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2003 Ford Thunderbird Convertible

2dr Convertible Premium

Starting at | Starting at 18 MPG City - 24 MPG Highway

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  • $37,855 original MSRP
Printable Version

2003 Ford Thunderbird Convertible

Printable Version

2003 Ford Thunderbird Convertible


2003 Ford Thunderbird

Source: New Car Test Drive


Driving a Ford Thunderbird on a summer night takes you back to a simpler time. The V8 engine burbles as you cruise comfortably back in time. Two seats, convertible top, rear-wheel drive, at times it feels like driving a vintage car, only it's brand new.

Introduced as a 2002 model, the Thunderbird has enjoyed solid sales, but there are important changes to this big-image car for 2003. The Thunderbird has a great powertrain and this year there's more on tap: Horsepower from the 3.9-liter V8 has been increased to 280 and torque to 286 foot-pounds, 28 more horsepower and 25 more foot-pounds of torque than before. That means much stronger acceleration performance. Electronic throttle control and variable cam timing borrowed from the Jaguar engine improve engine performance, power and fuel economy all at once.

Also new for 2003 is an optional Select Shift transmission, which allows gear changes similar to a conventional manual transmission without a clutch pedal. All-speed traction control is now standard on all models, where last year it was only on the Premium version. A heated driver and passenger seat option has been added for 2003 so you can drive with the top down and still be toasty warm on cold mornings, a pleasant pastime in the Thunderbird.

Inside, there's a new analog instrument cluster design. Two-speed, variable-interval wipers with a heated wiper parking area are also standard for 2003. A new Saddle interior package includes full leather saddle seats, saddle leather steering wheel insert and a saddle leather shift knob. New exterior colors, Mountain Shadow Gray and Desert Sky Blue join two new interior colors: Black Ink and Whisper White.

Model Lineup

Thunderbird comes in two trim levels: Deluxe convertible ($35,390) and Premium convertible ($36,390).

A hardtop is available with the trademark porthole. However, the hardtop must be ordered when ordering the car. The hardtop is not easy to remove or install even with two people, so you might consider skipping the expense ($2500) and the storage issues.

Three options are available for the Thunderbird: a Black Accent Package ($295) featuring high-gloss black accents on the steering wheel and shifter); the Partial Color Accent Package ($595) with color inserts in the seats, steering wheel, and shifter; and the Full Color Accent Package ($800), which adds color accents to the lower instrument panel, center console and door trim panels.

For spring 2003, Ford Motor Company will be selling 700 Limited Edition 007 Ford Thunderbirds its appearance in the new James Bond film. The 007 edition will have a unique white leather interior and a distinctive Coral paint scheme to match the Thunderbird driven in the Bond film "Die Another Day" by actress Halle Berry. The Coral paint, similar to the Sunset Coral hue offered on the 1956 Thunderbird, matches the bikini Berry wears in her role as Jinx. The 007 Thunderbird will have a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of approximately $43,000.


The new Thunderbird features design aspects of the original 1955 car, the 1962 car, and some other, earlier Thunderbirds, but Ford doesn't talk about this car in terms of "retro" design because it has so much modern equipment in it, on it and underneath it.

The exterior design is extremely smooth, to the eye at least, but the wind tunnel says it has a drag coefficient of 0.38, which is quite high these days when a Mercedes sedan cheats the wind with a rating of 0.28.

The trunk is big enough, despite the small numbers (6.9 cubic feet) to carry two golf bags, but that's about it. This car is made for what Ford calls "relaxed sportiness," a term we translate into "cruising." It's sporty looking, it's rear-wheel drive, but it is not a sports car by any stretch of the imagination.

Interior Features

Two reasonably comfortable bucket seats are independently adjustable with power switches located on the side of the seat. Because this is a two-seater, with a sort of open cargo bay and a wall behind the two seats, there are limits to the adjustability of the seats, and if you are very tall or very long in the torso, the car will not fit you well with either the soft convertible top or the removable hard top in place.

