June 20, 2024


Automotive pure lust

1989 $20K Sports Coupe Roundup

From the July 1989 issue of Car and Driver.

No enthusiast needs more than a nanosecond to name the car he’d really like to own. Corvette. Porsche. Ferrari. These are the automobiles that every enthusiast lusts after. Unfortunately, most of us are deprived of our dream machines by the realities of a limited bank balance and the need for practical daily transportation. And unless we suddenly master the secret of insider trading or televangelism, we’re probably never going to have the wherewithal to quench our automotive thirst.

Fortunately, there is a breed of car that can bridge the gap between the enthusiast’s dreams and his financial constraints: the supercoupe.

Car and Driver adopted this term back in the mid-1970s, when enthusiastic cars were languishing in the shadows of emissions regulations and the nation’s scarce fuel supply. According to our definition, a supercoupe was any compact-sedan-based two-plus-two that had been fortified with the largest engine and stoutest suspension on its maker’s parts shelf. Such cars were practical: their rear seats, though typically too small for adults, provided room for kids or extra luggage. And their mass-market sedan heritage helped keep them affordable for mere mortals. These cars—Opel Mantas, Toyota Celicas, Mercury Capris, and Ford Mustang IIs—seem hopelessly antiquated to us now, but they served to sustain enthusiasts in a period when thirsty V-8s and wheel-spinning performance were all but extinct.

We certainly don’t suffer a horsepower shortage today. The marketplace offers more power and performance than ever before, but the price of admission into the upper echelons of speed is still prohibitive. Now as then, supercoupes provide the solution for the average enthusiast who wants to get in on the fun.

Just as in the seventies, modern supercoupes are derivatives of mass-market sedans. Not only does this help keep their sticker prices down, it also means that these supercoupes are built with proven, reliable hardware.

David DewhurstCar and Driver

For this test, we specified that each supercoupe must have a rear seat of some type, three doors or less, a high-performance powertrain and suspension, a low-slung body, and a price under $20,000—including air conditioning, a good stereo system, and freight.

The following cars met our criteria: the Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z, the Dodge Daytona Shelby, the Ford Mustang LX 5.0, the Ford Probe GT, the Honda Prelude Si, the Isuzu Impulse Turbo, the Mazda MX-6 GT, the Mitsubishi Eclipse GS Turbo, the Nissan 240SX SE, the Plymouth Laser RS Turbo, the Pontiac Firebird Formula, the Subaru XT6, and the Toyota Celica GT-S. Three other contenders, the Mazda RX- 7 two-plus-two, the Chrysler Conquest TSi, and the Mitsubishi Starion ESI-R, exceeded our $20,000 price cap. The new four-wheel-drive Eagle Talon TSi AWD/Mitsubishi Eclipse CSX Turbo met our requirements but was not yet available at the time of our test.

To narrow our thirteen eligible supercoupes down to a more manageable number, we assembled eight editors and had each pick one car. Each editor was allowed to justify his selection on paper; these rantings are included in this review. The process pared the list down to the following entries: the Mustang, the Probe, the Prelude, the MX-6, the 240SX, the XT6, the Celica, and the Eclipse. (Tony Assenza selected the Eclipse over its Diamond-Star twin, the Plymouth Laser, after a coin toss. If you’re a Plymouth fan, direct your gripes at Tony.)

David DewhurstCar and Driver

The final eight nominees made for a diverse group. We had cars with front drive, rear drive, and four-wheel drive. Engines included four-, six-, and eight­-cylinder units. Three of our entries were turbocharged, two had anti-lock brakes, six had more than the usual complement of two valves per cylinder, and three had double overhead camshafts. Horsepower ranged from 135 to 225, and all but two of our picks could exceed 120 mph. Clearly, our squadron of modern supercoupes was far more than simply a collection of sawed-off sedans.

We matched our eight contenders against each other on our favorite roads in Southern California. From Los Angeles, we headed north toward Santa Barbara via the Antelope Valley, Gorman, Frazier Park, and the snaky two-lane that slices through the Los Padres National Forest. We returned the next day over basically the same route, though we altered our path to include an extended freeway run. All drivers drove all cars and logged their likes and dislikes.

