A Melting Pot of Performance


From the Could 1985 subject of Automotive and Driver.

Consider this check as the reply to what to do if you’re caught between a rock and a tough place. The rock is your enthusiasm for issues automotive: the tingle you’re feeling in your intestine when a Ferrari whistles by. The onerous place is what you face every morning as your goals fade and your child blues pop open: mortgage funds, profession objectives, and a few yelping rug rats to feed. We all know it is onerous to simply accept, however what you want within the storage nowadays is one thing sensible.

To not fear, bub. That is considered one of life’s complications that can be resolved fortunately. You can have all of it—and with out enormous out­lays of money. Simply hear intently to your pleasant medical doctors on the Automotive and Driver auto­motive clinic.

Your prescription for over-the-road happiness comes from the amorphous market section often called sports activities coupes. A sports activities coupe marries the élan and the inti­macy of a sports activities automobile to the sensible attributes of a sedan—although the proportions of utility and gusto can range broadly. To us, “sports activities coupe” means a automobile that rolls off the meeting line with racy sheetmetal, ex­citing mechanicals, two doorways, and at the least a vestigial again seat.

As definitions go, nevertheless, that one’s bought holes sufficiently big to drive Mr. Davis’s Suburban by. For one factor, it de­scribes dozens of vehicles—massive, small, ex­pensive, and in any other case. Second, it raises the knotty drawback of distinguishing be­tween sports activities coupes and sports activities sedans. Is a automobile a coupe in case your mother-in-law can squeeze into the again seat? Is it a sedan simply because it is not a fastback? You’ve got bought us.

Since a few of these distinctions are so blurry they will by no means be resolved, that is the place we make two govt choices. For the needs of this check, we’ll concentrate on the perfect sports activities coupes you should buy for about $15,000—give or take just a few grand. You will get sports activities coupes for much less, however this sort of cash will put you into some fairly spectacular equipment. And vehicles that re­quire you to remortgage your own home are positively not in our program.

Parameter quantity two is that the vehicles on this check are all outfitted within the European custom. In different phrases, no V-8s. As a lot as we love Z28s and Mustang GTs, this was to not be a check of the large thumpers. Sports activities coupes constructed anyplace on the earth and bought right here have been eligible so long as they’d fewer than eight cylinders.

Winnowing the huge array of candidates right down to a manageable few was a matter of a easy workers vote supplemented by well-­timed private threats. When the snarling and the baring of canines lastly subsided, eight contenders emerged—three from America, three from Japan, one from Ger­many, and one German-American hybrid.

We had already had first-hand experi­ence with seven of the contenders: the Audi Coupe GT, the Chrysler Laser XE, the Ford Mustang SVO, the Merkur XR4Ti, the Mitsubishi Starion ESI, the Nissan 300ZX two-plus-two, and the Toyota Supra. The eighth, a Chevrolet Camaro Berlinetta V-6, was added because the promoter’s choice as a result of we suspected that this unknown amount may need some hidden potential. Two vehicles which may properly have made the reduce, the Pontiac Firebird S/E V-6 and the Isuzu Impulse Turbo, have been sadly not obtainable on the time of this check.

Step one in coming to grips with this distinguished group was an intensive shake­down on the check monitor. Every contestant was put by the complete spectrum of C/D accel­eration, braking, and dealing with exams by the tech division. The perfor­mance outcomes are impressively shut when you think about the good variety of powertrain layouts, engines, and suspen­sion designs. As you possibly can see from the charts, these vehicles are lots athletic sufficient to entertain a critical driver.

When you actually wish to separate the wheat from the chaff, although, you have to hit the street. We did, and with a vengeance. Seven editors, one photographer, and one ready­-bodied assistant herded our eight check vehicles up and down the California coast for 3 lengthy days. Our 700-mile tour took us from L.A. to Carmel and again on each conceivable kind of street, from mountain switchbacks to straight-shot freeways. We’re completely happy to report that everybody made it again secure and sound—sans dashing citations.