Instruments are beautifully rendered in the T-Bird, much like the 1955 car, with long Sea Foam Green needles pointing the way instead of red, white or black needles.

The center stack, that portion of the instrument panel at the center of the dash that carries the vents, the sound system controls and the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) controls, is taken almost directly from the Lincoln LS, one of the Thunderbird's two sister cars (the other is the Jaguar S-Type); it's made up of five different small panels, though it appears that one nicely done cover panel for all five elements would have sufficed. It's a nice stereo and the HVAC controls use big buttons that are easy to operate.

In such a small interior, everything falls readily to hand, you don't have to stretch to reach anything, and for couples, especially, the interior is intimate and romantic, with the T-Bird's spreading wings portrayed on the two door panels.

The example that I drove was all black, including the entire interior. But the Bird is available with a set of red, yellow, or blue color accent packages for the interior, as described above. I liked the red, but did not care for the look of the plastic on the lower dash panel and door trim panels with the yellow or blue packages. The red, and the smaller packages in yellow and blue, without the door panels and lower dash, are fine.

The brawny, thick steering wheel, complete with cruise control buttons built in, feels terrific in your hands, even after an all-day white-knuckle high-speed cruise, and there is a standard power tilt and telescope feature to help you feel one with the car.

Driving Impressions

Driving the new Thunderbird is and will be first of all an exercise in being seen. It's a beautiful car that attracts attention wherever it goes. But how it goes is just as important, and it does pretty well in this category. There's plenty of power to drive the rear wheels and the traction control ensures controlled acceleration.

The engine is a direct lift from the Lincoln LS, with only a few modifications to make it fit in and under the car. It's a small V8, only 3.9 liters, less than 240 cubic inches. In fact, it's smaller than the smallest V8 you could get in 1955, but it meets all the modern criteria for emissions and gets good fuel economy. Thunderbird's 240 cubic-inch V8 produces 280 horsepower, more than one horsepower per cubic inch. The power and torque increases made for the 2003 model are more than welcome in a car of this price and history.

It's smooth, mechanically quiet, and ready to go whenever you need passing power, and the engineers have given it an interesting combination of air intake sound and exhaust sound. It burbles at idle like an old big-block engine, and that's part of the car's charm. Ford's five-speed overdrive transmission is responsive.

Expect 0-60 mph performance in the range of 7 seconds flat, which ain't bad, but then, you're supposed to be relaxing in this car, not racing around from place to place. If it weighed 500 pounds less, it would be quicker, but even with its mostly plastic body panels, the new T-Bird weighs almost 3800 pounds, and it feels like it.

This is a comfortable cruiser on the interstate. A cross-car beam ties the structure together just behind the seats and three steel X-braces are bolted to the underbody in the front, middle, and in the rear. The result is a body structure and chassis with the strength and stiffness that helps provide good ride quality and handling. It isn't a sports car, however, and the suspension bobs when working out. Also, there is some cowl shake when driving over bumpy sections. But for the most part, the all-independent suspension, derived from the Jaguar S-Type, is slick and smooth and the Thunderbird is enjoyable to drive.

The big, thick steering wheel is comfortable to use and the rack-and-pinion steering is quite nicely weighted, giving you a pretty good idea what the Michelin P235/50R-17 quiet-ride luxury tires are doing at any given time. The car wants to understeer, of course, but there's nothing objectionable in the way the car handles, and in a couple of mountain passes with blind corners and tricky turns, the car behaved very well in correction and recovery, even though we were going way too fast for the corner. Yes, there is body roll, but not much. Traction control is available, but yaw control or electronic stability control is still not available.

Slam on the binders and the four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes (ABS) work very well, with nice, progressive pedal feel and lots of stopping power in emergencies.


The Ford Thunderbird is eye candy, a two-seat convertible with one foot in the past and one foot in the future. The Thunderbird is a beautifully detailed car in almost every respect. Cruising along in this car can be a joyous experience.

The 2003 Thunderbird offers much-improved acceleration and passing power, progressive and positive braking, and good, solid handling. It's well short of a real sports car, but it will cruise with anything out there.