We concluded our evaluation by putting all of the cars through our standard battery of instrumented tests. Each contender was then scored in twelve individual categories, including an overall rating. We recommend that you first read the accompanying testimonials to learn more about each car. If you want to get right to the popping champagne corks, the voting results start here.

Eighth Place: Subaru XT6

David DewhurstCar and Driver

Traditional norms of automotive taste and design simply don’t apply to the Subaru XT6. As William Jeanes put it, “An unusual-looking car to this observer.” The rest of us agreed. From its bizarre exterior to its asymmetrically spoked steering wheel to its scattered climate-­control buttons to its strange switch pods, the XT6 looks like a machine from another world.

Once you memorize the control locations, however, the XT6’s interior seems less unearthly and becomes a reasonably efficient base of operations. The instrument cluster and control pods move up and down with the tilt steering column, ensuring that the dials always remain visible and that the switches stay within reach. The driving position was fine for most of us.

Phil Berg’s Choice

Comfortable living outside the realm of accepted logic? You could belong to the minority that believes Subaru’s Group B-pretender, full-time four-wheel-drive XT6 is the complete sports coupe.

Pay no attention to my associates. They think the XT6 is butt ugly. But true beauty is more than sheetmetal deep. The XT6 is not deformed—it’s merely aesthetically handicapped. Nor is the $18,346 price high, as these wits would have you believe.

My colleagues should pay more attention to logic. The XT6 is reliable, it handles much better than its looks suggest, it’s not subject to excessive theft or insurance rates, and it excels in shifting, straight-line stability, and rough ­road ride and traction. If your friends aren’t impressed by that, you can always try this: “I’m driving this Subaru XT6 because my Testarossa is still in the shop waiting for wiper blades and my IROC-Z was stolen again, this time for the door handles and the seat tracks. They missed those last time.” Or just smile knowingly.

A sports coupe is supposed to be fun. The 2.7-liter flat-six-powered XT6 is not the fastest coupe you can buy, nor is it the best-handling. These guys therefore think it’s not fun. But I think they just don’t know how to have fun. The XT6 not only offers traction, reliability, and anonymity, but it has the ability to turn bad situations into roaring riots of recreation. Life’s too short not to experience a nighttime banzai blast home during a hurricane.

The XT6’s windshield is not rose­-tinted, and that’s what I like best.

Still, the four-wheel-drive XT6 offers the enthusiast few good reasons to put up with its quirks. With a 16.7-second quarter-mile time, the XT6 was the slowest-accelerating car in the group. The flat-six engine gives its all willingly enough—accompanied at full throttle by a characteristic Subaru throb—but 145 horsepower simply isn’t enough to move the 2887-pound Subaru swiftly.

David DewhurstCar and Driver

The XT6 has little appetite for hard driving. Although stable and controllable at the limit—witness its excellent slalom performance—the Subaru doesn’t have much grip. Moreover, heavy steering and substantial body roll hamper the XT6’s twisty-road performance.

With an as-tested price of $18,346, the XT6 will probably appeal only to the supercoupe buyer who values four-wheel drive above all else. And with the impending arrival of the four-wheel-drive Eagle Talon TSi AWD/Mitsubishi Eclipse CSX Turbo, even that advantage won’t be exclusive for long.

In this talented group, the Subaru XT6’s lack of performance and quirky personality leave it well back of the pack.

1989 Subaru XT6
Front-engine, 4-wheel-drive coupe
145-hp flat-6, 5-speed manual, 2887 lb
Base/as-tested price: $17,951/$18,346

60 mph: 9.0 sec

100 mph: 30.7 sec

1/4 mile: 16.7 sec @ 80 mph

Braking, 70­0 mph: 206 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.76 g 

C/D observed fuel economy: 18 mpg

Seventh Place: Toyota Celica GT-S

David DewhurstCar and Driver

It’s hard to believe what an advance the Celica GT-S’s engine was when it appeared in 1985. Producing 135 horsepower from only 2.0 normally aspirated liters—thanks to twin overhead camshafts, sixteen valves, and a 7300-rpm redline—the Celica’s engine set new standards for power and sophistication. A scant four years later, however, the engine and the car surrounding it are near the back of the supercoupe class.

