Fast-Lane Foreigners: 1991 Sports Sedan Comparison

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From the July 1991 challenge of Automotive and Driver.

The late Andy Warhol predicted that everybody sooner or later could be well-known for fifteen minutes, however time is operating out and you continue to have not made the quilt of Individuals and even been a finalist on “America’s Most Stultifying Dwelling Movies.”

Say, would you pay 44 cents a minute to announce to the world who and what you might be? The cellphone firm expenses half that, however sadly your message would solely attain one listener at a time—not very cost-effective.

You possibly can attempt the tv internet­works, like Mr. Iacocca does, however for 60 seconds of air time they need the equiv­alent of what Roger Clemens will get for pitching a complete, exhausting 9 in­nings of baseball towards such formidables because the Seattle Mariners­: $200,000 or so.

Possibly you ought to contemplate an car, one which mirrors your model and picture, to not point out your haircut, your cool élan. So our assembled gamers value about $35,000 every. So what? Should you drive one 15,000 miles a yr for the subsequent 4 years, averaging 45 miles an hour, it will value you a measly 44 cents per minute to broadcast your tastes and means to everybody on the street, on the automobile wash, and in entrance of probably the most overpriced restaurant on the town.

In fact, this self-mirroring enterprise, like modern dressing, will be dangerous—the message acquired isn’t at all times precisely the one the sender intend­ed. Is the proprietor of that good little Kyongsang Pudhopper EX a superb shopper, or simply an expedient skinflint? Does that grand Wellington-Ross HMS 6.5 carry an individual of refined tastes, or of unchecked vainness?

Take into account the seven sedans we have col­lected right here. They’re all comparatively uncommon head-turners. Fleet of foot (they zip to 60 mph in lower than ten seconds), all are ca­pable of greater than 120 mph, which in fact could be flawed, however who desires to broadcast the message, “Hey, I is probably not quick, however I positive am low!”

The names of our fast-lane foreigners pretty lilt off the tongue: Acura Legend LS, Alfa Romeo 164L, Audi 90 Quattro, BMW 525i, Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.6, Saab 9000CD Turbo, and Volvo 940 Turbo. Already it sounds such as you’ve mastered a international language.

We examined the vehicles within the type mostly chosen by their consumers. Which means computerized transmissions, which People overwhelmingly choose to handbook gearboxes, even in vehicles like these. Amongst our contestants, solely the Audi was fitted with a five-speed as a result of, in reality, all 90 Quattros are. (An computerized isn’t obtainable on any all-wheel-drive Audi besides the flagship V-8.)

We gathered our subject in sunny South­ern California and spent a piece week on the street—testing, measuring, pondering . . . and trying to find routes not closed by snow or mudslides. The Monsoons of March ended the drought (for a month anyway), however they did not dampen our enthusiasm to learn the way these expressive cars stack up. Even vehicles meant to make a press release should work as vehicles, and for the cash these cost, they need to work nicely certainly.

After some arduous driving and more durable judging, we had our solutions. And rankings that mirror our opinions. We found that every one these vehicles are particular, and that every one are acceptable. However some are extra acceptably particular than others.

seventh Place: Volvo 940 Turbo

From the logbook, a diary of driver impres­sions: “Would not really feel very spirited.” “It isn’t a chore to drive, but it surely presents no actual pleasure.”

Few vehicles have the cult attraction that Volvos do. A loyal clientele has reply­ed for many years to this Swedish picture of security, reliability, sturdiness, and sensibil­ity. But even the latest Volvo felt dated and overmatched in toe-to-toe compari­son with our half-dozen options.

The 940 sequence is the corporate’s new household of sedans and wagons, and the Turbo is its lustiest instance. However our 940 didn’t win many hearts, despite the fact that it had the bottom sticker value of the group, $29,813.


HIGHS: Nice seating consolation and visibility, high quality appointments.
LOWS: Thrashy engine, street manners of a a lot heavier automobile, dated really feel.
VERDICT: Loyalists will not must test-drive anything.


Oh, there was loads to love about this Swede, beginning with superb brakes and sheetmetal contours which might be softer and rounder than its 740 dad or mum’s. And the large, long-cushioned seats drew raves: supportive, cozy, upright, and mount­ed excessive within the automobile. (One driver tagged this “the king of Sweden driving posi­tion.”) The inside design retains the rectangles and straight traces of the 740, however every thing is nicely executed in high quality supplies, making a businesslike cockpit.

