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The 2002 Ford Thunderbird is available with a removable hardtop, or as a soft-top convertible.

2002 Ford Thunderbird Road Test
Distinctively Retro

By Bill Roebuck

You've likely seen many photos of the 2002 Ford Thunderbird in newspapers and magazines, but have not seen too many of these new cars on the road. The rebirth of a classic that had all but disappeared from the automotive landscape will always attract attention. The new T-bird is no exception -- everywhere your drive it, it garners looks and comments -- especially from children and retirement-age adults. (Editor's update: The 2005 model year -- the fiftieth in the life of the famous Thunderbird -- is also its last.)

The all-new Thunderbird is a wonderful car to look at. There are retro styling cues from the tip of the grille to the back of the trunk that remind you of the appearance of the original 1955 model. But since only about 2,000 of these two-door convertibles are allotted for Canada per year, and only about 10% of those for the GTA, your chances of driving one are slim, no matter how great your interest. (Because of its limited availability, the Thunderbird was not entered in Test Fest.)

Right off the bat, you'll find the Thunderbird is not unlike a Lincoln LS in its interior space, handling and road manners. And it throws a bit of Jaguar S-type performance and ride into the mix too. That's explained by Ford's use of a Lincoln platform and Jaguar components in the assembly of its new bird.

It's reasonably quick to accelerate (0-100 km/h takes just 7.5 seconds), and feels powerful, although it's not torquey enough to push you back into the leather-clad seats. It's more of a touring cruiser than a sports roadster.

Although the ride is a bit soft, the handling is surprisingly tight -- it corners like a true sports car. The 17-in. alloy wheels help. The tight sensation comes from an X-brace reinforced chassis with a rear subframe for stiffness, and four-wheel independent suspension of a short/long arm design for ride smoothness.

The usual luxury car comforts are in abundance, as you would expect for something with a $51,550 price tag for the base model. A six-disc, in-dash CD player pumps sound through a 180-watt Audiophile Sound System, and the dual-zone automatic temperature controls work quite well for both passengers, even with the top lowered (there's no rear seat, just like the 1955 original). An interior colour accent package adds the body colour to the seat inserts, steering wheel, shift handle and the instrument panel. It makes the interior striking!

The power seats are comfortable and the power tilt/telescope steering column makes it easy to find a good fit. Visibility is limited with the top up by the small rear window and the large A pillars, however.

There's enough room for weekend luggage for two, or two golf bags, in the 6.9 cu ft trunk, although the tonneau cover takes up quit a bit of space when you have retracted the cloth top.

Acceleration is provided by a smooth-running 3.9-litre engine producing 252 hp (it's same one as in the V8 Lincoln LS). The exhaust tuning lets out a throaty, soft rumble from dual pipes that lets you know there's eight-cylinder power under the hood. The five-speed automatic transmission shifts unnoticeably. It features all-speed traction control. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS are standard.

You can order a Thunderbird with a removable hardtop roof for $5,000 more. It gives you those nice rear-quarter portholes, but it's heavy and awkward, requiring two people to remove or install it. A special caddy comes with it to help you wheel it into the garage for storage. Once it's off, you're completely topless, so drivers need to check the weather forecast.

If there's anything about the new Thunderbird you don't like, you can blame a local boy. Canadian-born Mark Conforzi, the design manager, went to high school right here in Toronto.

One final point: There's a reason you don't see ads in the local papers for the new Thunderbirds, as most have already flown the coop. Some Canadian vehicles are even being secretly auctioned off to the U.S., making supplies here even slimmer. If you can get your hands on one, consider yourself a lucky bird.

© Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2002.

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