There were two distinct performance levels in our eight-car group: the fastest four cars could hit 60 mph in seven seconds or less, cover the quarter-mile in the low fifteen-second range, and easily exceed 130 mph. The other four were considerably behind in all three categories. The one-time-powerhouse GT-S managed only to be the quickest car in the second tier.

William Jeanes’ Choice

My pick for the supercoupe runoff turned out to be the Toyota Celica GT­S, a car that has an undeniable appeal to the enthusiast who’s not intent on dazzling the highway patrol with glitz. The GT-S is good-looking without being showy, but Toyota intends to change the looks before long, meaning that you’d better act quickly.

The GT-S has the stoutest normally aspirated version of Toyota’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder—a supersmooth, sixteen-valve, double-overhead-cam engine rated at 135 horses and with a maximum torque of 125 pound-feet. It’s an engine with enough sauce picante to spice up your commute.

David DewhurstCar and Driver

My nominee puts its power to the pavement through the front wheels and uses a quick-shifting five-speed manual transmission. To the energetic driver, this combination is far more satisfying than the optional automatic.

There are disc brakes all around, positioned behind handsome alloy wheels and 205/60HR-14 high-performance tires. The suspension is fully independent, with coil springs, well-located struts, and anti-roll bars at both ends. The package is rewardingly stiff without intruding on the traditional Toyota silence.

At a base price of $15,738 and an as-­tested sticker of $19,673, the GT-S is by no means a budget leader. But there are compensations. In any ratings we’ve ever seen, Toyota’s frequency-­of-repair numbers should be called “infrequency-of-repair” numbers. This, together with a hatchback shape and good fuel economy, makes this car a winner—and a practical one.

The Celica’s chassis is showing its age; it received the lowest handling grades of the group. Rich Ceppos summed it up: “The suspension is too soft, and there are all sorts of extraneous body motions when you push the handling envelope.” The Celica’s 0.82 g of grip is admirable, but the suspension is squirrelly and hard to control at the limit. As a result, the Celica turned in the slowest slalom time of any car in the group.

The Celica GT-S is a quality piece, screwed together well and filled to the brim with creature comforts. But then, at $19,673 it ought to be. At present, this car doesn’t offer enough in exchange for its princely price tag. Toyota is aware of the Celica’s shortcomings, however, and will be introducing a new, more powerful Celica for the 1990 model year.

1989 Toyota Celica GT-S
Front-engine, front-wheel-drive coupe
135-hp inline-4, 5-speed manual, 2703 lb 

Base/as-tested price: $15,738/$19,673

60 mph: 8.1 sec

100 mph: 25.0 sec

1/4 mile: 16.0 sec @ 85 mph

Braking, 70­0 mph: 190 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.82 g 

C/D observed fuel economy: 19 mpg

Fifth Place (tie): Mazda MX-6 GT

David DewhurstCar and Driver

You’d never know it by looking at them, but the MX-6 GT and the Ford Probe GT are virtual clones under the skin. Both use a chassis derived from the Mazda 626, and both use the same turbocharged 2.2-liter engine. Compared with the sleek, bullet-shaped Probe GT, however, the MX-6 looks like an ordinary two-door sedan.

That isn’t altogether bad. The MX-6 has a roomier rear seat and a more comfortable, better-finished interior than the Probe GT. “Its outstanding seats outsit all the others,” wrote Larry Griffin.

Rich Ceppos’ Choice

Hey folks, right here—right here. Forget the braying of my colleagues: I’ve got your winner. It’s the Mazda MX-6 GT, with turbo, front drive, five speed, handling, comfort—the works. Right here.

Let’s stop playing fantasy games for a minute and consider what you’d really put your hard-earned bucks on. Most of the cars in this group are so impractical you’d be fed up with them before you’d even made it through the first year’s payment book. But the MX-6 makes as much horse sense as it does horsepower.

