Used 1996 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Review

Edmunds expert review




What's new for 1996

A new standard V6 makes 40 more horsepower than the old one. The LT1 V8 also makes more power, particularly when equipped with Ram Air induction. A new color livens up the exterior, as if it needed it.

Vehicle overview

Aside from a small period of history during the early '80s, Firebird has been synonymous with performance since 1967. The blue-striped Trans Am from 1969 comes to mind, along with the 1974 SD-455, the 1978 black and gold 6.6-liter T/A abused by Burt Reynolds in "Smokey and the Bandit," the orange 1978 Firebird Esprit driven to fame by James Garner in "The Rockford Files," the 1989 Turbo V6 Indianapolis 500 pace car, and this, the current iteration of Pontiac's F-car.

The Firebird, in base form, is a beautiful car. The blend of angular greenhouse lines and softly bulging sheetmetal creates the automotive equivalent of Kim Basinger in a silk nightgown. Unfortunately, the bespoilered Trans Am, with its aero skirting, decklid Batwing, and peek-a-boo driving lights ruins the effect. Not to worry; the Formula provides all of the T/A's hardware goodies in a more restrained, lighter, less costly package.

The Firebird's cockpit is a nice blend of style and function, and is much better than, say, that found in a Dodge Stealth. Dual airbags and antilock brakes are standard, and Firebird can be equipped with an optional traction control system on the Formula and Trans Am. Additionally, convertible versions of each model were introduced in 1994, so if top-down motoring is preferable, for a boost in price it is yours.

Performance from the Corvette-derived 5.7-liter V8 is astounding, providing enough power to get the Firebird to 60 mph faster than your ten-year-old can get to 40 yards. The LT1 V8 is good for 10 more ponies in 1996, up from 275 horsepower on last year's V8. New for 1996 is a Ram Air WS6 Performance and Handling Package for the Formula and T/A. Twin hood scoops force cool air into the LT1, resulting in 20 extra horsepower. WS6 suspension tuning and P275/40ZR17 keep the Ram Air Firebird planted to the ground. Base models haven't been forgotten; the new 3800 Series II V6 makes 40 more horsepower and 25 foot-pounds more torque than the 1995 base engine. A Performance Package for base Firebirds includes four-wheel disc brakes, a limited slip differential, dual exhausts, bigger tires and a tighter steering ratio. All Firebirds get sharp five-spoke alloy wheels for 1996.

One new exterior color and one new interior color have been added to the roster. Any Firebird can be ordered with a power antenna in 1996, and steering wheel radio controls are available with any radio. A theft deterrent system with a personal security key fob is newly available.

With major powertrain improvements and hot sheetmetal, the 1996 Firebird fries Ford's Mustang. Stay away from the well-optioned Trans Am, because the Formula provides all the performance and image you need, and keeps your budget well in the black.






Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.