Now that the newness has worn off and there is more competition on the market, Thunderbirds can be had for much more reasonable prices than in the crazy gotta-have-it-now first year of higher-than sticker sale prices. Ford is relying on the Thunderbird to help recreate the company for its second hundred years.


Model Line Overview

Model lineup: Deluxe convertible ($35,390); Premium convertible ($36,390); Deluxe with removable hard top ($37,890); Premium with removable hard top ($38,890)
Engines: 280-hp 3.9-liter dohc 32-valve V8
Transmissions: 5-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard): standard: ABS, front and side airbags
Safety equipment (optional): traction control
Basic warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in: Wixom, Michigan

Specifications As Tested

Model tested (MSRP): Thunderbird Premium without removable hard top ($36,390)
Standard equipment: traction control, leather seating surfaces, automatic air conditioning with dual controls, perimeter anti-theft system with Securilock, cruise control, power steering, power windows, power locks, power mirrors, power decklid release, digital clock, electric rear-window defroster, remote keyless illuminated entry system, automatic on/off headlamps with variable delay, carpeted floor mats, dual covered visor vanity mirrors, AM/FM/6-disc CD, retained accessory power, reclining front bucket seats with 6-way power driver's seat and 2-way power passenger seat, power tilt/telescope steering column, leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, storage shelf behind seats; Premium adds chrome wheels
Options as tested (MSRP): none
Destination charge: ($555)
Gas guzzler tax: N/A
Price as tested (MSRP): $36,945
Layout: rear-wheel drive
Engine: 3.9-liter dohc 32-valve V8
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 280 @ 6100
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): 286 @ 3100
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: 17/23 mpg
Wheelbase: 107.2 in.
Length/width/height: 186.3/72.0/52.1 in.
Track, f/r: 60.5/60.2 in.
Turning circle: 37.5 ft.
Seating capacity: 2
Head/hip/leg room, f: 37.2/53.7/43.7 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m: N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r: N/A
Trunk volume: 6.7 cu. ft.
Payload: N/A
Towing capacity: 1000 Lbs.
Suspension, f: independent
Suspension, r: independent
Ground clearance: 6.0 in.
Curb weight: 3775 lbs.
Tires: P235/50R17
Brakes, f/r: disc/disc with ABS
Fuel capacity: 18.0 gal.


Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of April 02, 2002.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-392-FORD - www.fordvehicles.com

Copyright © 1994-2003 New Car Test Drive, Inc.


Printable Version

2003 Ford Thunderbird Convertible

Safety Ratings help

What do the Safety Ratings mean?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) performs independent crash testing of new vehicles and then assigns them a score based on their performance. The overall crash test rating is based on how a vehicle performs in the following tests:

Driver Crash Grade:

Measures the chance of a serious injury to a crash test dummy that is placed in a driver's seat and driven into a fixed barrier at 35 MPH. A five-star rating means there is 10 percent or less chance of injury.

Passenger Crash Grade:

Similar to the driver crash grade, only now the focus is on the passenger.

Rollover Resistance:

Simulates an emergency lane change to measure the likelihood of a vehicle rolling over. A five-star rating means there is 10 percent or less risk of rollover.

Side Impact Crash Test - Front:

Focuses on the front side of a vehicle. It simulates crashes that can occur in intersections by striking a 3,015-pound weight against the side of a vehicle at 38.5 MPH. A five-star rating means there is 5 percent or less chance of injury.

Side Impact Crash Test - Rear:

Similar to the front side impact test only now the focus is on the rear passenger.

