Category Archives: Pontiac

1999 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am (272)

Overview:

The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am that I tested was the convertible model. It also had the Ram Air Performance and Handling package. I looked but couldn’t find the “oxygen” system I expected to be included. It wasn’t in the trunk because that was just large enough to put my golf clubs in.

But it didn’t lack for excitement. This is as close to being an astronaut as you and I will come. If a car looks like a rocket and sounds like a rocket it’s reasonable to assume it is a rocket. The 5.7-liter V8 engine develops 305-horsepower and comes with a 6-speed manual transmission. The traction control is awesome and makes this fastest of production cars (in the US) much safer. Steve asked, “is it as fast as that 911 Porsche C4?” and you know I said yes, but the Porsche is smoother and more sophisticated. The Firebird is typical “All American Muscle Car”. “Yeah, but the Porsche cost three times as much”, says Steve.

Steve is absolutely correct and that got me reflecting back on my Porsche review. For the dough this Trans Am is a performance car that’s equally fun to drive. The problem is you have nowhere to drive it the way you’d like to. Angeles Crest highway, north of the LA suburb of Los Angeles is a great road to feel the performance and the “Crest Test” will make you a believer. The speed limit there is 55 and that will be good enough to sense the great handling characteristics.

I took the trek over the Crest as the sun was just starting to rise. My destination was Willow Springs racetrack down the road from Edwards Air Force base. After 3,000 shifts on that 6-speed transmission over 40 miles of winding road over the San Gabriel Mountains I was kinda pooped. But after a good breakfast I was up for a full day of zipping around the track to test all the 2000 models. Over lunch I had a discussion with another journalist and found agreement from yet another auto columnist that there are very few differences in makes and models any more. They are very homogenous in overall design and propulsion systems. We haven’t changed much over the past 100 years – not really. Automakers seem to be shuffling paper and marking time in the industry waiting for some magical breakthrough in technology. Perhaps we’ll be flying in hovercrafts next.

And in the meantime, real world, this Firebird for all its improvements still has a “push rod” type engine. Well, I guess “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” applies here. And why not? Does dual overhead cam make the car better? They’ve even managed to get 28 miles per gallon out of this very powerful Trans Am car.

The 2000 model sports 17-inch high-polished aluminum wheels included in the Ram Air package, and the throttle linkage has been revised on all V8 engines equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission. In other words not much change and there hasn’t been much change over the 33 years since its introduction in 1967. Today it remains as one of only three of the so-called “pony cars” of that era.

For the new millennium they come in five trims: Firebird (base) Coupe and Convertible, Formula Coupe, and Trans Am Coupe and Convertible. If you’re in the market for a ride to the moon at economy ticket prices, you have to test this Trans Am, (but don’t let the salesman tag along).

The competition:

Chevrolet Camaro $16,840 – $28,365, Dodge Avenger $18,970 – $21,215, Ford Mustang $16,520 – $31,605, Honda Prelude $23,500 – $26,000, Mitsubishi Eclipse $17,697 – $20,187, Toyota Celica $16,695 – $21,165.

Good News:

Great fun to drive because it’s speed and handling are awesome, good range of models and prices, easy to operate top, very decent mileage.

Bad News:

Starts with P and that rhymes with T and that stands for Trouble – the trouble you can get into driving this high performance car.

Standard Equipment:

5.7-liter V8 305 horsepower engine with 6-speed manual trans, Ram Air Induction with functional air scoops, low restriction dual exhaust, tuned suspension, dual airbags, four-wheel anti-lock power disc brake system (ABS), traction control, power top, power windows, door locks, antenna and keyless entry, cruise control, air conditioning, fog lights, rear spoiler, 17-inch 5-spoke high polished aluminum wheels, a rear window defroster, AM/FM stereo with cassette and 12 disc trunk mounted CD player, low-profile Z-rated tires and power bucket leather front seats.

Gas Stats:

19 City and 28 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $35,030.

1998 Pontiac Bonneville SE Sedan (200)

Overview:

The Pontiac Bonneville is assembled in All-American Michigan and comes to us in two trims, the SE and the SSE that adds leather trim, power seats, heated mirrors, keyless entry, a Bose AM/FM stereo with CD player, and traction control.

Right off the bat, you have to understand I have a great handicap to overcome in evaluating Pontiac cars. I was at a very impressionable age when Pontiac had the misfortune to run an ad campaign centered on an American Indian enunciating very clearly ” Ugh, Pontiac heap good car”. Of course us kids shortened that to mean something very different. We’d say “Ugh, Pontiac heap”. It’s obvious I haven’t forgotten the fun we had with that ad. The unfortunate part is that the affect of repeating that play on words over and over in our youth somehow gave the impression that it could be true that Pontiac’s are bad cars. Let’s face it, Nazi Germany built their belief system on the knowledge that if you tell a lie often enough people will believe it. Well, there is no basis in fact that Pontiac’s are “heaps”, and more important, my mom owned a Pontiac, so how bad could they be, right? I wonder if people still remember that ad, especially in light of the fact that today you couldn’t even use an American Indian to sell Indian beads.

Well, I also doubt there are any statistics on how many American Indians buy Pontiac automobiles, but we do know that 60% of the buyers will be male and if my math is correct, 40% will be women and other sexes. Median age is about 50, 80% are married (no sexual preferences given) and 45% are college grads.

Buyers of cars like this Bonneville are likely to be lovers of the “muscle” cars of the ’50s & ‘60s. That should explain why the median age of buyers is 50. In any case, they won’t be disappointed even with the 205 horsepower engine, but if that isn’t enough “muscle” they can opt for the supercharged version providing 240 horsepower from this V6. Performance seekers get a lot for their money and dollar for dollar, this “Wide Track” stance not only makes them very noticeable and distinctive, it enhances handling greatly because of its low center of gravity.

