Used 1997 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1997

Pontiac upgrades the Firebird in several ways for 1997. Performance freaks will appreciate the addition of Ram Air induction to the options list of the Formula and Trans Am convertibles. Audiophiles will be blown away by the newly optional 500-watt Monsoon sound system. Luxury intenders can get power seats swathed in leather this year. Safety-conscious buyers will find daytime running lights. Additional cosmetic and comfort items keep the fourth-generation Firebird fresh for its fifth year.

Vehicle overview

Except for 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 1977 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 executed than that found in its corporate twin, the Chevrolet Camaro. Dual airbags and anti-lock brakes are standard, and Firebird Formula and Trans Am can be equipped with an optional traction control system. 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 285 horsepower. Need more than that? A Ram Air WS6 Performance and Handling Package for the Formula and T/A is available, featuring twin hood scoops that force cool air into the LT1, resulting in 20 extra ponies. WS6 suspension tuning and P275/40ZR17 tires keep the Ram Air Firebird planted to the ground. Ram Air is available for the first time this year on convertible editions of the Formula and Trans Am. Base models are powered by a 3800 Series II V6 that makes 200 horsepower, 45 more than rival Ford Mustang. A Performance Package for base Firebirds includes four-wheel disc brakes, a limited slip differential, dual exhausts, bigger tires and a tighter steering ratio.

Pontiac has substantially improved the Firebird for 1997. In addition to the expanded availability of Ram Air, the Firebird can be equipped with a new 500-watt Monsoon sound system. Power seats can be covered in leather this year, and four-way seat adjustment is standard on all Firebird models. Air conditioning also makes the 1997 standard equipment list, along with a new center console with dual auxiliary power outlets. Base Firebirds get engine vibration dampeners and bodyside moldings, while Ram Air coupes receive 17-inch high polished wheels. Green Metallic joins the exterior color roster, and interiors can be dyed Dark Pewter if you please. Finally, GM makes good on its threat to add daytime running lights to the Firebird despite the car's hidden headlamp system. High intensity parking lamps glow all day long. Just great.

With world-class powertrains and hot sheetmetal at a low price, the 1997 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.