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Video | The Pontiac Fiero Was GM’s 1980s Mid-engine Sports Car

I recently had the chance to drive a Pontiac Fiero, which is a rather interesting car. I say this because it came out of 1980s General Motors, during a period of cost-cutting and massive vehicles, and yet it was a mid-engine, 2-seater sports car. You already know this, though, because everyone knows the Fiero.

Everyone knows the Fiero and everyone who grew up in the 1980s has an opinion about the Fiero: it’s a car that inspires more of a backstory than basically any other car I know. It wasn’t executed right. It was starved of what it could’ve been. It’s crazy that GM did it. It’s crazy they didn’t do it better. It’s more fun than people think. It’s less fun than it should’ve been. People say a lot about the Fiero, but for me, it’s all just been conjecture, because up until my drive, I had never actually climbed behind the wheel of one. But now, here we are.

The Fiero I drove was a nice one. It was late in the production range, a 1987 model — the Fiero ran from 1984 to 1988 — and it was a "GT," which meant that it had a V6 instead of the base-level 4-cylinder. But don’t get too excited: the 4-cylinder made less than 100 horsepower, and the V6 was somewhere around 140. This thing wasn’t designed for all-out speed. Still, though, the one I drove was the top-end model — though it did have one drawback: the automatic transmission.

Other than that, though, the Fiero I drove was pretty nice — a well-kept, low-mileage example, which is a feat because the vast majority of Fiero models have been driven hard, destroyed, modified, damaged, or turned into Lamborghini kit cars. A nice Fiero is a huge rarity, so I wanted to experience it, automatic or not.

So I was eager to get behind the wheel of the Fiero after hearing so much about it for so long, and I quickly discovered something that surprised me: it’s actually pretty good. No, it isn’t fast, and I suspect it wasn’t even fast by the standards of its day. But it was surprisingly enjoyable. The steering is tighter than I expected, and it has more of a go-kart feeling than I was thinking it possibly would or, frankly, possibly could, considering who made it and when. It’s actually a bit of a hoot to drive, as long as your drive route is mostly tight corners rather than long straightaways — for the Fiero has no legs to stretch.

Admittedly, there are some drawbacks. The interior is laughable compared to modern cars, and it’s even quite mediocre compared to cars of its time. The power aspect is weak, like I mentioned, and for that reason you always got the reminder that you were in the "other" Pontiac sports car — not the brawny Firebird, but the little Fiero. It’s like driving a Toyota 86 when the Supra exists.

But still, I think the Fiero wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Given the cult of discussion around this car, and around how it "could’ve been better," and around the very idea that GM had the audacity to create a 2-seater mid-engine sports car, I thought it’d be miles from what I was hoping for — but it wasn’t. It was a fun car, and I enjoyed driving it, and I think a manual would’ve made it even better. And so, I’m happy to say that ultimately, the Fiero is a lot better than I thought — and I suspect most fake Lamborghini Diablo owners would agree.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Wow. Some of the hard core ignorance…  GM produced turbo charged Skyhawks and Sunbirds plus the Cavalier Z24 in the 80s as well as Camaro IROC Z28s and Firebird Trans Ams. Clearly you weren’t around then to know Pontiac had other sporty cars and GM made some decent four cylinder small coupes and convertibles. 

  2. Wow. Some of the hard core ignorance…  GM produced turbo charged Skyhawks and Sunbirds plus the Cavalier Z24 in the 80s as well as Camaro IROC Z28s and Firebird Trans Ams. Clearly you weren’t around then to know Pontiac had other sporty cars and GM made some decent four cylinder small coupes and convertibles. 

  3. In the revised body, those back windows provided two distinct purposes.

    1. It provided better visibility than a solid side pillar. 
    2. It provided better aerodynamics than an open side pillar. 
    Also “loud” is also called “bass boost” and was very useful when switching from FM to cassette and back without having to change the equalizer. 
    • The “Loud” button is actually used for low volume listening. At low volumes, the low and high notes can be overwhelmed, so the loud button boosts them. Its a simple equalizer. 

  4. Author: “I say this because it came out of 1980s General Motors, during a period of cost-cutting and massive vehicles”.  Incorrect. 

    FYI:  Massive reductions in vehicle weight and size took place in all of the GM car divisions which pre-dated the Fiero.  Note that the X-cars came out in 1979 and lasted through about 1985.  Millions were sold.  X-cars had lots (!) of terrible problems, but were definitely not “massive” vehicles.

  5. I bought a brand new 4 speed, V6 1985 Fiero GT and put 160,000 miles on it over 14 years.  It was a great looking commuting car – turned heads everywhere I drove it.  I had no expectations of it being anything else.  I already owned a 1979 Corvette. 

    But during my Fiero ownership, I also owned a 1986 Trans Am with the carbureted 305 V8 engine.  I took both to the local dragstrip on the same day.  The Fiero turned 15.6 seconds @ 87 mph.  The Trans Am turned 15.7 @ 88 mph.  I never had a contemporary 302 Mustang pull away from me.  So much for your musings about  the Fiero not performing as well as most any other popular American sporty car of the time… even though I didn’t buy it for performance.

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Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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