Henry Ford knew instinctively that affordable cars would win the hearts and minds of consumers and I believe his instincts are as valid today as they were nearly a hundred years ago. That is especially true for us in California where we’re just now coming out of a great depression. Some call it a recession, but for others it has been a full-on depression. In any case, price is still a prime mover for most of us. In fact, as well priced as this Bonneville is, we are seeing an explosion in the availability of incredibly inexpensive cars. A rash of small 2 and 4 door sedans from Korea, Japan and even from the U.S. are growing in number that are priced as low as $6,999. Mr. Ford was either a visionary or simply had a keen sense of the obvious…people need transportation and don’t want to sell their souls to have it. Thanks to technology, carmakers have been able to provide some pretty amazing products at pretty amazing prices.

My recommendation remains, buy American, where you get the biggest bang for your buck in today’s world. As time passes and the economy gets better fewer people will be as cost conscious, but by then I think you’ll find even less distinction between “foreign and domestic”. Cars will increasingly come to us from multi-national companies and will be even more homogeneous than they are today, if that’s possible.

The competition:

Dodge Intrepid $19,685 – $22,465, Nissan Maxima $21,499 – $26,899, Chrysler Concorde $21,305, BMW 3-Series $21,390 – $41,500, Ford Taurus $18,445 – $29,000, Oldsmobile LSS $28,095, Toyota Avalon $24,408 – $28,288, Volvo S70 $26,985 – $34,010.

Good News:

J.D Powers APEAL Award. Good Pricing. Wide track styling. Good performance.

Bad News:

Low on J.D. Powers list of prob/100 cars.

Standard Equipment:

3.8 liter V6 205 horsepower V6 engine, 4-speed automatic trans., front wheel drive, power rack & pinion steering, independent suspension, dual airbags, auto air conditioning, AM/FM stereo, cruise control, power windows, door locks and mirrors; remote keyless entry, front disc and rear drum anti-lock brakes, power 6-way driver seat, leather trim and leather wrapped steering wheel with radio controls.

Gas Stats:

19 City and 28 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP is $23,820.

1998 Pontiac Grand Am SE2 Sedan (198)

Overview:

The Pontiac Grand Am advertises and promotes a “Wide Track” stance and “Driving Excitement” that differentiates it from the competition. The whole Pontiac line is very racy and sporty looking and in contrast to much of the foreign competition Pontiac sells for much less money.

The perception however is that foreign cars last longer and therefore better than American cars. Mark Twain said, “Things ain’t what they used to be and probably never was”. Well Mark was right, but it’s good that things have changed because where cars are concerned change has been for the better. That is especially true of American made cars. In this case, the Grand Am is not only Pontiac’s bestseller and GM’s compact sales leader, it has also been among the nation’s top-ten best-selling passenger cars since 1992.

In the case of foreign versus American, I really don’t think the perception holds much water any longer. In fact, I still see some real old American cars on the road, because parts are readily available for nostalgia buffs to keep them running great. In the case of foreign cars, parts are not as easy to get hold of and are expensive at best. Ok, I would agree that for the past 20 years or so, foreign cars earned a good reputation as dependable quality cars.

More important to the perception of what kind of car you should drive comes from the ad agencies who are more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. They have convinced most Americans to adopt a “Fly now and pay later” attitude. But that isn’t bad, mind you, and in fact may have a lot of merit. Consider the following advice I got from a flight instructor I had years ago. He was a carpet layer in his other life and after flying with me he resumed that trade. I didn’t think I was all that bad. Oh well. Anyway his advice was that I buy a decent mid-priced carpet and replace it more often. He said, “That way you can change color or style and it will always look nice”. In any case a high quality carpet can cost 2-3 times more, would outlive most buyers and if you sell the house the new owner would probably replace it anyway. Not that your taste is bad, but the buyer may feel peach carpet doesn’t go with their furniture. So much for expensive, last forever carpet or any purchase for that matter.

If you think about it, American cars are still Henry Ford crank ‘em out, affordable to everyone kind of cars. People in this country change homes every 5 years on average and I don’t know about you, but I change cars every couple of years. So why not spend less and trade more often. I always figure that the excitement of a new car every two years beats changing spouses and costs a whole lot less too. And a final “think about it”, is that it’s patriotic because all those sales are good for the economy.

My recommendation: Buy American. What’ll you do with all the money you’ll save? Bank it. Drive a new car more of your life. Save by not having to repair that old car. Have a reliable car all the time. Never put on another set of tires. Avoid repair shops. Develop less stress – which means you’ll save on the cost of doctors and medicine. Finally, let the Jones’s keep up with you for a change.

The competition:

Chevrolet Malibu $15,670 – $18,620, Dodge Avenger $15,185 – $17,460, Dodge Stratus $14,840 – $17,665, Ford Contour $14,460 – $22,460, Honda Civic $10,650 – $16,480, Mazda 626 $15,550 – $23,240, Nissan Altima $14,990 – $19,890 Oldsmobile Alero, Subaru Impreza $15,895 – $19,195, Toyota Corolla $11,908 – $14,798, Volkswagen Jetta $14,595 – $20,955

Good News:

Great Pricing. Nice styling and good performance.

Bad News:

Poor attention to detail, low on JD Powers list of prob/100 cars.

Standard Equipment:

3.4 liter V6 170 horsepower engine, 4-speed automatic trans, AM/FM stereo w/ compact disc player & 6-speaker sound system, cruise control, power windows, door locks and mirrors; remote keyless entry, front disc and rear drum brakes and leather wrapped steering wheel.

Gas Stats:

21 City and 29 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP is $18,970