If solely the vehicles had fared so properly. We ex­perienced an annoying variety of engine failures—extra, the truth is, than we would seen prior to now 5 years. The 300ZX expired sud­denly with a damaged valve stem just a few days after top-speed testing. Thankfully, it was changed with a contemporary two-plus-two just a few hours earlier than our street drive. The Starion ESI went into terminal rod knock simply after the primary leg of mountain-road thrashing and seized up moments later. Regardless of the heroic efforts of the Mitsubishi public-rela­tions division, the Starion’s change­ment missed many of the hard-charging two-lane stuff.

Mechanical failures weren’t the one sur­prises, as you will see if you look at our voting outcomes. Deciphering the numbers is straightforward. Every editor rated every automobile in eleven classes on a one-to-five scale. If, say, a automobile’s dealing with was nice, it earned a 5. If it was unhealthy, it bought a one. And so forth. Ties be­tween vehicles have been allowed. (Two or extra vehicles might every earn a 5 for dealing with, for example.) The outcomes characterize the whole variety of votes every automobile earned in every class. The scores within the “total ranking” column—our backside line—have been awarded in the identical style, quite than by averag­ing the scores within the particular person classes.

So, with out additional ado, it is time to let you know what it was like on the market and precisely how the King of the Sports activities Coupes got here to earn its crown. The finishers, in reverse or­der, are:

eighth Place: Chevrolet Camaro Berlinetta

It is clear from our Berlinetta expertise that Chevrolet’s curiosity in sporting Camaros stops with the Z28. The Ber­linetta V-6 proved to be a Percheron amongst quarter horses on this comparability, destined to undergo life with too little motor, run-of-the-mill rubber, and an un­derachiever suspension.

We all know how good Camaros might be, and we have seen how candy GM’s port-­injected 2.8-liter V-6 is in different vehicles—however right here the 2 make no music collectively. At 135 hp, the V-6 has about twenty p.c much less energy than it wants to maneuver the Berlinetta with authority, and it is surpris­ingly coarse within the higher rev ranges. Extra noise comes up by the five-speed’s shift boot.

The Berlinetta’s experience is not unhealthy, however on racer roads, the boulevard-soft suspension lets the automobile bob and buck sufficient to make even consultants decelerate.

There’s little salvation within the cockpit. The Berlinetta’s digital tach is unimaginable to learn, and its digital controls and computerized radio are annoyingly diffi­cult to function.

We picked this Camaro for our check as a result of we thought it had the potential to be tomorrow’s Z28. Regardless of its lackluster exhibiting, we nonetheless do. A punched-out 3.2-liter model of its V-6 with 165-plus horsepower, together with Z28-quality chassis items, would enable the Berlinetta to run with this herd. (On paper, a few of this good things is already obtainable on the Fireplace­hen S/E, but it surely too is saddled with the two.8 V-6.) For now, a real driver’s Berlinetta remains to be off someplace within the wings. Perhaps subsequent yr…

1985 Chevrolet Camaro Berlinetta
135-hp V-6, 5-speed handbook, 3180 lb
Base/as-tested value: $11,060/$13,741
60 mph: 10.0 sec
1/4 mile: 17.0 sec @ 81 mph
100 mph: 30.7 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 242 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.74 g
C/D noticed gas economic system: 21 mpg

seventh Place: Chrysler Laser XE

The Laser’s seventh-place end is a transparent message to sports-coupe makers the world over: sturdy efficiency isn’t any lengthy­er sufficient to maintain a automobile within the entrance ranks. It takes extra.

There isn’t any arguing with the facility professional­vided by the Laser’s 146-hp 2.2-liter turbo four-cylinder. It peels off 0-to-60 runs in 8.1 seconds and tops out at 117 mph. In actual life there’s an abundance of energy un­derfoot within the 4 decrease gears and little turbo lag.

The Laser is greater than a straight-line specialist, although. It grabs onto twisty roads, and it means enterprise. The steering cuts properly, and its good straight-ahead sense makes the XE very steady on the freeway.

