(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.
Curbside Classic Subaru XT – Forward To The Future In 1985
Curbside Classic: 1989 Nissan 240SX And Silvia/SX History – Who’s The Prettiest Silvia Of Them All?
Curbside Classic: 87-89 Mustang LX – Our Dirty Little Secret
Curbside Classic: 1991 Honda Prelude Si – Improving The Original
Curbside Classic: 1990 Ford Probe GT – Under Pressure
Curbside Classic: 1992 Mitsubishi Eclipse – A Victim Of Its Target Demographic
I’m surprised the Acura Integra didn’t make the cut. Sure it had a slightly smaller engine than these cars (still 1.8 then, I think), but far sportier than the Subaru or Celica, in my opinion.
I was going to point that out, especially since both the MX-6 and Probe made the list.
What? No F-body in this review?
IMHO, Camaro/Firebird went from being the class of the class in 1970 1/2, to total POS’s with zero redemptive value unless yours carried a TPI, preferably a 350 TPI.
Then, in my opinion, you had a great donor car.
A 350 TPI/TH700- R4 from an ’87 Firebird Formula powered my 1989 Caprice wagon from 1996-2003, during which time I racked up 140,000 miles and more smiles than I can count. (The simple “holy $%*!! It’s got a TUNED-PORT” reaction from popping the hood for other car nuts was by itself worth the six months doing the swap.)
Like many GMs of the era, if the General had only built the rest of the car to the standard of the engine and transmission, they’d have remained the class of the class. (By 1987, the Turbo 200-4R and 700-R4 were just about bulletproof. And the few issues with the TPI were also sorted out.)
And as I’ve stated elsewhere on this site, it seems GM has regained their mojo. If I could justify a new Camaro…I’d be there in a heartbeat. Think about it, even the 4-cylinder models can run rings around those old IROCs and Trans-Ams.
The only thing better in an F-body IMHO would be some of that current 430-HP LS goodness in a ’70 1/2 Camaro.
It is unfortunate that the 1982-1990s Camaro
and Firebird weren’t built to a higher quality
caliber. I read from numerous sources that
these cars flexed and flopped around visibly –
and we’re talking hard tops here, not T-tops
I still love ’em, and hope to get a chance to
audition one in decent shape before either I
or the machine are unable to drive!
Appearance-wise, the 1982-onwards haven’t
aged one SECOND since their debut, and
still look fresh in modern traffic.
If I had to choose any of these “supercoupes”, I’d take the Ford Mustang LX, and the Subaru XT6. The XT6 may not have had the acceleration and exciting performance like the rest of the cars in the group, but I don’t care. What good is excitement if you can’t control it?
An interesting comparison of cars that were all the rage when I was a kid, and some of which I looked at in well-used format farther down the line. The thing that jumps out at me most is the price differential–the 5.0 Mustang was under $14K and the Celica almost $20K? That’s a heck of a price premium for that Toyota badge, especially given its soon-to-be-replaced status. One wonders if, instead, they should have included something with a couple of years of life left, perhaps the Firebird?
I’m also quite jealous of your Prelude ownership. This generation was by far my favorite, and to be able to buy a car like that as a new college grad? What a treat. My first car purchase as a college grad was an $800 20 year-old Chevy, and I wouldn’t buy a brand new car until 10 years later (Perhaps I should have picked a line of work with better compensation…)
I was so happy to be able to get that Prelude! It was a huge deal for me, and that made the ownership experience even sweeter. Though I have had other nice cars through the years, that Honda will always be my favorite.
The Mustang would win hands down for me. The most powerful engine. Check. The lowest price. Check. RWD. Check. Best styling of the bunch. Check.
The Nissan’s seats look like they were organically grown and covered in the lowest price material they could out source.
Having owned both a Probe and Mustang, the Probe was a better daily driver, especially in Minnesota winters.
As a second car, I’d choose the Mustang. As my only car, the Probe.