David DewhurstCar and Driver

Let me explain. You start out with a generously sized compact sedan that has enough room for four real people. Then you add the makings of a sports car. Power comes from a 2.2-liter turbo-four that belts out enough power to light up Milwaukee. (According to our calculations, Mazda’s 145-hp claim is about 40 horses short.) The suspension—struts all around—is calibrated firm enough for razor’s-edge control, but it’s not so tight that you’d shy away from driving the MX-6 down to the corner for a quart of milk. And the interior is tailored to fit serious drivers.

But this coupe’s coup de grâce is its ability to deceive. Cops think it’s a Tempo and don’t look twice. I’ve heard that the insurance companies still haven’t caught on to it yet. Stealth, my friends, stealth.

Are you getting the idea that the MX-6 does a lot of things well for not a lot of money (starting at about sixteen grand)? Are you getting the idea that the MX-6 is a winner? Right here, friends, right here.

There’s no performance penalty for this comfort, either. The Mazda-built turbo 2.2-liter engine shared by the Probe GT and the MX-6 GT is rated at 145 horsepower, but that rating is, well, conservative. We know of no other 145-hp, 2900-pound cars that can hit 60 mph in 7.0 seconds and cover the quarter-mile in 15.3 seconds. The engine is strong at any rpm and is all but free of turbo lag. It’s not necessary to row through the smooth Mazda gearbox to keep the engine on full boil, but we found ourselves shifting to avoid spending too much time in the engine’s upper rev range, where it gets somewhat buzzy.

David DewhurstCar and Driver

A few minor suspension tweaks account for the only mechanical differences between the MX-6 GT and the Probe GT. Although both offer three-­position shock absorbers, the Mazda’s suspension is tuned somewhat softer and with a bit more understeer than the Probe’s. This results in slightly less grip but greater stability and a smoother ride. In fact, most of us preferred the MX-6’s suspension for all but hard driving.

At $18,383, including anti-lock brakes, the MX-6 GT is a good value. Fifth place may not seem like a suitable reward for such a pleasing machine, but the MX-6 is tied with the 240SX SE and is within three points in the overall standings of the next three cars. In this competitive class, that’s a fine showing.

1989 Mazda MX-6 GT
Front-engine, front-wheel-drive coupe
145-hp turbo inline-4, 5-speed manual, 2861 lb 

Base/as-tested price: $15,499/$18,383

60 mph: 7.0 sec

100 mph: 20.3 sec

1/4 mile: 15.3 sec @ 90 mph

Braking, 70­0 mph: 189 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.80 g 

C/D observed fuel economy: 20 mpg

Fifth Place (tie): Nissan 240SX SE

David DewhurstCar and Driver

Rich Ceppos summed up the 240SX SE when he called it “a clean-steering, sharp-handling piece in need of 40 more horsepower.” Because of the 240’s rear­-drive layout, its steering is wonderfully responsive and free of the side effects (dartiness, loss of feel, torque steer) that lurk in almost all powerful front-drivers. And the 240’s near-equal front-to-rear weight distribution provides neutral handling that’s not the least bit touchy. We weren’t surprised when the 240 turned in our test’s best slalom time.

Larry Griffin’s Choice

You’re looking at good work. Nissan zooms right into the front ranks of this half-zany, all-zingy class with the 240SX. Its swoopiness only suggests the delights within. Anybody with a feel for machinery will get more than a visual zooming from the 240. The mechanical bone and muscle and tendon and heart wrought by Nissan delivers delightful gusto. The driver lets out whoops of discovery, celebrations of nuisances vanquished—tricky corners and lumpy braking zones and pony-car believers caught out by their mounts’ latent underengineering.