Nonetheless, the Laser has one obvious fault that’s magnified within the context of this elite group. Its logbook is stuffed with feedback like “low-cost,” “junky feeling,” and “crude.” The magic ingredient the Laser lacks is, in a phrase, refinement.

Essentially the most distinguished offender is the drivetrain. What good is a prepared engine if it drones on a regular basis? On prime of that, the enjoyable of stirring your personal gears is diminished by a clunky shift linkage.

There’s nothing refined in regards to the Laser’s suspension tuning, both. Round city the experience is stiff. Burning alongside on ser­pentine roads, it turns downright uneven.

The XE premium trim package deal does nothing however exacerbate the Laser’s prob­lems. The leather-based upholstery enables you to slide round within the turns. The digital sprint is difficult to learn and contributes a lowball look that this automobile would not deserve. The Laser could also be a runner, however at this value ($14,399) there are different vehicles that deal with you higher.

1985 Chrysler Laser XE
146-hp turbocharged inline-4, 5-speed handbook, 2800 lb
Base/as-tested value: $10,362/$14,399
60 mph: 8.1 sec
1/4 mile: 16.0 sec @ 84 mph
100 mph: 25.1 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 206 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.77 g
C/D noticed gas economic system: 24 mpg

fifth Place (tie): Ford Mustang SVO

Physique builders pump iron. Mustang SVOs pump increase—fifteen kilos of it, to be actual. That is sufficient to make the as soon as lowly 2.3-liter four-cylinder bulge with 200 hp, 25 hp greater than final yr. (These fig­ures could also be revised barely by the point you learn this: we examined a prototype just a few months earlier than the start of produc­tion.) There are additionally some minor upgrades for 1985, like flush headlamps, however brute drive is that this yr’s actual story.

The SVO is Ford’s Porsche 930 Turbo, an outdated design that is stored very important with massive doses of know-how administered by dedi­cated engineer/racers. This technique works properly for the German agency, but it surely’s a double­-edged sword for Ford, the place the engineers have had their palms full making an attempt to make an outdated automobile act new.

Ford has definitely gotten the SVO’s appears proper, and its efficiency is really po­tent. It is the most well liked automobile on this check by far. Fireplace it down a check monitor and you will see 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, a prime pace of 129 mph, and a 0.79-g cornering restrict.

The SVO additionally handles itself properly on each highways and byways. It likes to be pushed briskly on meandering roads. The steering feels direct and positive if you bend into corners. The experience is taut however not too tight. The fats steering wheel feels good, and the short-throw shifter is racer-sharp.

However if you push deep into the SVO’s throttle—nothing. A second goes by, and nonetheless nothing. Then, whoosh! All the horses get up directly, and the SVO snaps your head again. That is what is named increase lag.

Conserving the turbo on the boil means holding the revs up, and that interprets right into a ton of engine noise—all of it the flawed form. Between the shortage of energy at low revs and the high-rpm assault in your ears, the SVO isn’t actually completely happy. It is sufficient to make you want for the 4.9-liter V-8 from the GT.

Then there are the minor annoyances: a seat that felt subpar to a few of us, a behind-the-times sprint, and a foolish 85-mph speedo. All this leaves us wanting extra from the SVO. We’re glad Ford builds it, however we hope the corporate may give it the re­finement it so dearly wants. Large biceps simply aren’t sufficient.

1985 Ford Mustang SVO
200-hp turbocharged inline-4, 5-speed handbook, 3140 lb
Base/as-tested value: $15,000/$15,000 (est.)
60 mph: 6.8 sec
1/4 mile: 15.1 sec @ 90 mph
100 mph: 19.5 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 197 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.79 g
C/D noticed gas economic system: 19 mpg

fifth Place (tie): Nissan 300ZX

The 300ZX two-plus-two is the polar op­posite of its fifth-place companion. The place the Mustang SVO is all aggression and tough edges, the 300ZX is civilized and polished. The Mustang is a charger. The 300ZX would quite cruise.