I remember this road test. I was in my early 20s, summertime. If I could have any of these cars, I would have picked the Prelude Si, with the Mustang a close second.
But I already had a great car–an 86 VW GTI.
My brother’s first car a few years later was a used ’90 Prelude Si. His experience wasn’t as happy as yours, as the CV joints went out and the car frequently wouldn’t run smoothly..
Check out the curb weights and prices of these cars!
Sounds like your brother’s Prelude was neglected by the first owners.
The prices continue to intrigue me. That $13.6K for the Mustang was a bargain–that’s equivalent to a little over $26K today. Which won’t get you a V8 Mustang, as the V8 is now only found in the GT (starting price $32K). 26 and change will put you in a nicely equipped EcoBoost turbo though. Maybe that’s more of the logical successor of the 5.0 LX anyway.
As to the Celica–$19.6K is equivalent to almost $38,000 today! Crazy high for a 4 cylinder, non-turbo sports coupe that was supposed to be accessible to the under-35 crowd. For a modern equivalent, the Lexus RC starts at $40K, and the Celica was certainly no Lexus.
I agree that the prices for a lot of these cars were pretty high. In fact I think it is one of the elements that ultimately led to the segment’s demise.
As others have noted, Super Coupes is a bit of an odd name–these were small sporty cars, nothing more. As they crept up in price, buyers could soon justify leaping to a higher segment–such as an entry BMW (once the 318 arrived). Or they could go “down” into a more practical compact. At Honda, for example, the 1989 Accord LXi Coupe with the 5-speed was about $2,000 ($3,840 adjusted) cheaper than the Prelude. No wonder that within 10 years the Super Coupe segment would basically be gone.
As for the Mustang, it was a hell of a buy in 1989, but depending on your perspective at the time it seemed either dated or iconic (like the Jeep Wrangler). Ironically, it ultimately took over the shrinking segment for affordable 2-door sporty coupes, as the “high tech” but pricey Japanese entrants dropped out one by one.
I paid $26.5k last year for performance package equipped mustang Ecoboost (3.55 geared auto tranny). I have personally done a tick less than 14.0 in the qt. (@103 mph) and I average 23.5 mpg. I cant believe how well equipped this car is for the money.
Yeah I think that’s where a lot of the dissension comes from with Mustang critics today, and what they don’t account for on price structure is there’s really no poky penalty box version like there was in 1989, or even 10 tears ago. The Ecoboost or even the base V6 are excellent cars and are pretty much on the level one would have expected from a GT in the 90s and 00s. The current GT is basically occupying the price/performance bracket the SVT Cobra did, everything moved up a level a few years ago.
I do prefer the V8 burble though, I can’t tell the sound of an Ecoboost or V6 exhaust from an Accord owned by a teenager now a days, But I always know a 5.0 or 4.6 Mustang when I hear one.
Many of the Prelude’s attributes appeal to me but I just think the second-generation looked better than the third… And the fourth-generation was simply stunning!
See, the fourth-gen just didn’t do it for me. I get the direction (definitely familial resmblance to contemporary Accords/Civics), and I see why a lot of folks like it, but it’s just not my taste. I prefer the 5th/final generation cars to the 4th, as they went to a look more reminiscent of the 2nd and 3rd-gen cars.
The fourth generation reminds me of the Maserati 3200GT/Coupé, even though the Prelude had been redesigned by the time that car came out. I wonder if the same Italian design agency was involved?
I still prefer the fifth generation, though.