David DewhurstCar and Driver

The 240SX weighs in as 2800 pounds of sophistication. It’s crammed with four-wheel disc brakes (ABS is optional), an all-independent suspension (struts up front, a terrific multilink layout at the rear, and an anti-roll bar at each end), and an engine outfitted for worthy propulsion: port fuel injection, an overhead cam, three valves for each of its four cylinders, 2.4 liters of displacement, and—at 140 ponies—almost one horsepower per cubic inch. Pumping the rear wheels through a five-­speed gearbox, the 240 unreels the good times through its supple suspension, living up to its promise almost without fail. All for a base price of $13,499. The only real shortcoming, other than an annoying top-speed cut­off, is in pure horsepressure. Luckily, rumor has it that more power is in the making. It should go well with the 240 platform. The suspension flexes and reciprocates, ever adaptive, like the legs of a spider, playing effortless tricks on gravity. About the only thing the 240 won’t do is run on the ceiling.

Sadly, the 240’s outstanding chassis is dulled by the engine’s lack of power. The 140-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder under the hood simply can’t generate enough thrust to exercise the suspension fully. In this group, a 16.4-second quarter-mile run and an electronically governed top speed of 107 mph simply aren’t enough. In addition, although the engine pulls cleanly to its redline, it gets a bit shaky above 5000 rpm.

Still, there is much to like about this car. It has a gorgeous body, and its interior is the most modern of the group. The seats are seamlessly upholstered and the dash is so beautifully sculptured that it belongs in an industrial-design museum. We would prefer longer seat cushions with a tilt adjustment, but the 240’s cockpit is otherwise superb.

David DewhurstCar and Driver

Given its power deficit, however, the 240SX SE seems expensive. Our test car earned a $17,134 sticker, and the optional anti-lock brakes would add another $1450 on top of that. That’s a lot of cash for an underpowered car in this performance-oriented class. But if your priorities are stellar handling and sleek styling, then this Nissan may be the supercoupe for you.

1989 Nissan 240SX SE
Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive coupe
140-hp inline-4, 5-speed manual, 2798 lb

Base/as-tested price: $13,499/$17,134

60 mph: 8.6 sec

100 mph: 26.1 sec

1/4 mile: 16.4 sec @ 83 mph

Braking, 70­0 mph: 195 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.83 g 

C/D observed fuel economy: 17 mpg

Fourth Place: Ford Mustang LX 5.0

David DewhurstCar and Driver

In this group of supercoupes, the Mustang LX 5.0 has two compelling advantages: it is both the most powerful and the least expensive car in our test. If your goal is the most mph per dollar, the Mustang is the clear choice.

The Mustang generates its performance with a big, old-fashioned V-8 that’s been updated with electronically controlled port fuel injection. Easily the smoothest engine in our group, the beefy V-8 delivered effortless, hair-straightening thrust at any rpm in any gear.

Nicolas Bissoon-Dath’s Choice

A great sports coupe needs many things. A well-tuned suspension connected to the ground by lots of grippy, low-profile rubber is mandatory. Good ergonomics are crucial. Massive, fade­-free brakes with good modulation and balance are a must. And a five-speed manual transmission feeding power to the rear wheels is the only way to go. But there’s one more thing that a great sports coupe absolutely, positively must have: cubic inches.

The Mustang LX 5.0 has all the essentials covered. This Ford’s 225-hp V-8 engine is a monument to Detroit. It has bags of low-end torque, it pulls like a freight train when unleashed, and it delivers neck-straining power all the way to its redline. It also delights the ears with a rumbling bass burble at idle and a throaty V-8 bellow at speed—two wonderful noises.

David DewhurstCar and Driver

Ford has endowed the Mustang with a suspension that’s a worthy partner to the engine. The layout consists of struts in front and a sophisticated rigid axle in the rear. Coil springs and anti-roll bars complete the package.

The V-8 pony car is wonderfully entertaining. It’s a toy for big boys, a serious road car that can tame the most wrinkled two-lane. And it’s potent enough to leave virtually everything else on the road for dead. Yet a loaded LX 5.0 costs only $13,671.

The Mustang LX 5.0 has it all: brutal acceleration, fine handling, room, comfort, versatility, solidity, refinement, and reliability. If you’re considering the purchase of any other sports coupe, then you obviously haven’t driven this Ford lately.

