Premium sporty/performance car; Built in USA
  • 2-door convertible
  • longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $10,500 – $15,500*


2002 Thunderbird


2002 Thunderbrd


2003 Thunderbird


2003 Ford Thunderbird interior


2004 Ford Thunderbird

Pros:
  • Acceleration
  • Steering/handling
Cons:
  • Cargo room
  • Climate controls
  • Rear visibility

Ford aimed the Thunderbird at “relaxed sportiness,” and basically hit the mark–though sales slumped after initial high demand. The two-seater is not as mechanically refined as it should be, and interior materials fail to impress. Even so, Thunderbird is more practical than a genuine sports car. As a near-luxury two-passenger V8 convertible, it’s in a class by itself.

Overview

Ford revived a famous old name with the 2002 Thunderbird, a two-passenger convertible with unabashedly retro styling cues. It was built on a shortened version of the rear-wheel-drive platform that had been developed for the Lincoln LS and Jaguar S-Type sedans.

A removable hardtop with the T-Bird’s “trademark” porthole windows was available to supplement the standard power-folding soft top, which had a heated glass rear window. The only engine was a 3.9-liter V8 shared with the LS. The sole transmission was a Lincoln/Jaguar five-speed automatic.

Thunderbirds came with antilock four-wheel disc brakes, side airbags, 17-inch alloy wheels, and a CD changer. A Premium model added chrome wheels and traction control, Interior upgrade packages matched various trim pieces to the car’s exterior color. Many Thunderbirds were painted in pastel hues, as had been the case with the original 1955-57 models.

Yearly Updates

2003 Thunderbird
More horsepower marked the sophomore edition of Ford’s revived Thunderbird. The 3.9-liter V8 gained 28 horsepower, now rated at 280. Once again, the sole transmission was a five-speed automatic; but for 2003, it was available with an extra-cost manual-shift feature. The Thunderbird’s instrument cluster also was revised this year.
Deluxe and Premium trim levels were offered, the Premium distinguished by standard heated seats and chrome alloy wheels.
2004 Thunderbird
Revisions were minor for 2004. A new Light Sand interior trim package was available, wheels were restyled, and a universal garage-door opener became standard.
2005 Thunderbird
A 50th Anniversary model joins Ford’s 2-seat convertible line for 2005. Added midyear, the 50th Anniversary model gets unique trim, a standard removable hardtop, and a manual-shift feature. The Thunderbird is scheduled to be discontinued after 2005.

Engines

longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive

In its first season on the market, the Thunderbird’s dual-overhead-cam 3.9-liter V8 engine made 252 horsepower. Output rose to 280 hp for 2003. All Thunderbirds have a five-speed automatic transmission. For 2005, a manual-shift feature was made available on the 5-speed automatic.

dohc V8
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.9/240
Engine HP 252-280
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 261-286
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed automatic

17/23

16.3

Road Test

Full-throttle standing-start acceleration was good in the 2002 model. But the 2002s were sometimes slow to respond in the 35-55 mph range, because the transmission did not always downshift promptly.

Later models feel strong at all speeds, able to reach 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. However, sloppy, indecisive gear changes and tardy downshifts still frustrate smooth delivery of power and inhibit passing response. The manual-shift feature does not help much, either.

Fuel economy is subpar. Test 2002 examples averaged 16.3 to 20.5 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving. Ford recommends premium fuel.

Although the Thunderbird’s ride is not as smooth or solid as might be expected, it’s more compliant than most two-seat convertibles. That’s especially with the top down, when bumps can be absorbed by body flex. Expect significant top-down cowl shake over bumps, but rigidity is okay with the hardtop in place.

Serving as a relaxed cruiser, the T-Bird is too big and heavy to be sports-car agile, especially in tight maneuvers. Still, the two-seater exhibits good steering response, modest body lean, and good cornering grip.

Quietness is another virtue. A cozy coupe with hardtop in place, the Thunderbird is among the quieter convertibles with the soft top up or down. Relatively minor wind disturbance is evident with the top down, but normal conversation is possible with the windows up.

Road noise and the exhaust note are appropriately subdued, and the engine emits a satisfying whine in full acceleration. The convertible top is nicely lined and insulated.

Smaller-sized gauges improved the 2003 instrument cluster, but they retained a hard-to-read black-on-white scheme with turquoise needles. Audio and climate controls are close to the driver, but look-alike climate buttons can be confusing. A convenient central latch on the windshield header manually releases the soft top, which powers down in about 8 seconds.

Overall, the cabin falls short of seriously upscale in appearance and feel, with run-of-the-mill materials and, in some cases, indifferent assembly. Optional body-color interior trim looks jazzy, but some of it has a tacky, painted appearance.

Thunderbirds are wider than most two-seaters, but long-legged folks might find footwells confining. With the top up, tall occupants will want more head room. The driving position is nicely tailored via a standard power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, but seats are fairly hard and mostly flat.

Outward vision is compromised by thick windshield pillars and, top-up, by short side windows and the top’s wide rear quarters. The hardtop’s porthole corner windows help some, but vision for lane changes is still blocked by the right headrest. Entry/exit is better than in most two-seaters, aided by conventional ride height, though long doors can frustrate in tight spaces.

Careful packing gets a couple’s small bags into the shallow trunk, but it won’t accept tall objects. A bin behind the seats is suitable for purse or briefcase, but nearly inaccessible with the top up.

There’s a small glovebox, console bin, map pockets, and two console cupholders, but no ashtray.

Ratings

Model Tested: 2002 Ford Thunderbird Premium

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.

Performance

Acceleration - 6
60%
Fuel Economy - 4
40%
Ride Quality - 5
50%
Steering/Handling - 7
70%
Quietness - 4
40%

Accommodations

Controls/Materials - 7
70%
Room/Comfort Front - 6
60%
Room/Comfort Rear - 0
00%
Cargo Room - 2
20%

Other

Value - 4
40%

Total: 45

Specifications

2-door convertible
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
107.2 186.3 72.0 52.1
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
6.9 18.0 2
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
37.2 43.7
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: N/A

NHTSA

(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
N/A0%
Front Passenger Injury - N/A
N/A0%

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
N/A0%
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A
N/A0%

HLDI

(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision N/A
Injury N/A
Theft N/A

Trouble Spots

Air conditioner
Description: The air conditioning may not work properly on the driver’s or passenger’s vents on models with dual automatic temperature control due to a bad control head module. (2002)
Cold-starting problems
Description: The engine may flood when starting in cold (between 30-40 degrees F), damp weather requiring recalibration of the powertrain control module. (2002)
Engine fan
Description: The engine may overheat due to a malfunction of the hydraulic cooling fan motor on the 3.9L DOHC engine. (2002)
Oil leak
Description: Small oil leaks from the oil pan drain plug require the use of a drain plug sealing washer instead of the rubber O-ring. (2002)

Recall History

2002
Description: During a crash, the seat recliner may come into contact with the seatbelt, causing it to possibly cut the lap portion. Dealers will inspect and replace affected parts.
2004
Description: Certain power adjustable seats may have been improperly welded, increasing the risk of injury during a crash. Dealers will inspect and replace affected parts.
2005
Description: Fuel tank may crack because of localized thin wall section, creating potential for fuel leakage and odor.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.

Pricing

Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.