Yes, I also had an ’86 GTI at this same time. I was really looking for cars for my younger sisters (one of which had just graduated from college, the other was just starting college. I tried to give my youngest sister my ’78 Scirocco, but it had two strikes against it in her book: one, it was manual shift, and two, it didn’t have air conditioning (which was one of the reasons I sold it, as I had moved to the sunbelt and wanted air conditioning too, the GTI was my first air conditioned car). Well, my middle sister started out with a Ford Escort, then a Toyota Tercel, and then both sisters entered what I call the “240SX” zone (all notchbacks, thank you, no hatches, starting with my youngest sister who bought an ’85 240 SX which got damaged in a hailstorm leading to the purchase of a ’92 240SX. My middle sister countered with a ’93 240SX which was totaled in a fender bender and then she bought (new) a ’98 240SX, which she still has….lots of people try to ask her to sell it to them, as it has low miles on it, but as I mentioned all of them were automatic, neither one really learned to drive standard. Though I loved the Datsun I owned in college, I wasn’t really a 240SX fan until my sister bought hers (as brother I got to work on it for her, and became familiar with it that way). Still my favorite car has got to have been my ’78 Scirocco, though undoubtedly at my age it wouldn’t be as fun getting in and out of it as it was when I was in my 20’s.
It is interesting that out of all the cars in the comparison, only the Mustang is still around today. The Mustang had the oldest design, an OHV engine and RWD with a solid rear axle. If I were in 1989, I would have guessed it would be the first to go, not the last. The Mustang only recently got rid of its solid rear axle, long after its more modern FWD competition had gone. It was especially ironic it outlasted the Ford Probe that was supposed to replace it.
Only the Mustang is still around *in name*. However, it could be argued that the Celica and XT6 have a sort of spiritual successor in the BRZ/86 twins. Granted, the back seats aren’t even suitable for kids from what I’ve heard, but they’re relatively affordable sports coupes.
I wouldn’t say that, it’s still a fast car for the money, and is everyday livable(possibly more so now with the IRS). I don’t subscribe to the notion that “real mustangs” are 65-73 and 05-14 and all else are placeholders though. If there’s anything that defines “real mustang” to me it’s 3 bodystyles(ended in 94) and a buttload of individually selectable options, including powertrain(heavily consolidated in 87, eliminated entirely in favor of packages(base, GT, Cobra) in 94). Problem with the Mustang as of late is that it’s slowly but surely becoming Ford’s Corvette, leaving behind it’s everyday accessibility and instead playing on the high performance end of the nameplates legacy.
+1 on the FRS/BRZ and Celica though
You misinterpreted my comment, or perhaps I phrased it badly. I definitely think the current Mustang is a “real” Mustang, and the more I see on the street, the more I like them. The styling has really grown on me and I think the IRS is a good thing, unless you live at the dragstrip. By “in name” I meant that it’s the only car in the test that has kept a continuous model name, as opposed to the example I was about to bring up.
Gotcha, I definitely misinterpreted, I took *in name* as a jab(which it really is with some traditional Mustang fans) and a separate statement to the BRZ/Celica analogy.
300 hp for $24K (price of a well-equipped Civic) is not “everyday accessibility”?
I’m talking strictly for the V8 model
I think the Scion TC is more of a Celica successor than the BRZ/FT86. The BRZ strikes me as more of a mini Supra. You could also argue the case that the Accord Coupe is the successor to the Prelude.
In any case there was a large, almost decade long gap between the Celica/Supra and the BRZ/FT86. The Mustang was in continuous production the whole time.
The Mustang had more of a evolutionary development track, where as the Celica/BRZ changed between RWD to FWD and back to RWD again.
I finally read the previous “Super Coupes” comparo just this weekend….what a difference nearly 20 years makes. In the last test, there were no FWD entries and a SOHC was considered to be “exotic”. And an IRS? Who would have thought it?
Aside from the price difference, I think I would have bought the Mustang, even though I would buy a new Civic in 1989. The Probe looks interesting….on paper, but that turbo engine would have counted against it.
The Eclipse, Mustang and 240SX seem to be the most sought-after today.