The home windows are tall, like looking of a management tower. The brand new Volvo is a com­fortable, safe place to sit down, for hours on finish.

However driving the 940 Turbo for those self same hours is not a very rewarding expertise. Although steering response is superb and the suspension retains the tires in good contact with the street, the physique strikes round fairly a bit, creating a sense of ponderousness. From the driv­er’s seat, you’d by no means guess the 940 tied for second-lightest curb weight.

Additionally disappointing was the racket from the Volvo’s four-cylinder engine. The 162-hp turbocharged 2.3 turned in acceleration occasions that put it in mid-pack, but it surely additionally raised a decidedly agricultural din. It completed final in each the top-speed and fuel-economy derbies.

So the Volvo pigeonholes itself within the cultist people-hauler slot: it really works okay in its method, however that is not a method that stands as much as hard-nosed comparability procuring, in our view. Lengthy might the Volvo devoted disagree with us.

From the logbook: “It appears tall, outdated, sedate, stodgy.” And: “Stiff and jiggly on uneven blacktop; the wheels keep planted, however the driver is stirred in fairly the flawed method.”

1991 Volvo 940 Turbo
162-hp turbocharged inline-4, 4-speed computerized, 3180 lb
Base/as-tested value: $29,675/$29,813
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 8.4 sec
1/4 mile: 16.6 sec @ 82 mph
100 mph: 30.6 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 165 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.76 g
C/D noticed gas economic system: 18 mpg

fifth Place (tie): Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.6

From the logbook: “A lazy-feeling automobile. It is re­luctant to stand up and go, and when it lastly does, it nonetheless would not ship a lot.” “High quality is superb.”

The little 190 Mercedes might have been in over its head right here. We would have requested a 300 to hold the Benz ban­ner towards a 5-series BMW and the large Saab, however the window sticker would not lie: search for a Mercedes round $35,000 and that is what you discover. In truth, the 190E, at $37,392, was the most costly automobile on this group. Additionally the lightest, probably the most cramped, and the least highly effective. Does that imply it is merely overpriced? You may make a case.

Nonetheless, the 190E 2.6 is superbly put to­gether and feels strong as concrete. From the high-gloss wooden trim to the agency seats and barely scattered minor change­es, it supplies a real Mercedes-Benz expertise.


HIGHS: Prime-quality building and supplies, nice bad-road trip.
LOWS: Lazy engine, outmoded transmission, excessive value.
VERDICT: An actual Benz, however not an important Benz.


Would that it labored higher within the bar­acquire. We’ve no grievance with the trip, and the automobile’s dealing with poise appears to enhance because the street floor deterio­charges. However in most different measures of dy­namic skill, the six-cylinder 190 simply type of lies there. Although smooth-running, the 158-hp engine generates solely modest thrust. Exceptionally lengthy throt­tle-pedal journey would not assist. Nor does an computerized transmission that lacks the sleek shifting, prepared kickdown, and normal refinement of as we speak’s typical GM Hydra-matic. An over-exuberant trac­tion-control system cuts engine energy in middling-hard cornering: it made tight mountain roads much less enjoyable and our skidpad take a look at unimaginable to conduct correctly.

We anticipated the 190 to path the sector in rear-seat spaciousness however have been sur­prised to search out even the driving force’s ft and knees competing with pads and trim pan­els for a spot to be. Particularly annoying was the under-dash cowl that snagged the toe of the appropriate shoe as the driving force pivoted between throttle and brake.

Anyone referred to as this the Cadillac Cimarron of Mercedes’s line. That is per­haps too harsh, however the 190 does danger coming off as an imitation of a status automobile. Or a minimum of as a really outdated status automobile (the physique dates from ’84, the engine from ’87). It is an actual Mercedes, although, no query. It simply occurs to be priced like greater and higher vehicles.

From the logbook: “Too bodily in all of the flawed methods.” “Beautiful trip, however appears to lumber alongside.” “This automobile feels nearly unchanged from the outdated 2.3.”

1991 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.6
158-hp inline-6, 4-speed computerized, 3100 lb
Base/as-tested value: $34,070/$37,392
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 9.4 sec
1/4 mile: 17.4 sec @ 82 mph
100 mph: 31.0 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 177 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.69 g
C/D
noticed gas economic system: 21 mpg

fifth Place (tie): Alfa Romeo 164L

From the logbook: “I discover myself pondering its failings are okay as a result of that is, in any case, an Alfa.”