Driver Crash Grade

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Passenger Crash Grade

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Rollover Resistance

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Side Impact Crash Test - Front

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Safety Features & Equipment

Braking & Traction

4-Wheel ABS Std
Traction/Stability Control Std

Passenger Restraint

Driver Air Bag Std
Passenger Air Bag Std
Passenger On/Off Std
Side Air Bag Std

Road Visibility

Intermittent Wipers Std
Variable Inter. Wipers Std


Alarm Std
Anti-theft System Std
Printable Version

2003 Ford Thunderbird Convertible

Original Warranty  help
Original Warranty
An original warranty is the warranty associated with a vehicle when it is brand new. In addition to the original warranty, select items, like tires, are typically covered by respective manufacturers. Also, an act of Federal law sometimes provides protection for certain components, like emissions equipment.
The original warranty is often broken down into multiple sections, including:
Basic Warranty:
Typically covers everything except for parts that wear out through normal use of the vehicle. Examples of non-covered items are brake pads, wiper blades and filters.
Drivetrain Warranty:
This warranty covers items the basic warranty does not protect. Wear and tear items such as hoses will not be covered, but key items like the engine, transmission, drive axles and driveshaft often will be.
Roadside Assistance:
The level of service differs greatly with this warranty, but many manufacturers offer a toll-free number that helps provide assistance in case you run out of gas, get a flat tire or lock your keys in the car.
Corrosion Warranty:
This warranty focuses on protecting you from holes caused by rust or corrosion in your vehicle's sheet metal.
Please check the owner's manual, visit a local dealership or look at the manufacturer's website to learn more about the specifics of the warranties that apply to a vehicle.

Basic 3 Years/36,000 Miles
Drivetrain 3 Years/36,000 Miles
Corrosion 5 Years/Unlimited Miles
Roadside Assistance 3 Years/36,000 Miles

Ford Certified Pre-Owned Warranty  help
Certified Pre-Owned Warranty
To be eligible for Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) status, vehicles generally must be recent models with relatively low mileage. CPO vehicles must also pass a detailed inspection, outlined by the manufacturer, which is measured by the number of inspected points.
Warranty coverage can vary from one manufacturer to the next. While most certified pre-owned programs transfer and extend the existing new car warranty terms, others offer a warranty that simply represents an additional year and mileage value. Always check with the manufacturer for the specific warranties they offer.
Common features and benefits of Certified Pre-Owned warranties include:
Age/Mileage Eligibility
To even be considered for certification, a car must be a recent model year and have limited mileage. The exact requirements are established by individual manufacturers.
Lease Term Certified
Some manufacturers offer certified pre-owned cars for lease. The length of the lease is often shorter than a new car lease, but it will cost you less.
Point Inspection
These inspections entail a comprehensive vehicle test to ensure that all parts are in excellent working order. The point inspection list is simply a numbered list of exactly what parts of the car are examined. While many inspections range from a 70- to 150-point checklist, most are very similar and are performed using strict guidelines. Ask your local dealer about specific details.
Return/Exchange Program
Some manufacturers offer a very limited return or exchange period. Find out if you will get the sales tax and licensing/registration fees back should you return or exchange the car.
Roadside Assistance
Most certified pre-owned programs offer free roadside service in case your car breaks down while still under warranty.
Special Financing
Reduced-rate loans are available through many certified pre-owned programs. Manufacturer-backed inspections and warranties help eliminate the risks involved with buying pre-owned, so buyers who qualify can take advantage of the great offers.
Transferable Warranty
When a new car warranty transfers with the certification of the car and remains eligible for the next owner, it is known as a transferable warranty. Once the original transferable warranty expires, an extended warranty takes effect.
Warranty Deductible
This is the amount for which you are responsible when repair work is performed under the warranty. Some manufacturers require a deductible while others don't, so always ask.

Manufacturer's 7 years / 100,000 miles Powertrain Limited Warranty from original in-service date. 12-month/12,000-mile Comprehensive Limited Warranty. See dealer for details.. See dealer for details. Rental Reimbursement $30/day.
Age/Mileage Eligibility 6 model years or newer / less than 80,000 miles
Lease Term Certified Yes
Point Inspection 172
Return/Exchange Program No
Roadside Assistance Yes
Special Financing Yes
Transferrable Warranty Yes
Warranty Deductible $100

Learn more about certified pre-owned vehicles

Printable Version

2003 Ford Thunderbird Convertible

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