The XT6 is oddly appealing to me, in that “One That Got Away” sense that doesn’t really make sense. Oddly enough, in the Summer of 1989 I found myself shopping for my first brand new car as an adult. At 22 I was working a “Real Job” with a real commute and was driving a 1985 Conquest, which was still a great car at 4 years old. I was trying to be a good American and build credit (it was the 80’s remember…build debt, build something to be proud of. lol), so it seemed like a good idea to get into hock by trading the ‘Quest in on a new $7500-8000 car with 48 oh-so-fun payments. Obviously I was not shopping the supercoupes, but was ironically looking trade flash for anonimity, as my driving record was not exactly benefiting from 17,000 annual miles of turbocharged rear-drive bliss. I looked at Sentras, Civics, a couple different Toyotas, a Dodge (Mitsubishi) Colt, and the Subaru Justy (in Northern NJ the 4WD had strong appeal). My local Subaru dealer, seeing my potential trade-in and sensing my ho-hum attitude toward the Justy, tried REALLY hard to upsell me into an XT (not the XT6, mind you, but a FWD 4 cylinder XT). It was deeply discounted as its sales were slow, and the base model XT was even uglier and more difficult to find appealing than the oddball-but-oddly-impressive XT6. In the end I kept the Conquest for another couple of years, learning to take advantage of the wonders of cruise control, but my overall ability to relate to those from the Land of Misfit Toys always left a soft spot for the XT6.
Had an ’87 Toyota Celica, essentially the same as the ’89 referenced here; would hardly call it “Super”. It essentially stunk as it pretty much did in this comparison. It was a far cry from the ’83 RWD Celica that preceded it.
What an uninspiring group of cars .
That was the last thing I expected to see in the comments!
I want to go on record here at Curbside Classics to admit I have always been a fan of the first generation Ford Probe. I thought it was an attractive car back then and I still think it is an attractive car now in 2016. If I could find a nice condition 89-92 Probe for a good price I would fork over the cash and drive it home.
The Diamond Star cars came out around the time I was middle school (90-91) and were lusted over by my high school peers and I when I was in HS from 91-95. The 90-91 are my favorites because they had the pop up lights and though I loved all the models of the 90-94 generation, I still felt that it lost a bit of the “look” in the 92-94 models due ot the lost pop up headlights.
My best friend’s dad had a 1990 Plymouth Laser and it was a joy to drive.
I liked the look of the first gen Mazda MX-6 but really loved the second generation MX-6 with its graceful lines.
Not sure it would be to your tastes, but about a year ago I ran across a 91 Probe LX (V6 and automatic transmission). It was white with a red velour interior, digital instrument panel, about 100,000 miles….give or take, and in pretty good shape.
It was for sale by a charity (no sales tax to be paid), and if I remember correctly….approximately $2,000. I almost bought it, but didn’t as the seller was way out in the middle of nowheres in northern Florida….and I couldn’t get transportation to it worked out.
I have nothing but love for Mustangs overall, but was always wowed by the Probe as both onlooker and passenger.
@Leon, this Probe on eBay hasn’t attracted too much attention–formerly a HS shop class car, with just *49* miles on it and a few scratches. I wonder how high the auction will go?
Having been in auto shop courses in high school I can safely say I wouldn’t want that car if it had 0 miles on the odometer. The ones my school got like that where they had super low miles were all write offs from flood damage and the like, and on top of that a decade of random teenage students messing around with them, leaning on them and outright vandalizing them, doesn’t make for a much better proposition than getting one with 200,000 miles.
Leon, I have a 1989 Probe GT 5spd manual with 82,000 miles, got it from my Grandpa a few years ago, he bought it new in 89. I was planning on keeping this for quite awhile because it’s a great car plus it has sentimental value, but I’m starting to realize that I have too many cars and need at least one that isn’t over 27yrs old… so I’ve been considering selling it.
It’s not perfect, paint is starting to fade on the top, cruise control doesn’t work, shifter has some play (plastic bushing broke, still shifts fine, never had a problem finding a gear), brakes could use a little more stopping power. But it is clean over all, starts 1st try every time (even in negative temperatures), handles great, and is still very quick. Everything is stock except for the mustang wheels, I’m not a huge fan of the stock probe wheels so that’s the only modification I made, I still have them and they’ll easily fit in the spacious hatch.
