The contemporary car is spawned by platform committees made up of representatives from every discipline styling, engineering, manufacturing, purchasing, materials handling, pricing, marketing, distribution and so on. This process makes a lot of sense considering the complexities involved in bringing a new car to market.
To elicit interest in their new products, platform committees often increase the number of features offered while keeping the car competitively priced. In this area, the Ford Thunderbird platform committee has hit a home run with its 1994 product line-and they've done particularly well with the Thunderbird LX coupe.
Our test car was just loaded with options - a 205-hp V8, a power moonroof, anti-lock brakes (ABS), traction assist, remote keyless entry, a premium sound system with a power antenna and temperature control. These features bumped the sticker price up to $20,550.
This amount compares favorably with the Thunderbird LX's competition. The Pontiac Grand Prix SE we tested-with no moonroof and the base 160-hp V6 engine-had a sticker price of $19,436. Put a moonroof and the optional 205-hp V6 in the Grand Prix and the price leaps ahead of the Thunderbird's. Meanwhile, the top-of-the-line Toyota Camry SE Coupe, with leather interior, moonroof and 188-hp V6, comes in at almost $27,000.
Ford stylists have done an excellent job on the '94 LX coupe. They have retained the distinctive Thunderbird appearance yet have taken it to the next generation. The styling is more aerodynamic-front and rear fascia treatments and curved door lines give it the crouching, low-hood, air-piercing look now popular in sporty cars.
Our Thunderbird was nice finished in Deep Emerald Green Metallic, with a green cloth interior. The cast aluminum wheels, part of an optional preferred equipment package, underscored the car's sporty presence. We liked the look and thought it compared favorably with the Camry, while presenting a cleaner, more contemporary profile than the Grand Prix.
Gauges, controls and switches on the Thunderbird LX are conveniently placed, easy to operate and well-lighted. We liked the positioning of the gearshift lever in the console (our vehicle was equipped with the four-speed electronic-shift automatic transmission)-it twisted toward the driver for firm, positive control. However, we didn't care for the small, dish-like storage area or the cupholder that prohibited comfortable use of the armrest.
Ford redesigned much of the Thunderbird's interior for 1994, incorporating standard dual air bags. Other occupant safety features the Thunderbird boasts include energy-absorbing visors and door trim panels designed for impact protection.
The front bucket seats in our test vehicle included a six-way adjustable seat for the driver. We found the seats were very comfortable and supportive-among the best we've ever experienced. The driver's seat however, lacked adjustable lumbar support. And all the seats seemed a little bit too narrow, which may present a comfort problem for wider-hipped people. Headroom in was good - but remember, this is a sport coupe, and tall people could have clearance problems in all entries in this vehicle class.
Another thing: Ford claims this car will seat five. OK, perhaps five people could sit together comfortably on short trips-but based on our testdrive experience, we think cramming three passengers in the rear seat for anything longer than an across-town jaunt would constitute unjust punishment. And adding to their discomfort would be lack of rear-seat legroom, which is limited when the front seats are all the way back.
We found the interior to be quiet and comfortable-perfect for listening to the premium sound system that included an AM/FM stereo receiver, a cassette player and a power antenna. While Ford's vaunted JBL sound system is not available on the Thunderbird LX, this one nevertheless sounded great.
As mentioned above, our Thunderbird LX was well-equipped for running gear. It had the optional 205hp V8, a four-speed, electronic-shift automatic transmission, ABS and traction control. These all came together well to make the LX a fun-to-drive vehicle. Although this was a quiet-riding coupe (like all good Fords), the V8 roared to assert its power when we stepped on the accelerator.
The transmission did its job quietly and unobtrusively. Shift points seemed to be right where they should be under all conditions.
The electronic traction control on the Thunderbird LX teams with the ABS to provide braking to whichever drive wheel happens to slip. Although we didn't have snowy road conditions to really challenge us, we did have wet, slippery pavement, and our test-drive vehicle didn't experience any control problems.
Street, road and highway performance are this Thunderbird's bread and butter. Whether you do a lot of distance driving or just use your car to commute, we think you'll find the LX a joy to drive. It handles well, it's comfortable to ride in, and it seems to live by the "best surprise is no surprise" rule-meaning that unlike some cars, the Thunderbird LX does exactly what you expect it to do, exactly when you expect it to do it.
If you're looking for even more power, you may want to check out the Thunderbird Super Coupe with its techy, supercharged and intercooled V6 engine that pumps out a sincere 230 hp.
We think the Thunderbird LX is the best buy among sport coupes. It offers appealing features, such as a V8 engine and a moonroof, while keeping the sticker price close to the $20,000 mark.
In order to find a comparable bargain, you'd have to dial back to the basic Toyota Camry LE Coupe and add the necessary options. But even with the Camry LE, you'd still have a 188-hp V6 competing with the Thunderbird LXs 205-hp V8-and the Camry LE doesn't boast ABS or traction assist.
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