Although profoundly completely different in heri­tage, execution, and character from the Mercedes 190 (and greater than $3200 cheaper), the Alfa 164 toted up and boiled all the way down to a dead-heat end with the infant Benz in our total judgment. It additionally, regardless of some endearing traits, could not rise above the competitors arrayed towards it.

In our first take a look at of a 164 (a top-of-the-­line S model in June 1990), we discovered the normal Alfa quirkiness pretty nicely un­der management and the automobile’s efficiency good. For this take a look at, pricing and the dearth of an automatic-transmission possibility on the S compelled us into an L-model, and alongside the best way the fireplace went out. The three-liter V-6 loses 17 hp between S and L trim, and that mixed with the softer energy supply of an autobox dragged 0-to-60 occasions from 6.9 seconds to 9.8—a complete persona of distinction.


HIGHS: Distinctive styling remedy, lusty engine sounds.
LOWS: The engine solely sounds lusty, and steering weight feels odd.
VERDICT: Good, however nowhere close to the sooner, sportier S-model.


Everybody favored the unconventional styling of the 164’s physique. The combina­tion of a growly engine and high-feed­again suspension offers the automobile a gritty, mechanical really feel that holds promise for the fan of the driving artwork. Flip up the in­tensity on the street, nonetheless, and that promise fades. The steering’s self-cen­tering forces are curiously robust and ar­tificial-feeling, giving little clue to how arduous the entrance tires are working. And our slalom take a look at turned up a darty instability within the rear suspension.

The boldly designed inside of the Alfa, particularly all of the slatted panels and sq. buttons of the dashboard, look unique. And it really works nicely sufficient, after an appropriate orientation interval. The driv­ing place is arms-out however not arms-­stretched-out, and the seats are decently comfy.

So the 164 is an undeniably attention-grabbing automobile, one that’s uncommon however not so bizarre as to make it unlivable—as some Alfas have been. We needed very a lot to love our 164 L. However in too many small methods, it allow us to down—one thing that did not hap­pen with different vehicles that its $34,142 value compelled it to compete towards.

From the logbook: “Its sparkling-good appears to be like are usually not aided and abetted by glowing­-good efficiency.”

1991 Alfa Romeo 164L
183-hp V-6, 4-speed computerized, 3440 lb
Base/as-tested value: $29,015/$34,142
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 9.8 sec
1/4 mile: 17.5 sec @ 83 mph
100 mph: 27.1 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 176 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.76 g
C/D
noticed gas economic system: 20 mpg

4th Place: BMW 525i

From the logbook: “Good driver! Lacks energy.” “Every thing works so very nicely and with nice confidence. Maybe the very best balanced automobile within the take a look at.”

This was our first time behind BMW’s new multivalve “small” six, and the re­sults inform all: the 525i completed in fourth place, but it surely practically tied with the third­-place Audi and slotted in respectably near the winner.

This newly powered price-leader 5-series offers an fanatic driver loads to like, together with steadiness and poise on twisty roads, very good seats and driving en­vironment, in all probability the very best styling of this group, and faultless construct high quality. Some testers famous the numb spot within the steering round dead-ahead, however in each different method, the 525i actively approaches driving as a sport, a pastime, and a pas­sion. Your thighs, seat, torso, and shoul­ders are positively situated by the deep buckets, your thumbs discover completely fashioned rests on the wheel’s higher spokes, your eyes and proper hand have the dash-center devices and controls canted towards them.


HIGHS: Superbly made, superbly formed, stunning to drive.
LOWS:
Engine wants revs—and a handbook gearbox—to actually work.
VERDICT: A real driver’s automobile: strong, balanced, and built-in.


Beneath method, the BMW feels keen and spirited, with velvety management response, prepared maneuverability, and good nook­ing grip. But it surely is not significantly quick. This 189-hp 24-valve 2.5 represents a wel­come enchancment over the 168-hp twelve-valver (C/D, July 1989), but it surely wants revs to make energy. And meaning the driving force has to maintain it spinning. Greater than another autoshifter right here, the BMW cried out for a handbook field. And in a single respect—prime pace—what functionality the engine does have is hobbled. The 525i is electronically restricted to 128 mph, ostensibly due to tire scores but additionally in all probability for advertising causes: it mustn’t crowd the efficiency of the costlier 535i.

Material upholstery that regarded a bit of downmarket was the one seen sugges­tion that we have been in an “economic system” BMW. That idea is relative. At $36,683, our 525i surpassed all as-tested costs right here save the 190E’s. But no en­thusiast will query the BMW’s worth.