Sorry this is turning into a personal car add, excited to see my car on the list and that someone out there is looking for such a vehicle, I would prefer to sell it to a person that cares about the car and not some local teenager who is wanting to rice it out. I live in Joplin, MO, by the way and I’ve driven this car on a few 7-8hr trips no problem.
The Probe definitely deserves 2nd place in my opinion, still a fun car to drive.
In ’89, being an Olds fan, I would have certainly bought the Cutlass Supreme International Series, which wasn’t . . .really a supercoupe but certainly had jaw dropping looks in ’89. Second to that would have been a Calais 442.
It is interesting how much weights went up on the super coupes between 1971 and 1989. The heaviest then Vega GT would have been circa 200 pounds lighter than the lightest Celica in this test. I thought going front drive was supposed to be lighter and by 1989 5 mile an hour bumper standards were repealed. The 240SX was my favorite of these as more of a direct modernization of the cars in the early test.
I don’t think the weight increase is all that dramatic. All the cars in this test are a fair bit larger in footprint then the cars tested in 1971. Not to mention all the extra equipment this crop carries (A/C, power everything, etc.).
The Mustang styling has held up the best of the bunch. I remember at 6 ft. tall my head rubbed the headliner of the Subaru.
Styling is obviously subjective, but keep in mind the basic Mustang design here was already 10+ years old at this point. It’s age really limited the amount of 80’s gimmickry that could be baked into it. Note it is one of two cars in the whole test that doesn’t have pop-up headlamps.
I miss pop up headlights so much.
Thought for sure this was going to be about a thunderbird when I saw 1989 SuperCoupe in the feed :p
Ditto my Firebird, Matt! 🙂
I miss the looks of pop-up headlights.
The pounding on them to break the ice off so they will open, not so much.
Yeah, the pop-ups were pretty sweet. Impractical, but cool for the time.
After I finished college in 2003 I needed a new car and was dead set on the 3rd gen prelude si with a manual tranny. I ended up finding one with the 4ws. It is an amazing car. To this day I’ve yet to drive a car as fun, engaging, solid, and greatly engineered as that car. I miss it terribly.
Only downside, no abs option and that ended up contributing to its death. I crashed it when the wheels locked up in cold wet weather. That, in addition to the many electrical problems lead me to junking it. I wish I could have kept it and stored somewhere to fix one day.
Remove the Mustang from the lineup and thats what could be got out here even the Mustang doesnt rate against some of the fourdoor sedans we could get from Holden and Ford, a few Mustangs have shown up including Roush race prepped cars and they gave a poor showing, so the best of the rest is really the choice, I had one of those 89 Preludes not really much of a car it handled ok but was slower around corners than my 93 Amon Corona and thats the main problem with all of them poor handling, fine on nice smooth roads but push one over the devils elbow nearby and they are less than ideal not a great selection at all.
I have owned 3 of these; ’91 Probe (LX V6 5sp), ’91 Prelude Si, and ’88 Mustang GT. IMO the Mustang easily remains the most relevant and easiest to modify, at least for this redneck.
Holy shick what a change from the 1972 “Super Coupes” test where they included the Pinto and Vega. In terms of appealing product it never got better than in 1989. Odd that the Probe scored so well, ahead of legends like the 240SX and Prelude, and today is totally, totally forgotten.
The Probe GT V6 was a smooth driving car and looked more modern than the rest but hasn’t aged as well. It doesn’t say Ford the way the Mustang did and still does, or Honda like the Prelude. Those Eclipse models looked fantastic and sold like hotcakes but lacked the refinement of the 240SX and Prelude. Felt like a C-segment platform underneath which I believe it was. Impressive specs and performance on paper but a bit crude to drive.