We’re of the thoughts that the 300ZX is an effective automobile for people who find themselves decidedly not critical fans. In most respects it is fairly nice. The three-liter V-6 is without doubt one of the slickest powerplants on this check or any­the place else—splendidly {smooth} and qui­et, with sufficient oomph to get the job accomplished. The five-speed gearbox shifts crisply, mak­ing for a really refined powertrain.

In most day-to-day conditions, the 300ZX drives properly sufficient. Once you begin haring round, although, the experience will get pitchy, the steering goes obscure, and also you discover that the seat has allow you to down badly.

Worst of all, we will not think about why any­one would wish to cope with the ZX’s wild­-and-crazy optionally available digitronic devices and controls. It is as if Nissan had stated to it­self, “Since this automobile is not an all-out perfor­mance model, it is gotta have a gimmick.”

Make {that a} couple dozen gimmicks, none of which work out too properly. The radio and the climate-control change gear look as in the event that they have been straight out of Mission Con­trol. You may want an intensive preflight checkout to function them. The digital devices, which embody a pulsating tach, are excessive on leisure worth however low on means to ship info at a look. All the different stuff, from the seat’s pump-up thigh assist to the accelera­tion-and-braking g-meter, will get outdated quick.

None of this looks like a lot to worry about till you test the value sticker. The 300ZX begins at a whopping $18,399—gulp—and our check automobile went out the door for nearly twenty-one grand. Now that is some gimmick.

1985 Nissan 300ZX 2+2
160-hp V-6, 5-speed handbook, 3210 lb
Base/as-tested value: $18,399/$20,799
60 mph: 9.2 sec
1/4 mile: 16.8 sec @ 82 mph
100 mph: 29.4 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 188 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.77 g
C/D noticed gas economic system: 21 mpg

4th Place: Mitsubishi Starion ESI

Good issues have occurred to the Starion since we final checked on it­—sufficient of them to push this automobile smack into the highest echelon of sport coupes. The newest model appears higher, handles higher, and goes higher. Little question about it, Mitsubishi is actually getting with this system.

Proper off, the Starion appears tastier. Be­fore Chrysler began promoting its model, the Conquest, it cooperated with Mitsubishi on cleansing up the design. Now the Starion has the tidy look and the stylish detailing of a driver’s automobile.

This yr’s new efficiency model is the ESL. The large enchancment is inter­cooling, which bumps the facility peak of the two.6-liter four-cylinder turbo as much as 170 hp—a 25-hp enchancment. Better of all, this powerplant retains its torquey, big-engine really feel. In most conditions the throttle re­sponse is so sharp that downshifting is op­tional. Once you name for full increase, it is up in a flash. On steadiness, this is without doubt one of the sharpest turbo setups round.

Add suspension that works higher than earlier than, and this coupe’s fun-to-drive ranking is up with the perfect of them. The Starion’s physique actions are tied down tightly now, however to not the purpose the place the experience will get depressing. The tuning makes it an ace within the mountains. The steering is safe, the cornering is steady, and there is nice energy for digging out of the turns. All that is left is to enhance this automobile’s on-center steering really feel and straight-line monitoring.

We do have blended feelings in regards to the Starion’s lodging, although. The driving force’s seat is kind of good, the driving posi­tion is comfy, and the analog gauges are simply readable. Then again, the controls appear and feel cheesy. The black vi­nyl that covers many of the cabin is so shiny it makes the inside appear like a proving floor for Armor All. We have been break up on how properly the steering-wheel-mounted ra­dio controls work. The contact switches for the heater and the air conditioner might be recalcitrant as properly.

Nonetheless, we like the newest Starion simply nice. Mitsubishi has reworked it into a classy driver’s automobile, and—extra vital—it is a whale of a very good time. That is actually what a sports activities coupe needs to be all about.