From the logbook: “Very candy. No rocket however not dangerous, and the chassis presents great give and take.” “Very strong, very safe, delightfully responsive.”

1991 BMW 525i
189-hp inline-6, 4-speed computerized, 3600 lb
Base/as-tested value: $35,555/$36,683
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 9.6 sec
1/4 mile: 17.5 sec @ 83 mph
100 mph: 26.3 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 178 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.77 g
C/D
noticed gas economic system: 21 mpg

third Place: Audi 90 Quattro

From the logbook: “A fabulous machine. Mild, supple, responsive, forgiving, and comfy.”

The Audi was a little bit of a ringer attributable to its five-speed handbook gearbox, however we did not need to depart the all-wheel-driver out of the take a look at, particularly as a result of we had been impressed with the distinction its 20-valve engine made after we first sam­pled it. Because it seems, the Audi would have taken the crown as sportiest sedan of this bunch it doesn’t matter what transmis­sion it carried.


HIGHS: Taut, direct really feel; unmatched grip and foul-weather traction.
LOWS: A small, noisy cabin, comparatively talking.
VERDICT: The one clear sports activities sedan right here, and a jewel anyplace.


It is a startlingly agency automobile, virtually arduous. From the seats to the steering-wheel rim to the trip high quality, little in the best way of pad­ding isolates the driving force from the automobile or the street. Usually, that is nice. It offers the 90 a really constructive really feel. On tough pavement, although, the street rumble can assault your ears, and the five-cylinder engine can do the identical on the elevated speeds it must ship punch. However total we loved the Audi’s taut, direct method and its agency really feel.

The 90 did come up quick—and small—when referred to as upon to do sedan­-type passenger obligation. Its inside mea­sures tighter than all however the Mercedes 190’s—and it felt perhaps snugger than that—and its trunk capability was the smallest of all. None of which bothered the particular person lucky sufficient to be on the wheel. The Audi drew reward from all quarters, even earlier than the climate turned rotten.

When the rain and snow fell, whoever had the 90 Quattro grew downright belligerent about stopping for a driver change. The CB radios crackled with challenges: “That is it, I am locking the doorways, I am right here for the length,” and “You’ll be able to have my Audi while you pry my chilly, useless fingers from its wheel.”

Anybody needing extra convincing that the $32,735 Audi 90 Quattro deserves the tag “sports activities sedan” can simply have a look at two classes of testing the place it racked up the large numbers: skidpad grip and in­terior noise. That will not represent the definition of a sporting automobile, but it surely’s a good information.

From the logbook: “An especially silky automobile on {smooth} pavement. The trip is tight and managed, the directional stability wonderful.” “I am in love. How a lot a month?”

1991 Audi 90 Quattro
164-hp inline-5, 5-speed handbook, 3180 lb
Base/as-tested value: $28,935/$32,735
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 8.2 sec
1/4 mile: 16.3 sec @ 84 mph
100 mph: 25.4 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 182 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.81 g
C/D
noticed gas economic system: 21 mpg

2nd Place: Saab 9000CD Turbo

From the logbook: “Possibly the very best throughout.” “This engine is a delight.” “Looks like a four-liter V-8.”

Saab’s luxurious 9000CD, with the brand new balance-shaft 2.3-liter turbo 4, set the tempo for sheer pace and got here inside simply two factors of taking all of the chips. Primarily based on earlier expertise with a hatchback, five-speed 9000 Turbo, we had anticipated the notchback computerized to be massive, cozy, and swift. However we had not anticipated its vast margin of victory within the pace contests. The 200-hp engine (with 222 pound-feet of torque at a low 2000 rpm) belted the automobile to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds and hurled it down our take a look at straight at 141 mph. No different automobile right here approached these feats. And the Saab 4 ran with an eerie, silky smoothness that rivaled the Acura’s V-6 and embar­rassed the Alfa’s. It is a exceptional engine.


HIGHS: Distinctive mixture of measurement, steadiness, and blistering pace.
LOWS: A niggle right here and there, however nothing critically noteworthy.
VERDICT:
Almost unimaginable to beat as an fanatic’s sedan.