Being the Honda fan I am; I did try to different generations of Prelude Si/sticks. While both were very nice and quite enjoyable to drive, neither turned my crank enough to open my wallet! OTOH Civic Si’s did…:)
Re: F body Camaro. I do have an ’88 IROC-Z 350. Other than sucking down premium, at a max of 14 mpg, it is a fun car on curvy backroads. The F-41 suspension still delivers and the 230 hp 350 feels strong…actually feels better than it really delivers: 15.0 1/4. The ’16 Civic turbo 4 ran the same 1/4 time, but would get 40+ mpg on regular.
I’m sure there were Chevy Beretta and Dodge Daytona performance models within price range, but I doubt they’d have made an impact.
I’d choose the Mustang. I like the Prelude, but unlike the author, I’d have chosen an Accord coupe SE-i.
These were all very good cars, but there were too many for the market size. When these rides were being created, few in the industry could have foreseen a rebirth of traditional rear drive V8 sport cars. The industry even tried putting them all together as “super coupes” as though they were a real thing, instead of a marketing meme.
These were all very good cars and they were very well engineered. Problem was, the market didn’t move into the direction these manufacturers thought it would move into, leaving these very good cars competing for a shrinking segment of the market.
If one recalls, coupes were big throughout the previous 25 years. Who would have guessed that the coupe would be replaced by the sedan and the minivan? The traditional thinkers believed that buyers would prefer a sporty coupe. They were wrong. The market went to sporty sedans. By the end of the shelf life of these models, we see the same manufacturers sporting up compact sedans. Trunk spoilers appeared even on plebian rides such as Saturn and Taurus. This was unexpected back when these cars were on the drawing boards.
For some showrooms, FWD super coupes shared space with traditional RWD V8 brands. Both coupes. The FWD coupes were usually more inexpensive, since they shared parts and engineering with run of the mill products from the same brands. Yet, those traditional RWD coupes used hardware that was paid off as well as parts from sibling products as well. You only get so many coupe buyers, right? Who needs competition within the same showroom for similar buyers?
When the market shifted away from sporty coupes towards sporty sedans, these products’ days were numbered. Shame too. They were all good cars. In many ways, they were better than the traditional RWD rides a generation or more, older. Yet there simply wasn’t enough of a market to support them.
Maybe its personal bias, but I found the 1st gen Probe to be rather UGLY. Friend in high school had a brown Probe, it was a proper high schooler’s first car, aka not a straight body panel on it with a hole in the muffler. We gave him so much crap about that car, called it the anal Probe.
My juvinile mind never did understand why somebody would’ve bought a Probe instead of a Mustang GT when they were new. That car was fast, sounded great and did burnouts. If you wanted a sport compact type of car the DSM cars were fast and looked way cooler. You were spoiled for choice at Honda in the late 80’s/90’s, fun cars but just realize they werent that fast except for the expensive top trim cars.
I’m not sure what disqualified the Acura Integra, then in the last year of its first generation. A very nice-driving, practical car with intrinsic sportiness and good ergonomics that were lost some in later models, despite improved performance numbers. The new Honda Accord coupe was excellent too. In today’s world where “coupes” can have four doors as long as the roofline is low and sleek, the 626 Turbo hatchback would qualify, and I prefer it to either the MX-6 or Probe that share its mechanicals (and the Mazda’s dashboard). The 626 had plusher seats, nicer door panels, and combined the Ford’s hatchback and rear wiper with the MX-6’s low liftover height for its luggage compartment for max versatility, with flip-and-fold rear seats for a flat floor that neither the MX-6 nor Probe had. It had similar interior roominess that the MX-6 was praised for, thanks to a taller roofline than the Probe’s (but still about 2″ lower than the 626 sedan’s). Its shape isn’t all that different from something like an Audi A5 of today.
