Pros: Quick, Stylish, Overall Performance, Price.
Cons: Interior plastics, Some reliability issues, exhaust sound effects.
When most people think of fast cars from the past, the late Ford Probe is probably one of the last cars to come to mind. The Probe was (to say the least) massed produced, however in GT trim lines the Probe was more of a rarity, leaving most of the public with the base engine that made for a car that just looked fast, kinda like the Camaros of the early 90s equipped with the 3.4 liter V6. Prior to driving this 1989 Probe GT I thought I was in for another ho hum experience (minutes before I drove this car I tested a 1996 Hyundai Elantra). Ford rated the 1989 Probe GT at 145 horsepower, so I was not exactly enthusiastic about the potential out-right performance this car might offer. While the Probe may not have been the fastest car on the market during the 1989 model year, it offered surprising muscle that I was not expecting from a 1980s Mazda built vehicle.
For the 1989 model year the Probe came in a variety of trim levels, the base GL, the mid level LX, and the top of the line GT (tester). All trim levels except the GT receive a naturally aspirated 2.2 SOHC 4-cylinder, while the GT (tester) was furnished with a turbo, helping this 2.2 12 valve engine provide much more giddy-up versus the naturally aspirated trims (145 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque). Two transmissions are available, a 5-speed manual (equipped in tester) and a 4-speed fully automatic.
One of the most impressive qualities offered from the 1989 Ford Probe was its ability to jump from the light with more than enough umph. Despite a bit of torque steer on hard throttle, the Probe GT moves fast, and with very little turbo lag. Despite the Probe's peak torque and horsepower being reached at a relatively low RPM (torque at 3,500, horsepower at 4,300) the Probe GT retains much of its power from almost idle to near redline (6,000 RPM). Depending on what you like hearing coming from your exhaust note you might be impressed or disappointed with how quiet this engine is under hard acceleration. I personally would have liked to have heard a more aggressive exhaust note. The 89 Probe GT sounds more like your run of the mill family car under full throttle than your typical sports car. The standard 5-speed manual transmission is smooth, though the throws are far too long. I have experienced shorter throws with many 5-speed equipped trucks; a sports car should not have throws as long as the Probe GT's 5-speed.
Not only did the Probe GT impress me with its ability to accelerate better than many sub $20,000 sports cars of this time period, the Probe also showed very good road manners on the twisties. With the adjustable suspension set to sport, the Probe GT leans very little in hard turns. The probe also offers decent grip, and precise steering giving the driver both a fun yet safe experience on winding roads.
The 1989 Ford Probe GT does well on the freeway, though wind and engine noise can get annoying, especially beyond 75 MPH. The top gear ratio is tall, though not tall enough to keep RPM below 3,000 when cruising at 65 MPH, this results in quite a bit of engine noise. A slight gripe is the suspension adjust feature, even when adjusted to soft the ride is anything but. The Probe is not exactly jarring when going over rough surfaces, though you will hardly notice the difference over sport mode. When accomplishing steep grades the 5-speed transmission did not need to be down-shifted into 4th gear for this 2,900 lb vehicle to accelerate. These good hill climbing manners from this particular model year was very surprising since my test drive with a newer 2.5 powered V6 Probe did require a down-shift to accelerate up some of the same steep inclines.
Braking is just as impressive as the Probe GT's 0-60 MPH jumps. The 4-wheel disc brakes do an incredible job stopping this car without fuss. ABS was an option on this car back in 1989, though my tester was not equipped.
EPA estimates are a little low for a car with a small 12 valve engine, coming in at 21/27. Many owners however, including the owner of my tester claims over 30 MPG when cruising on the freeway.
The interior of the 1989 Probe GT, next to acceleration, was the most surprising asset of this car. Keep in mind, when I say "surprising" with the interior, I don't necessarily mean it in a good way; let me explain. While many Ford products of this time period, i.e the Mustang GT boasted dull interiors, the Probe actually feels modern. The instrument cluster offers all the goodies you would find in a more expensive sports car such as oil pressure gauge, voltmeter, boost gauge, tachometer, etc. etc. The only problem here is Ford's use of odd gadgetry throughout the car. For example, the cruise control is some odd bar that juts out of the steering column, you must push a button and then scroll through the settings. The Windshield wipers require you to use a manual crank ( kinda like the manual cranks for seat adjustments). The same type of non user friendly set-up is used with the headlights. The Ford 6-speaker stereo system sounds a bit weak by todays standards, however back in 1989 this system was far better than what was offered in cars like the 1989 Eclipse.
The plastics throughout the cabin also feel cheap; not a big surprise there. The map pockets are almost nonexistent, jutting out of the lower portion of the doors like it was an afterthought from Ford/Mazda that someone might need storage space up front, the same can be said about the tiny center console. The HVAC vents are also an issue, the passenger vent is almost hidden below the glove box which makes air blow towards the passenger's torso.
Seating was not exactly on my compliment list. While the Toyota Supra and other sports cars in 1989 were giving their drivers supportive bucket seats, the cloth front bucket seats in Probe GT feel more like they should have been left for the Ford Taurus. Upper body support is adequate, however thigh support is nonexistent. When driving in later model year Probe GTs, it seems as though Ford did not catch on; there had not been very many improvements in seating over the years. Head, leg, and elbow room for room for both the driver and passenger are good, however head room is limited in the rear thanks to the sloping hatchback. On a positive note, even though there is limited room in the rear, this car feels like a Lincoln Town Car compared to cars like the 1989 Mitsubishi Eclipse, and the 1990 Geo Strom GSI.
Since the seats are 50/50 split, the already roomy hatch of the 1989 Ford Probe offers tons of stowage space. Even without the seats folded down there is enough room for 3 weeks worth of groceries for a family of 5.
Today, the 1989 Ford Probe GT probably won't get a second glance from a passerby, however back in 1989 this car was quite the looker. Guised up in GT trim, you get a spoiler, ground effects, 15" alloy rims, and the turbo insignia engraved in the rear quarter panels to help segregate this car from the less powerful trim levels. Novelty pop-up headlamps are also used which keep in tune with the 1980s. Remember the movie "Back To The Future?" The Ford Probe, when it was still a concept vehicle, was used in this movie as a vision of cars we would be driving in the far off future; production of the Probe ended in 1997.
When the 1989 Ford Probe GT came into production these cars were being sold for almost $20,000. Like many new desirable cars, many dealers priced this model at almost $4,000 above MSRP. To get your hands on a good running Ford Probe GT you will probably have to pay about 5-10% of what this car ran for when new. I have seen Ford Probe GTs go for as low as $1,000 with the claim "runs like new." The price for my tester was $2,000 with less than 80,000 miles on the odometer. With that said, how well did this vehicle hold up over 13 years? The head gasket had to be replaced, clutch replaced, wheel bearings replaced (was a recall), catalytic converter replaced, muffler fell off; needed replaced, oil leaks repaired, the alternator had to be replaced twice, and a paint job was performed after 5 years of ownership. This might seem reasonable for a 13 year old car, though with only 80,000 miles on the odometer I find this many major repairs a little hard to swallow.
Despite some reliability issues, this is definitely a car worth test driving. If you are in the market for a used car and only have a few grand to spend, the 1989 Ford Probe GT offers style, performance, economy, and a great deal of fun.
-Happy Car Shopping!