2000 Pontiac Trans Am convertible

The styling of the Trans Am is a bit overdone. The sculpted curves, bulging side panels and fog lamps, all said to be part of its "bold, muscular design," only gave me sensory overload. But the real fun of the Trans Am is not looking at it but driving it. The power, and thrill, behind the Trans Am is its 5.7-liter V8 engine. This powerplant puts out 305 hp at 5,200 rpm and 335 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Thanks to the V8 growl and throaty dual exhaust, I got my boy-racer mentality back after thinking it forever lost in the Ford Focus wagon. I found myself wanting to leave the windows down and jump in, Dukes of Hazzard style. At any rate, the Trans Am has plenty of power when you need it, or even if you just want to show off by leaving everyone else in the dust at a stoplight when the light turns green. Improvements for 2000 include cast-iron manifolds, a more durable starter, and a more efficient canister for an onboard refueling vapor recovery system.

The V8 links to an optional six-speed manual transmission featuring an optional Hurst shifter. This improved gearshift provides shorter, more concise shifts and makes for a pleasurable driving experience. However, like other six-speeds on the market, an annoying skip-shift feature forces you into fourth gear from first if the rpms are high enough. While I realize this is to promote fuel economy, it rates right up there with idiot lights that tell you when to shift.

The rear-wheel-drive Trans Am has a limited-slip torsion differential and a 19-mm stabilizer bar. The SLA front suspension has monotube gas-charged shocks and a 30-mm stabilizer bar. Our test vehicle also had optional traction control. Even with the beefy suspension, the Trans Am was prone to understeering and overall sloppy handling, especially noticeable on curvy roads. The body motion and accompanying rattling that occurred while driving over rough roads was disconcerting at best.

Also, while I'm nitpicking, the interior needs some help. While decked out with luxurious leather seats as standard equipment, the plastic instrument panel controls and console look cheap in contrast. Ditto for the vanity mirrors. Where the heck are the lights? On a positive note, the six-way power driver's seat with lumbar support was heavenly. But, my friend Joe had a bit of trouble getting out of the front passenger seat as well as adjusting it to a comfortable position. And the catalytic-converter hump on the floor didn't help matters.

Regardless, I had a blast driving it, especially with the top down. The power top has a glass rear window with a defroster and takes little time to drop. A hard, three-piece tonneau cover hogged most of the scarce trunk space and is better left in the garage.

Base price for the Trans Am convertible is a whopping $30,700. With options such as the Hurst shifter, 16-in. chromed aluminum wheels, traction control, custom bucket seats with lumbar support, and a $535 destination charge, the price jumps to $32,890. With such a hefty price tag, I imagine this vehicle would appeal to young male trust-fund recipients and men going through a stuck-in-the-seventies midlife crisis.

-- Sherri Koucky