Of course, the Mustang has some drawbacks. Its low cost is largely due to its old design—a design fundamentally unchanged since its introduction in 1979. The Mustang was the biggest and heaviest car in our gathering, and it felt somewhat unwieldy. Its unsophisticated suspension worked well enough on smooth roads but had difficulty keeping the big, sticky tires planted over bumpy pavement.

The Mustang’s controls are another weakness. Its steering felt numb and lifeless, its brakes felt spongy, and its shifter lacked the delicacy of the other transmissions in the group.

David DewhurstCar and Driver

In its favor, the Mustang has received plenty of updates, and its interior is attractive and well laid out. There’s a usable rear seat and plenty of luggage space, and the hatchback body style lets you stow gear easily. The dated sheetmetal even has a certain down-to-earth appeal: it’s simple and neat, like a sixties Road Runner.

If the Mustang sold for $20,000, we would probably be put off by its age and accompanying disadvantages. But at $13,671, including a generous load of creature comforts, the LX 5.0 is an incredible performance-car bargain. As Ceppos put it, “The Mustang is still strong after all these years.”

1989 Ford Mustang LX 5.0
Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive coupe
225-hp V-8, 5-speed manual, 3187 lb

Base/as-tested price: $12,265/$13,671

60 mph: 6.2 sec

100 mph: 16.7 sec

1/4 mile: 14.8 sec @ 95 mph

Braking, 70­0 mph: 177 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.84 g 

C/D observed fuel economy: 14 mpg

Third Place: Honda Prelude Si

David DewhurstCar and Driver

On paper, the Prelude Si seems inferior to the 240SX SE. It has virtually identical speed and lower handling limits, and—at $17,279—it costs more than the Nissan. So why did we rate it higher?

The answer lies in the Honda’s subjective virtues. For starters, although the Prelude is no quicker than the 240, its engine is considerably smoother and noticeably happier at high rpm. As a result; the Prelude seems peppier. The Prelude’s gearbox is also superior to the Nissan’s. If there’s a better-shifting transmission on the planet, we’d like to try it.

Bill Visnic’s Choice

It’s tough to boast about a car like the Honda Prelude Si in one of these shoot-outs. That’s because it’s a whole lot easier to boast when you can wave around a bunch of impressive numbers—blinding acceleration, a high top speed, a low price.

Judged strictly by the numbers, the Prelude Si doesn’t seem particularly impressive. The $17,279 asking price is admittedly stiff. And the 135-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder provides only a moderate amount of performance for this class.

But don’t be fooled. The Prelude Si may not blow away the competition on paper, but on the road it is so good at everything it does that it’s easily the best car in this group.

David DewhurstCar and Driver

The Si’s all-independent suspension has world-class refinement. The 2.0-Iiter four is smooth and flexible. The five-speed gearbox should be awarded a permanent display in the Museum of Uncannily Good Engineering. And the Prelude’s sheetmetal—a subtle reworking of the previous, second-generation design—exudes an air of beauty and continuity that the trendier members of this group lack.

You simply won’t find a sports coupe that’s easier to live with than the Prelude Si. What the Prelude gives up in straight-line speed, you’ll make up in the curves; while other guys get hammered over the rough stuff, you’ll remain comfortable and in control.

The naysayers in the group say the Prelude Si is a bad value. I say $17,279 for a front-drive Porsche 944 is a hell of a deal. Unless you’re one of those people determined to live by the numbers.

The Prelude’s handling was also subjectively pleasing. Although its limits aren’t particularly high, the Si’s behavior is totally predictable. Its steering and suspension transmit information from the tires so faithfully that you feel totally comfortable sliding the car and using every last bit of its grip. Of all the cars in the group, the Prelude was by far the most satisfying to drive.

David DewhurstCar and Driver

The Prelude also has a pleasing and useful interior that’s easy to live with. The seats are excellent, the typically low Honda cowl lets in a panoramic view of the world, all of the controls are beautifully laid out, and everything is screwed together tightly.