The automobile it propels so energetically additionally leaves valuable little to complain about. From the point of view of an fanatic or a accountable head-of-household (realizing these will be one and the identical per­son), the $34,853 CD Turbo is pleasant and efficient. Tall, upright seats give good help, the controls work with precision (some testers would have favored an adjustable steering wheel), and the cavernous cabin retains everybody com­fortable. The CD’s new walnut instru­ment panel provides a component of class. On virtually any type of street, the large Saab reveals nice composure. It beneath­steers when pushed, and the within entrance wheel can simply spin exiting sluggish cor­ners. However the automobile tracks completely down straights and dances into and thru turns with poise sudden in such a big automobile. Massive humps and dips create no extra physique flop or suspension slop, only a properly damped, hydraulic sensation. And any time temper and situations dic­tate, a push on the appropriate pedal can serve up a headlong rush into the distant scen­ery. It is arduous to think about the driving force who wouldn’t be impressed with this automobile.

From the logbook: “Fast acceleration to 130 with no engine thrash. Wonderful for a four-­cylinder engine. GM wants a few of this for the Quad 4.”

1991 Saab 9000CD Turbo
200-hp turbocharged inline-4, 4-speed computerized, 3220 lb
Base/as-tested value: $34,853/$34,853
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 6.8 sec
1/4 mile: 15.2 sec @ 93 mph
100 mph: 17.9 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 179 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.75 g
C/D
noticed gas economic system: 21 mpg

1st Place: Acura Legend LS

From the logbook: “Looks like the large automobile that it’s. It responds fairly properly, however I am at all times conscious that it is a big, heavy piece.” “Nice en­gine. All of the torquiness of regular aspiration, however the energy and smoothness of a turbo.”

Curiously, our testers had a wider di­vergence of opinion on the victorious Acura than on the second-place Saab. However regardless of the combination of bravos and but-then-agains within the logbook, when the factors have been totaled, the Legend eked out the win.


HIGHS: Engine energy and refine­ment, construct high quality, management efforts.
LOWS: Its excellence is typically too delicate to register.
VERDICT: The winner, pure and easy. What else is there?


A lot of the talk in regards to the newest massive Acura hovers across the high quality of sport­iness. One contingent inside our merry cadre identified how hefty the automobile felt, and so they thought of its cornering poise a bit too waffly. Admitting it did nothing flawed, in addition they felt it did not appear com­pletely glued to the street within the twisties. Each steering and brakes lacked crisp suggestions.

The automobile’s supporters, in the meantime, seized upon the Legend’s mild, delicate management efforts and its fast, predictable responses. That, they claimed, made for a sportier driving expertise than, say, the BMW’s heavier helm. Everybody praised the three.2-liter V-6, the largest powerplant right here and tied with the Saab for highest energy score at 200 hp. The Acura six is a gem: versatile at low speeds, lusty at excessive speeds, satin-smooth in any respect speeds.

So is the remainder of the automobile, however typically it shines in a delicate, understated method. Might­be too understated. Its styling, for in­stance, is unremarkable, but clear and tasteful. If the automobile would not scamper by bends like a jack rabbit, neither does it ever shock you or put a wheel flawed. It is a wonderful open-road cruis­er, with unmatched refinement. And for high quality of match and end, the Legend scores among the many finest within the automotive world.

The Acura Legend accomplishes its duties easily and subtly, relatively than with overt spirit and verve. Succesful as it’s, it will possibly fail to make an impression. Which will account for the boundless respect however certified affection our drivers felt to­ward it.

From the logbook (the comparability cleaned up considerably): “The Acura is the Meryl Streep of cars. She acts flawlessly, however I would not care to get entangled.”

1991 Acura Legend LS
200-hp V-6, 4-speed computerized, 3500 lb
Base/as-tested value: $34,861/$34,861
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 7.8 sec
1/4 mile: 16.3 sec @ 83 mph
100 mph: 23.7 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 191 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.76 g
C/D
noticed gas economic system: 19 mpg


Automotive and Driver

Because the General Ranking scores illustrate, we had 4 vehicles right here that made sense to us. The BMW, the Audi, the Saab, and the Acura spoke to us with a mixture of competence and magnificence. We might not look askance at somebody selecting to pay the value for any of them.

The 525i flattered us with its presump­tion that we have been severe drivers. The Quattro entertained us with its racy de­meanor. The 9000 freed us from com­promising between utility and pace.

However ultimately, the Legend would sim­ply brook no problem. Swift and silky, it fortunately took up any driving chore we threw at it. If the automobile left us little to re­mark on within the course of, nicely, that will simply be a measure of how unflappable it’s. And who might deny, pondering forward to issues of upkeep and reliability, that the Acura possible represented the lowest-risk buy right here?

With regards to expressing private model, plus saying a factor or two about good household transport, the Acura Legend simply has all the nice traces.

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