(first posted 5/10/2016) After coining the term Super Coupes in the early 1970s, Car and Driver kept the flame alive for the next several decades, testing and enjoying the affordable, sporty cars that were well suited to enthusiasts on a budget. Let’s take a look at the state of the Super Coupe art as the 1980s rolled to a close.
One big difference in the Super Coupe segment of the late 1980s was the disappearance of the German brands. The Opel Manta and German Ford (Mercury) Capri were long gone from the U.S. market, while the aged VW Scirocco had quietly disappeared for 1989 (except in Canada) and the new Corrado had not yet arrived.
Nor were American makers building cutting edge, fuel efficient sporty coupes. Sure, there were the American Pony Cars—the Mustang even made it into Car and Driver’s comparison, but it was a breed apart. The Camaro and Firebird, though priced in the target range, just didn’t seem efficient and agile enough for the segment as C&D defined it.
No, this test was all about the players from Japan (even if they carried American brand names in some cases). The 1980s were the decade when the Japanese makes really hit their stride, offering a tremendous array of contemporary, economical, stylish and fun cars. So how did all the players rank?
Please note, I have included scans of the complete double page spreads to show the full impact of the original magazine layout, and then immediately underneath are scans of the individual pages that comprise the spread, to make full size viewing of images and text easier.
While the editors were very clear in the overall rankings, the subjective picks with overviews of each car’s virtues (and vices) was a nice touch and allowed the reader to understand the cars’ distinct personalities beyond just the numbers. With so many good choices, the challenge was picking which one was just right for you.
When this comparison test came out, I remember devouring every word as soon as the issue landed in my mailbox. This segment was near and dear to my heart, as I was enjoying my first new car, which hailed from the 1988 class of Super Coupes.
When I had gone shopping in June 1988, several of these cars tested, like the Nissan 240SX and the Diamond Stars (Eclipse/Laser/Talon) weren’t yet available. Had they been, my choice would have been tougher. I did look at the Toyota Celica GT-S, which was very nice, but the ones on the lot in New Orleans were pretty loaded and pricey. I also looked at the Mazda MX-6, and the opposite was true—most of the cars on the lot were not that fully equipped and seemed too plain.
To be honest, in 1988, my heart was pretty much set on Honda. My brother and his wife had two Accords at that point, a 1984 and a 1986, and I thought they were fantastic. Though I looked at the new-for-1988 Accord Coupe, it was not quite as sporty as what I wanted.
The car that was really calling my name was the Prelude. The dealer had a Phoenix Red Prelude Si with the 5-speed manual, just like the car pictured in the sales catalog, on the lot and ready to go. When I took it for a test drive, I knew I’d found my car. It was a great time: I’d just graduated college and was gainfully employed, plus I’d saved money from years of summer jobs so I was able to swing the deal and make my dream car come true.
The Prelude was every bit as good as the buff books said it was. The shifter was excellent, the car was a blast to drive, it felt plenty quick and it got great mileage. Plus, being a Honda, it was absolutely bullet proof. I had no problems whatsoever with the car in the 4 years and 70,000+ miles I had it. Well nothing that was Honda’s fault anyway—though there was an issue with the seats.
The Prelude had wonderful, multi-adjustable seats that were very supportive and covered in a nice cloth. Word had gotten out on how good those Prelude seats were, and they’d become very popular on the—ahem—aftermarket. In the early 1991 I was horrified to go back to my car in a parking lot and discover the driver’s window smashed and both front seats stolen. The car even had an alarm with an engine kill switch—I suppose that is why they didn’t just take the whole thing. But the noise didn’t stop the thieves from getting the seats out…
The dealer cheerfully told me that they saw Preludes with stolen seats all the time, and the insurance company was not surprised either. Apparently, I was “lucky” I didn’t lose the entire car, or have it more thoroughly trashed. The theft was covered—good thing too, as the replacement seats were thousands of dollars. I guess thieves know how to target the good stuff! And on that account, the Prelude was tops.