Our biggest complaint was the engine’s lack of power. The Prelude’s conservative exterior styling and relatively high price also drew criticism. But if your supercoupe ideal is a car that lets you become one with the machine, the Prelude Si is the only way to go.

1989 Honda Prelude Si
Front-engine, front-wheel-drive coupe
135-hp inline-4, 5-speed manual, 2656 lb

Base/as-tested price: $16,965/$17,279

60 mph: 8.6 sec

100 mph: 29.5 sec

1/4 mile: 16.5 sec @ 83 mph

Braking, 70­0 mph: 202 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.77 g 

C/D observed fuel economy: 20 mpg

Second Place: Ford Probe GT

David DewhurstCar and Driver

The Probe GT finished near the top of the heap in three vitally important supercoupe areas: styling, performance, and value. Thus, despite a few rough edges, the potent Probe grabbed second place overall.

There’s no denying the Probe GT’s speed. With the same willing, powerful turbocharged engine used in the Mazda MX-6 GT, the Probe GT loves to run hard. The engine gets a bit buzzy at high rpm and the shifter isn’t quite as slick as the Prelude’s or Eclipse’s, but this car is nonetheless thoroughly exciting to drive.

Csaba Csere’s Choice

American-car enthusiasts were all set to hate the Probe when it was slated to replace the Mustang. No small, foreign-engineered, front-drive, four­-cylinder wimp car would ever replace the muscular, home-grown Mustang, said the faithful.

Fortunately, Ford sensed the gathering storm and deployed the Probe to supplement rather than replace the Mustang. It was one of the smartest moves the company ever made. Ford sold more than 77,000 Probes last year—without cutting one bit into the Mustang’s still-healthy sales.

David DewhurstCar and Driver

That success comes as no surprise, because the Probe GT is the best of the new generation of sport coupes. It’s blindingly quick, thanks to a turbocharged 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that clearly produces considerably more than its rated 145 horses. The Probe GT also offers a slick-shifting five-­speed gearbox, front drive for good all-weather traction, and—thanks to its modest weight and small engine—decent fuel economy.

The fully independent suspension uses tautly damped struts, firm springs, and beefy anti-roll bars front and rear. Four-wheel disc brakes provide ample stopping power, and the optional anti-lock system keeps the binders at their best under any conditions.

Combine these mechanical delights with a sleek, wind-swept shape and you can understand the Probe GT’s appeal. At less than $17,500 fully optioned, the Probe GT is a tremendous value. Let the Neanderthals keep their Mustangs.

It is also stunning to gaze upon. Along with the 240SX and the Eclipse, the Probe GT is head and fender flares above the other cars in this class. The interior is equally stylish. The neat, businesslike dash flows smoothly into the door panels, and the controls are cleverly shaped and well positioned. The instrument pod adjusts with the steering column, making it easy to find a comfortable driving position. Unfortunately, the cabin is spoiled somewhat by so-so-looking materials and a vast expanse of uniformly colored interior surfaces (maroon in our test car).

David DewhurstCar and Driver

We also have a few reservations about the Probe’s suspension. Although the GT handles and rides extremely well on the smooth roads you find in Southern California, over Michigan’s weather­beaten streets its ride gets choppy and its straight-line stability suffers. The Probe GT can eat up winding pavement with ease, but if the road isn’t reasonably smooth you have to pay more attention than when you’re driving, say, the 240SX or the Prelude.

But we’re being hard on this car. The Probe GT is an excellent supercoupe. At $17,462—including more power options than any other car in this test, a premium stereo, and anti-lock brakes—the Probe GT belongs high on your browsing list.