1985 Mitsubishi Starion ESI
170-hp turbocharged inline-4, 5-speed handbook, 3020 lb
Base/as-tested value: $15,279/$15,279
60 mph: 8.0 sec
1/4 mile: 16.1 sec @ 85 mph
100 mph: 25.2 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 184 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.80 g
C/D noticed gas economic system: NA mpg

third Place: Merkur XR4Ti

A fast take a look at the poll sheet will ex­plain how the XR4Ti nipped into third place forward of the Starion: athletics took a again seat to aesthetics. The look and the texture of this automobile are intoxicating sufficient to steadiness its few mechanical drawbacks.

Do not get us flawed. The XR4Ti is a stable performer in all respects. As our check re­sults present, it might probably activate the pace. It additionally holds its personal within the zigs and zags.

Its biggest strengths lie elsewhere, how­ever. As you possibly can see from the voting, we predict the Merkur’s futuristic form appears terrific. To Ford’s credit score, you possibly can’t inform it from the European Sierra.

Inside, the Merkur earns excessive marks for its swoopy inside design and good ergo­nomics. Its seats are Germanically—and we predict accurately—agency. They don’t seem to be adjustable in twelve dozen methods, however you do not miss that in any respect. The sprint is busy, however the gauges are straightforward to learn, and the entire vital controls are straightforward to entry. Even the soft-molded steering wheel feels good. Sitting on this automobile is nice on your outlook on life.

Driving it’s no unhealthy factor, both. The experience is supple, simply the way in which you need it round city. The steering is correct. The motor, a 175-hp nonintercooled model of the SVO powerplant, suffers solely minimal turbo lag—although it would not really feel almost as potent because the engines we sampled earlier in prototypes. Ford claims no energy loss since our final check, however our sources report that the spark curve was dialed again after some sturdiness questions arose. In any case, the manufacturing Merkur is sort of a full second slower to 60 mph, and its prime pace is down by 6 mph.

Though the XR4Ti suffers from no nice inadequacies, there’s room for im­provement in a number of areas. Our check Merkur’s engine was coarse sufficient within the midrange and above to buzz the shifter (earlier examples have been buttery-smooth proper to the redline), and there was some full-throttle surging we hadn’t felt earlier than. The steering lacks a robust on-center really feel. Whereas the suspension tuning is superb in most conditions, it is a tad floaty throughout canyon acrobatics. You SCCA racers within the viewers may also discover important elevate­-throttle oversteer and nonlinearity within the brakes. Such traits take a bit of getting used to earlier than you possibly can actually fly in an XR4Ti.

Simply the identical, there’s an entire lot to love about this automobile. Not solely does it drive properly and look nice, but it surely additionally presents consolation­ready seating for 4 adults, plus the versa­tility of a hatchback and a fold-down rear seat. Simply since you’re an automotive aesthete doesn’t suggest you must go away your fam­ily behind.

1985 Merkur XR4Ti
175-hp turbocharged inline-4, 5-speed handbook, 2920 lb
Base/as-tested value: $16,361/$17,105
60 mph: 7.9 sec
1/4 mile: 16.1 sec @ 85 mph
100 mph: 25.9 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 208 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.76 g
C/D noticed gas economic system: 19 mpg

2nd Place: Toyota Supra

That is changing into a sample. We hold placing Supras in exams—a street check, a 30,000-mile check, a dealing with check, and now this comparo—and so they hold doing re­markably properly. The Supra was gifted proper at first, and it hasn’t misplaced a step in 4 seasons.

The Supra hasn’t wanted a lot assist to maintain tempo, both. Final yr, the facility out­put was boosted to 161 hp. This yr, there is a new rear spoiler, a slight change within the gearing, and minor paint revisions, however that is about it.

The Supra’s design—nothing you’d ever name gorgeous—has aged with shocking grace. Its inside format stays among the best within the sports-coupe division. The clear, easy analog-instrument cluster nonetheless will get rave opinions. The seat, the driving place, and the pedal placement contin­ue to fee excessive. We solely want Toyota would simplify the sound system’s controls and match the Supra with a steering wheel commen­surate with its station in life.

