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2002 FordThunderbird Road Test


By CharlesOfria

A Star isReborn

The new Thunderbird is at your local Ford Dealer now and from the looks of it, they will sell every one that they build for the foreseeable future.  This is a gorgeous rendition of an old classic that gives new meaning to the term "Personal Luxury Car".  I expect that this car will generate more emotion than any car since the new VW Beetle.  It has for me.

Thunderbird came to life in 1954 as a '55 model and immediately became a classic.  That original 2-seater Bird was a sensation and fired imaginations with its radical design concepts.  The 2-passenger Bird lasted for 3 years at which time it was replaced by a 4-passenger T-Bird that was special in its own right, but was never accepted by the purists who hated Ford for letting the original concept die.  The 4-place Bird found a new group of fans, however, and sold as many cars in its first year of production as the 2-seat Bird did for the three years that it was produced.

Well, it was a 45 year wait, but Ford has reincarnated a car that is faithful to the original concept in every way.  This new Bird is built on the existing rear-wheel-drive platform that is used for the very competent Lincoln LS and Jaguar S-Type.  Power for the new Bird comes from a 252 hp 3.9-liter 32 Valve DOHC V-8 Engine that is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission.  Suspension is a sophisticated fully independent system with short-long arm design for both front and rear units.  These control arms are made of aluminum in order to reduce the unsprung weight.  This design contributes to a relaxed sportiness by combining excellent handling without compromising the ride.  17-inch cast aluminum wheels are standard with special chrome plated wheels available as options.  Ford certainly got the hardware right, and to my eye, the styling is right on the money.  So, the only thing that remains is for you to convince your practical side that buying a 2-seater is a logical choice that makes perfect sense.

In order to save costs and bring this new Bird out for a reasonable price, Ford also lifted the dash, steering wheel and other components directly from the Lincoln LS with just a few color and trim changes to give it a Thunderbird personality.  

The view out the windshield is all T-Bird, with the hood scoop and fender bulges clearly visible.  The top of the windshield curves in and feels a bit claustrophobic, but it's easy to get used to and doesn't affect visibility.  The sun visors are too small to be very effective and they leave a wide gap in the center.  They are hinged on both ends and cannot be swung to the side.  If I were in the market to buy this car (I wish), none of these minor shortcomings would be enough to sway me from making the decision to buy one (in red of course).

On the road, the new Bird felt, energetic and alive, but also quite civilized and comfortable.  I would call it a gentlemen's sports car, but that's not "Politically Correct" anymore, so let's just say that it is a lady's and gentlemen's sports car, as awkward as that sounds, and leave it there.

Handling was sharp and precise during moderately aggressive driving, while remaining quiet and comfortable during normal cruising.  But flog it as you would a Corvette and it will quickly cry "UNCLE", forcing you to slow to a tamer pace.  Actually, I prefer this feel to an all-out sports car with its stiff suspension and noisy cockpit.  

The 3.9 liter V8 engine has a rich sound and the 5-speed automatic transmission is as smooth silk. 0 to 60 comes in at a reasonable 7 seconds flat and the 4-wheel disk brakes felt powerful and capable.  The 235/50R17 tires held the road quite well, while not giving up on a smooth ride.

While Our fully optioned Thunderbird was well equipped, with features like dual-zone climate control, power tilt and telescoping steering column, side air-bags and a great sound system with an in-dash 6-cd changer, I was surprised to see some key features not available on this car.  Features found on many cars in this price class like: heated seats, memory seats, power recliners, navigation system and trip computer were nowhere to be found on the option list.  Still not enough to sway any purchase decision, but a disappointment nonetheless.

Ford couldn't make this roof retractable and still keep the styling as good as it is, so they did the next best thing.  They made the hardtop removable and added a convertible top, just like the original back in 55.  Removing the hard top is a two person task that will produce some grunting.  A collapsible wheeled dolly comes with the optional hardtop and is used to safely store the roof  in your garage for the summer.  The Black convertible top is always at the ready and has a glass rear window with a defroster grid.  This soft top is power operated and will retract in about 10 seconds, followed by another minute or so for you to snap on the canvas boot in order to preserve the car's sleek lines.

The 2002 Thunderbird is offered in five colors: Inspiration Yellow, Torch Red, Thunderbird Blue, Evening Black and Whisper White.  Standard interior package is black leather for all five colors with color splashed interiors available as an option.  The yellow bird has an available yellow and black interior,  an Aqua and black interior is there for the blue Bird and a red and black interior can be ordered for the red, black or white Birds.  I believe that these were the same color combinations that were available when the 55 Thunderbird was introduced.

Ford is said to have the entire 25,000 unit production run spoken for with customers lining up for next year's build.  The basic model with black interior and just the convertible top stickers for $35,495.  A fully loaded "premium" model - which includes a removable top with porthole windows, 17-inch chrome wheels, traction control and those special interior colors - is priced at $39,795.  Don't expect a Ford dealer with any capitalist blood in his body to let one go for anywhere near that low price anytime soon.  Currently, there is an approximately $10,000 palm grease charge if you want any Bird that hasn't found a home yet.

Last fall, a special Neiman Marcus edition of this new Thunderbird - featuring a black body finish, removable silver top and special interior treatments - was made available in their Christmas Catalog.  They sold all 200 limited-edition models in a record 2 hours, 15 minutes.

But for the lucky coed who managed to convince her father to get one for her so she could "get around" while away at college, I can assure you that...
 "She'll have fun, fun, fun till her daddy takes her T-Bird away"

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How would I improve this car?

  • Heated, memory seats should be a given in any car in this price class
  • Make a Navigation System available
  • The convertible top boot should be metal and blend into the trunk, just like they did on the '55
    (It's nice to be able to throw suggestions around without having to worry about a budget)

How does the Thunderbird fit yourdriving style? 

Who cares!!  This car is all about style.  All three driving types will be happy with this car and gladly accept what few shortcomings it may have, as long as they can be seen in it.

Specifications 

Engine Type 3.9L 32V DOHC V-8
Horsepower 252 hp @ 6100 rpm
Torque 267 ft-lbs. @ 4300 rpm
Fuel Recommended Premium 93 Octane Unleaded.
Transmission Five-speed automatic w. overdrive
Tires - Standard P235/50R17 all-season BSW handling
Overall Length 186.3" 
Wheelbase 107.2"
Width 72.0"
Turning Diameter 35.2 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight 3,775 lbs. w. soft top / 3863 lbs with Hardtop.
Fuel Tank 18 Gals.
Miles Per Gallon EPA city 17, hwy 23. 
Acceleration 0 to 60 7.0 Seconds
Base Sticker Price $35,481 plus $555 Destination Charge
Price as Tested $39,195
2002 Ford Thunderbird Rear Wheel Drive 2 Passenger Convertible

Standard Equipment

  • Dual Zone Automatic Temperature Control Air Conditioning
  • Power tilt and telescopic steering wheel
  • Four-Wheel Independent Suspension
  • Leather upholstery
  • 6-way power driver seat with manual recliner and adjustable lumbar support
  • 2-way power passenger seat
  • Steering wheel controls for audio and cruise
  • Power convertible roof with glass rear window
  • Power Four-Wheel Disc Brakes with Anti-Lock and Traction Control 
  • Passenger airbag deactivation switch
  • Automatic headlamps
  • AM/FM cassette 6-CD stereo in dash, 180 watts, 8 speakers

Major Available Options

  • Removable Hardtop with porthole windows
  • Interior Color Accent Package

For more information on the Thunderbird, visit fordvehicles.com

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