1989 Ford Probe GT
Front-engine, front-wheel-drive coupe
145-hp turbo inline-4, 5-speed manual, 2940 lb

Base/as-tested price: $13,794/$17,462

60 mph: 7.0 sec

100 mph: 19.8 sec

1/4 mile: 15.3 sec @ 90 mph

Braking, 70­0 mph: 194 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.81 g 

C/D observed fuel economy: 17 mpg

First Place: Mitsubishi Eclipse GS Turbo

David DewhurstCar and Driver

Take all of the second-place Probe GT’s qualities, polish and enhance them, and you’ll have the Mitsubishi Eclipse GS Turbo. With 190 horsepower propelling its 2834 pounds, the Eclipse Turbo is the quickest and fastest front-drive car on the market. (The Mitsubishi’s twin, the Plymouth Laser RS Turbo, is equally quick.) Although its engine doesn’t have the low-­rpm response of the MX-6 GT/Probe GT powerplant, the Mitsubishi four-cylinder makes up for it by winding higher and running more smoothly. Thanks to its twin balance shafts, the engine never feels labored—even when spinning to its 7000-rpm redline.

The Eclipse’s chassis handles the engine’s power remarkably well. It offers plenty of traction, immense cornering grip, and fine steering that suffers from torque steer only under heavy applications of the throttle. The Eclipse feels light and agile, eager to run and play whenever you are. Our only major criticism centered around the brakes, which can fade badly when used hard. A car with a top speed of 143 mph needs more powerful binders. (Mitsubishi tells us that upgraded pads and calipers will be added as a running change soon.)

Tony Assenza’s Choice

In the past, we didn’t expect much from Mitsubishi or from Chrysler. Neither maker had the kind of track record that would cause us to pant at the thought of one of its new models. So it’s doubly surprising that these two companies, by working together, came up with a car as lively as the Mitsubishi Eclipse/Plymouth Laser.

Because they’re twins, I flipped a coin and went with the Mitsubishi—the GS Turbo, that is. Just look at this Eclipse’s numbers: it can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in less than seven seconds, it can reach a top speed of 143 mph, and it goes around corners at 0.83 g. We’re talking about serious giggles here. All for around $15,000.

David DewhurstCar and Driver

Now, turbochargers aren’t exactly my idea of how to make a great engine, but 190 horses from 2.0 liters of displacement is hard to argue with. The same goes for the suspension: the Eclipse doesn’t have an independent rear set­up or a fancy dual-control-arm layout up front, but it gets the job done right.

This car is not just a sled with a hot engine and steamroller tires. It’s refined, see, with an interior that’s every bit as sophisticated and accommodating as some of the more expensive brands. The Eclipse also has a great shifter, excellent steering, and a tight, rattle-free, all-of-a-piece feel.

What we’ve got here is a highly competent velocity tool for not a whole lot of cash. I don’t want to beat this car’s strong points to death, but if you want to argue, let’s go do it where there isn’t much traffic.

No upgrading is needed for the Eclipse’s styling: the sleek, muscular shape looks as rakish as any purpose-­built sports car. The interior is equally appealing. The instruments are simple and legible, and the controls are well-arranged. Visibility is good. The biggest shortcomings are a puny rear seat and a driver’s seat that is too low and lacks a bottom-cushion adjustment.

David DewhurstCar and Driver

Price is the Eclipse’s strongest point. You can buy a GS Turbo with all of the speedy trimmings for less than $14,500. Even our well-equipped model cost just $15,978. (If your local Plymouth dealer is closer than the nearest Mitsubishi outlet, of course, you could opt for the equally appealing Plymouth Laser RS Turbo.) For a supercoupe with the Eclipse Turbo’s abilities, a sticker under $16,000 is a steal.

The supercoupes in this test are varied in their strengths, and your particular needs may mean that our favorites aren’t right for you. Each of the top six finishers in our test is worthy of your consideration. But if you’re looking for a versatile supercoupe that offers refinement, fine handling, remarkable speed, and an admirably moderate price, your first choice should be the Mitsubishi Eclipse GS Turbo.

1989 Mitsubishi Eclipse GS Turbo
Front-engine, front-wheel-drive coupe
190-hp turbo inline-4, 5-speed manual, 2834 lb

Base/as-tested price: $14,169/$15,978

60 mph: 6.6 sec

100 mph: 18.5 sec

1/4 mile: 15.1 sec @ 93 mph

Braking, 70­0 mph: 183 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.83 g 

C/D observed fuel economy: 18 mpg

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