Nauman Farooq checks out the 2002 Thunderbird
Ford have achieved the product placement coup of the year. The current Bondfilm features their prestige marques of Aston Martin and Jaguar and there's alsoa bit part for the new Thunderbird. Granted, this car literally got ten seconds worth of exposure inthis latest Bond flick, but Ford will have been delighted with the sight ofthe delectable Halle Barry climbing out of the Thunderbird as she arrivedat a party. I on the otherhand did not look as good driving a Thunderbird...
With theassistance of Steve Davidson, the sales manager of WhiteOaks Ford Lincoln in Mississauga, Ontario I set about selecting the Thunderbirdfor my road test. Steve took me to the dealership's stock compound where there were no fewer than twelve sparkling new Thunderbirdsparked up in a row. Having a range of colours to choose from, I decided to takethe classic light blue, appropriately named Thunderbird Blue. The orange of thecar used in the film is being used to best effect on the limited edition 2003'007' model only.
The differences between that model and my test car - apart from the colour choice- is that the 2003 model gets a power increase from 252 hp with 261 lb/ft oftorque (2002) to 280 hp with 286 lb/ft of torque (2003) from the samedisplacement 3.9 litre, V8 engine. Power is sent to the rear wheels via afive-speed automatic gearbox. That auto 'box is the only option unfortunately, which is ashame because this engine is agem. It would be wonderful to be able to enjoy it coupled to a manualtransmission. The original Thunderbird that inspired this model, sold from '55to '57 was a manual after all.
The Thunderbird is a good looking car. You might not describe it as pretty,but it has elegant lines and a lot of presence. Inside is uninspiring with the dashboardwas takendirectly out of the Lincoln LS8 - a car with which this new Thunderbird shares its chassis,engine and gearbox with. Ford did however change the dials, and they do lookgreat at night time glowing with a light blue hue, along with the needles.Chrome ringed dials would have been nice though.
It's a pleasant place to spend time, more so with the top down, than up. With thesoft-top up or the hard top in place the car does feel a bit claustrophobic and it has horrible blind spots.However, with the top down, not only does the car look nicer, it also improvesthe feel of the interior.
I did have few quibbles regarding the seats. First of all, they are alittle short in the thigh support area and secondly no matter how you adjust the seats, the driving positionfeels a bit odd. Coupled with the view you get out over the hood (bonnet ), pointingthis car takes a little getting used to. Whilst this isn't a sports car, theseats do lack side support and I was sliding around on the leather a bit duringthe day.
The aerodynamics of this car are surprisingly good with the roof down. There'sno buffeting to speak of so even at highway speeds, with the top down and the side windowsup, it's a calm drive. Roof up is even calmer, almost devoid of any road noiseor wind noise. Quiet until you press the pedal on the right that is. Provoke this mightyV8, and this car just picks up and goes like someone has just pressed the fastforward button. The performance figures might not lookthe greatest, with a 0-60 mph time of 7 seconds flat, with a top speed of 138mph, but it is more than fast enough for everyday use.
I just simply loved giving it a bootfull of throttle every chance I got, just so I could listen to that engine sing.This is where the auto-box lets it down as it sometimes changes up a gear toosoon, cutting out on the music from the engine bay. However, to its defence, itdoes change gears quickly and smoothly. Go on Ford - give us the Lincoln's semi-automatic gearbox? That wouldcertainly be a good compromise.
The handling however is not a compromise. The chassis and suspension aretuned for ultimate comfort, rather than ragged edge handling or anything inbetween. Forddoesn't deny this, saying this car is more of a cruiser rather than anout-an-out sports car. There is a lot of grip, and if you trust the tires(235/50R17) together with the traction control system, you can go around cornersswiftly. Understeer is the dish of the day. The brakescould be better with both feel of the pedal disappointing and theireffectiveness (stopping distance is 123-ft from 60 mph).
After spending nearly four-hours driving the Thunderbird, across highways and city streets, I did begin to admire the car. It's a car thatwould definitely grow on you. Take it for ahalf-hour test drive and you'd return feeling disappointed. Take it on alonger drive, and you would begin to appreciateits finer qualities.
At a base price of Cdn.$56,615 to the loaded price of Cdn.$61,615,this car is certainly not cheap.
In the Bond film, Halle Berry arrived to the party in the Thunderbird andamonst the company of Jaguars, Range Rovers and of course James Bond's new ride, the awesome Aston MartinVanquish. The Thunderbird held its own on the style front. So you can feel comfortable in the company ofprestige European cars at a much lower price and that is what does it for me.