The large cause we love this automobile is that it does all the things elegantly and by no means appears to breathe onerous. Across the burbs and out on the freeway it coddles you with a experience that is comfortable however by no means wobbly. Its straight-­line stability is laser-keen. Lane modifications are sharp. The dual-cam six is pure velvet. There’s some wind, street, and rear-axle noise, but it surely’s lower than disturbing.

Once you wish to boogie, the Supra is correct there to be your companion. The engine howls as if it believed it is in a BMW. Come to consider it, the entire driving expertise is what you’d anticipate from an enormous Bimmer coupe. The distinction is that we mere mor­tals can afford the Supra.

This automobile’s footwork is almost flawless. It is completely at house clawing alongside the jag­ged coastal highways at go-to-jail veloci­ties. Its steering accuracy and really feel rival the big-name manufacturers’. And if you make a mistake, the Supra covers for you.

So as soon as once more we discover ourselves loopy about this huge Japanese coupe. Its virtues are nice, and its vices are small—which sounds just like the very definition of a winner. There’s, nevertheless, one sports activities coupe that does all of it a bit of bit higher…

1985 Toyota Supra
161-hp inline-6, 5-speed handbook, 3060 lb
Base/as-tested value: $16,558/$17,843
60 mph: 8.4 sec
1/4 mile: 16.1 sec @ 85 mph
100 mph: 25.8 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 209 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.77 g
C/D noticed gas economic system: 22 mpg

1st Place: Audi Coupe GT

Not solely are we crowning the Audi Coupe GT the Greatest Sports activities Coupe in Amer­ica, but it surely additionally wins Largest Shock of 1985. The Coupe GT is that this yr’s secret automobile, of us. The lots do not learn about it. Even when they did, you’d by no means see Coupe GTs cluttering up road corners, as a result of Audi brings in solely about 4000 a yr.

Driving this automobile is a uncommon deal with. It doesn’t matter what you throw at it—metropolis site visitors, mountain twisties, interstates—it by no means sweats. What we now have right here is the automotive equal of the pure athlete.

You would not know that by checking the Coupe GT’s efficiency stats. It isn’t notably speedy (0 to 60 in 9 seconds flat and a prime pace of 115 mph). Neither is it nice on the skidpad (0.77 g) or within the sla­lom (57.0 mph, strictly mid-pack).

Nope, the Coupe GT’s magic lies else­the place. Once we leaf by the logbook we stored on this automobile, we’re nearly embar­rassed. Supposedly hardened street testers bubble like wide-eyed youngsters:

“This should be the most costly automobile right here. It feels like cash.”

1985 Audi Coupe GT
110-hp inline-5, 5-speed handbook, 2490 lb
Base/as-tested value: $15,250/$16,125
60 mph: 9.0 sec
1/4 mile: 16.6 sec @ 80 mph
100 mph: 34.1 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 209 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.77 g
C/D noticed gas economic system: 24 mpg

Headshot of Rich Ceppos

Director, Purchaser’s Information

Wealthy Ceppos has evaluated vehicles and automotive know-how throughout a profession that has encompassed 10 years at Basic Motors, two stints at Automotive and Driver totaling 19 years, and hundreds of miles logged in racing vehicles. He was in music college when he realized what he actually wished to do in life and, by some means, it is labored out. In between his two C/D postings he served as govt editor of Car Journal; was an govt vice chairman at Campbell Advertising and marketing & Communications; labored in GM’s product-development space; and have become writer of Autoweek. He has raced repeatedly since school, held SCCA and IMSA professional racing licenses, and has competed within the 24 Hours of Daytona. He presently ministers to a 1999 Miata and a 1965 Corvette convertible and appreciates that none of his youthful colleagues have but uttered “Okay, Boomer” when he tells considered one of his tales in regards to the loopy outdated days at C/D.


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