazda Miata. Last week, Ford said there was a 157-day supply of Probes, and production would be cut back at the Flat Rock, Mich., assembly plant by 11 percent to bring supplies in line with demand. How could
the Miata remain in vogue and the Probe not? There`s some thought among dealers that Probe is a seasonal car, which attracts demand spring through summer while buyers hibernate in winter. The inventory buildup can be traced to those at
Ford who dictate price. Despite the popularity of the Miata, Mazda refused to raise the sticker price from $13,800. Because of the popularity of the Probe, Ford boosted sticker prices to $11,500 to $14,700 on Probe`s three models, from $10,900 to
$14,000. As for the car, we test-drove a GT, with its $14,726 base sticker and a $19,840 bottom line after a rash of options was added. Probe is good, but Ford needs to become more price-sensitive. That may be the reason it`s now offering a $1,000
cash rebate. Probe is offered in GL, dressier LX and performance-version GT models. There are three engines: a 110-horsepower, 2.2-liter 4 cylinder; a 145- horsepower, 2.2-liter turbo; and a 140-horsepower, 3-liter V-6. The engine choices are a
bit confusing. You can get the 2.2 in the GL, the 2.2 turbo in the GT and the V-6 in the LX, but you can`t mix and match. The confusion carries into the availability of antilock brakes. ABS is a $924 option, but you can`t get it in the GL, can get
it in the LX and can get it in the preferred-equipment group in the GT as part of a $3,889 option package. The GT we drove had the turbo 4-cylinder and optional ($732) automatic. It`s a pleasant performer that scoots when you kick the pedal and
force the turbo into action, but a combination that`s stingy on gas in most driving situations, when steady pedal pressure keeps the turbo at rest. The turbo carries a warning that you need to change oil and filter every 5,000 miles or six months,
whichever comes first. We`d halve that to keep the turbo running properly. You also need to let the engine idle for 30 seconds after hard driving or hill climbing, to let the turbocharger cool before turning off the key. The EPA rating is 21
m.p.g. city and 27 highway, with the standard 5- speed transmission, and 19/25 with automatic. The fuel gauge didn`t move very often or very much, and the 19/25 rating seemed lower than you should expect. With Probe, you have an economy car that
looks sporty, not a sports car per se. The power isn`t intimidating. What you get for your money is good looks and even better mileage-plus the assurance of ABS stopping capability.
Room is decent up front. The seats are comfortable and offer good support. Instrumentation is easy to see and use. In back, seats are a decoration for other than kids, thanks in large part to the slanted roof line, which steals head room.
Ironically, while only toddlers will fit in back, there is a rear-seat ashtray. There`s one other drawback in back: When the rear quarter windows fog up, they stay that way for what seems forever. Fogged windows, of course, obstruct vision.
Among the goodies, we liked the vehicle maintenance minder, a series of lights in a roof console that warn of low coolant, fuel or washer fluid levels, door ajar or any lamps or lights not functioning. The GT offers the choice of sport, normal or
soft suspension settings by pressing a switch. Sport was the best in terms of firm but not harsh ride and optimum handling, with minimal sway or lean in corners or turns. That preferred-equipment package on the test car included power seats, windows and door locks; cruise control; trip computer; rear-window washer and wiper; dual illuminated visor mirrors; AM-FM stereo with cassette; and air conditioning along with ABS and the vehicle maintenance reminder. For leather
seats, add $489.