A gloriously growly percussion procession.

by Jill Amadio

This coupe really cooks. A 900-lb hyper-gorilla from Pontiac's sizzling stable of muscle cars - one of the Grand Prix coupe models is a Daytona Pace car replica - the 2000 Firebird can smoke just about any car on the road. Presenting the driver, of course, with terrible choices: give in to the temptation and risk a speeding fine, or mash the throttle in short spurts for the sheer joy of it all. Fortunately, one can do both.

Not only does it feel like a brawny muscle car, the Firebird looks, sounds, and acts like one. Slide the key into the ignition, step on the clutch, and a glorious growly percussion fills the air. I recommend just sitting there enjoying the uproar before you slip the stick into reverse or first, and take off. After switching to second gear on this six-speed-plus-reverse manual transmission coupe once you get rolling, the sound subsides and for the rest of the ride you're accompanied by rather nice hi-fi sonics as you rip through the gears.

Actually, I couldn't rip through as fast as I wanted. I found the manual transmission a tad sticky. It didn't move from one gear to the next with the kind of slickness girls prefer but I guess guys would have no problem. The Firebird is available with a four-speed automatic transmission but us yahoos don't want to be a wuss, right? Besides, that short leather-clad Hurst shifter is part of the fun, and it's a short throw so any irritation at gear changing wafts away once you're cruising.

Most Firebird buyers are male in the 35-year old range, but the beauty of this model's elegant styling plus front air dams, side scoops, broad hood shoulders, and a sleek rear spoiler, should appeal to women who want a really sexy-looking car. This is probably Pontiac's best-looker if you get the optional $3150 WS6 performance and handling package that includes a ram air induction system, five-spoke 17-inch wheels, grippy speed-rated radials, low-restriction dual outlet exhausts, a specially-tuned suspension and a power steering cooler that does nothing to chill your ardor behind the wheel. The cooler's main function is to bring down the operating temperature of the power steering fluid though the somewhat trucky feel to the steering wheel would seem to preclude its necessity.

The coupe looks even better with its T-tops removed. You can buy it as a convertible, too, but I think the T-top roof is far more dashing.

Monster power

Under the hood - I took one look and slammed down the lid, it's a nightmare in there - is a monstrous 5.7-liter V-8 that would power half of Disneyland. Well, okay, maybe just one of the rides. Spawned by Chevrolet's Corvette V-8 engine, the Firebird's version pumps out 320 horsepower at 5200 rpm to move this 3536-lb baby. Although the basic body design has not changed since last year, the engine has new cast-iron exhaust manifolds, a better starter design, and an improved canister for the onboard refueling vapor recovery system. If you're budget-conscious, remember you'll have to feed this puppy with high-priced 91-octane fuel. Fuel economy is rated at 18 city, 27 highway.

Like all low-slung sports cars, the Firebird, with 4.5 in of ground clearance, can bottom out over speed bumps. The hatchback trunk is measly, room for a dozen flat footballs and a couple of grocery bags in the well, but even part of this space disappears when you store the T-tops in there. But the back seat, vastly improved as in most other coupes these days, is very roomy, while the front seats are racing-style, power-adjustable six-way lumbar-support buckets that can take you cross-country as comfortably as any luxury touring car. Several of the interior controls, trim and features such as cupholders and remote radio buttons on the steering wheel comes from General Motors' generic parts warehouse and you'll see the same ones on other GM brand vehicles.

The passenger compartment is divided into roomy pods, with a center console. Side door trim is kept to a minimum, no frivolous pleating, but there's an awful lot of plastic. With a steeply raked windshield that helps to give the car its sleek look, you're left with all that shelf space atop the dash covered in vinyl.

The traction control system (TCS) that comes on automatically every time you start the car, is a $325 option, activated by a push-button near the dash. Limiting wheel spins - easy to accomplish with this Trans Am model - it goes into action by closing the throttle and managing engine spark. If you're in cruise control when you start to slip, the TCS will automatically disengage it.

Brakes, of course, are powerful and ready to perform, vented discs in front, power-assist in back, coupled with an ABS system. I found the suspension system very solid. It has front tubular stabilizer bars with links, gas-charted shocks, and a 30-mm stabilizer bar, while in the back are a Salisbury axle with torque arm, trailing arm, track bar, coil springs, and a 19-mm stabilizer bar. All practically guaranteed to give you a firm, safe ride.

As popular as Trans Ams are, it's generous of Pontiac to include as standard equipment a PassKey II theft deterrent system, along with a theft alarm.

No muscle car is worth its salt without a truly splendid audio system, and Firebird delivers with a Delco radio and CD player with a 500-watt Monsoon ten-speaker stereo with tape player and seven-band equalizer poured into the atmosphere by ten speakers.

2000 FIREBIRD TRANS AM WS6

Price as tested: $31,275
Engine: 5.7-liter V-8
Transmission: six-speed manual
Wheelbase: 101.1 in
Length: 193.7 in
Width: 74.4 in
Height: 51.8 in
Weight: 3536 lb
Fuel economy: 18 city, 27 hwy
Major standard features:
Airbags
Air conditioning
AM/FM stereo with CD player
Cruise control
Remote entry
Anti-lock brakes
Daytime running lamps
Removable T-tops
Rear window defogger
Leather seats

© 2000 The Car Connection

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