Pontiac Fiero GT: stylish and powerful, but not spacious

The Pontiac Fiero GT has arrived at last. The 2.8-liter, V-6 engine makes all the difference in the 18-month-old Fiero, which now has the zip it should have had at the start. Before the 2.8-liter V-6, the car was simply underpowered. Now it moves into a new class where the word performance has meaning.

Sadly, however, the 5-speed manual transmission won't arrive till 1986.

Low, sleek, and tiny, the Fiero is far more hefty than the automaker had planned when it began its initial work on the car. It's some 300 pounds heavier than the Toyota MR-2 sport coupe, for example, and doesn't feel quite as nimble and precise as the MR-2.

Even so, its distinctive styling, size, and ``presence'' on the highway are undebatable.

What is really different about the Fiero is the way it's built. No one denies that the Fiero is having a serious impact on the auto industry -- and could even be a forerunner of things to come. Instead of the normal construction techniques used in assembling an automobile, the Fiero has a plastic body skin which is applied to a driveable frame. The outside body panels are easily replaceable if damaged.

All that is well and good, but then there's the matter of space. Like the Toyota MR-2, the 2-seater Fiero is like a cocoon; there just isn't much room. The car is designed for two people, of course, but where do you put the luggage? The luggage space behind the engine is tight -- and there isn't any extra space inside the car itself.

But oh, is the Fiero stylish!

The base Fiero coupe starts out at $8,495, while the sport coupe is priced at $8,995. You can step up to the Fiero SE for $9,995, which has the V-6 engine as an option, and the GT for $11,795. All of these price quotes, of course, are for starters, not the final cost. The GT I've just been driving carries a window-sticker price of $14,023. That's $4,000-plus.

Buying a car such as the Pontiac Fiero calls for a balancing act. You have to balance practicality against the fun-filled potential of the car. Also, there is increasing competition in the field as more and more 2-seaters reach the showroom. Everyone seems to have a 2-seater either on the road or on the way.

Rear-quarter visibility in the Fiero is poor, but then you have mirrors both inside and out. Some advice: Move from one lane to another with extreme caution. A less-than-convenient feature is the fuel-door release lever which is high on the left side of the driver. Further, the gearshift lever is far too high for easy operation.

One thing is sure about the Pontiac Fiero: It turns a lot of heads as you drive. When you meet another Fiero owner on the road, wave.

Charles E. Dole is the Monitor's automotive editor.

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