Of those actually suggested by the C/D staff, the Fox body Mustang, the obvious outlier, would be the most fun (though I prefer the older four-eyed models to the newer ones with their poor imitation of a Japanese-style interior). The Probe’s interior actually looked more sedate and Mazda-like than the MX-6’s. Outside, it’s a bit too sleek for its own good, and “TURBO” molded into the cladding looked tacky (oversized TURBO emblems and decals were an endemic ’80s foible found in too many Japanese high-performance cars). The rest of the cars here bore me, save for maybe the Celica. The Subie was a bit weird, the Nissan’s pointy front clip nowhere near as coherent with the rest of the car as the JDM Silvia’s, and the interior looks like it melted on the boat ride over to America. No hubcap Diamond-Star halo for the Mitsu or its clones from Plymouth or Eagle.
No, the 626 Turbo 5-door “touring sedan” as Mazda called it was the best Super Coupe of 1989, even if nobody realized it was a coupe back then.
It’s possible that Honda didn’t want to provide an ’89 Integra for comparison since it was so close to replacement, or that the editors (who might well have driven the 1990 model by this point, even if it was still embargoed) left it out for that reason. Of course, the same thing also applied to the Celica, but there, omitting it would have left Toyota unrepresented. (The T180 Celica would not have fared well in this test — the GT-S was more expensive and heavier with no more power, and the All-Trac Turbo would have been over the $20,000 limit — but that’s another matter.)
So if the Mustang was allowed into this “club”, why wasn’t the Buick Grand National?
It was gone by ’89.
I got an 88 Prelude SI 4ws after I got out of college in 03 to replace my dying Plymouth Reliant. It was the testament to the saying that you shouldn’t believe what it says on paper. It was an amazing machine to drive daily and drive sporty with each component feeling like it was engineered to work with all others as one masterpiece, like an orchestra. Engine, clutch, shifter, steering, handling, etc.
Hondas 1 mistake was not giving it ABS. The brakes were very good, so good they could lock the wheels up if you braked hard in certain conditions. Motorweek documented this in their review and mine did on a wet turn and it went crashing into a curb. No injuries, that was the end of my Prelude.
My friend had a 240sx at the same time this articles comparo of the 2 are totally spot on.
Honda’s three-channel “ALB” was available on this generation, although for some reason known only to American Honda, we didn’t get it until mid-1990. Also, American buyers had to choose between ALB and 4WS, which were treated as separate Si sub-models. (This was not true in Japan, where you could order either or both on either of the top two grades. UK and some other export markets were also offered with both 4WS and ALB, so it wasn’t a technical incompatibility issue.)
Sad that these all died out in the following decades. Today all you can get is the mustang. In the early 2000s alot of people went with more sporty midsize sedans like the 03 Nissan Altima v6, Mazda6, Accord, etc. Then they moved to crossovers.
“Who would have guessed that the coupe would be replaced by the sedan and the minivan? ”
Huh? Minivans replaced coupes? In the 90’s, right after this article was printed, the SUV market took off and never looked back. Many of them took the place of a coupe as buyers got into their middle ages, to express ‘personal style’, as PLC’s used to do.
Minivans started to decline around late 90’s, and now niche models for some families. Down to 3 brands. However, most parents “gotta have” a Ute or pickup to take to kids places.
They of course left the Camaro/Firebird out of this article, yeah, the F-Bodies weren’t great, but I had friends with Mustangs, Eclipses, and a turbo eating Probe. None of these cars were much better or more reliable than my ’86 Iroc Camaro, which had TPI issues from day one until I sold it in ’95. It behaved well for it’s second owner, until it blew a head gasket. After that, it blew the other head gasket about 6 months later, then the water pump, and the A/C compressor exploded for the second time. I paid for the first replacement about 1990.
The Probe a friend and his wife drove was neither quick or reliable. About a year in, it ate it’s first turbo, the second one the next summer on vacation someplace. Always fun to have a major issue 500+ miles away from home.
I have laugh at the way the Mustang’s 225 HP is termed so “brutal”. My friend’s ’89 Mustang was quick for the period, but it creaked like an old wooden boat, and had a lot of weird intermittent electrical issues.
I had a base model 1985 Prelude when I was in college in the mid ’90s and it remains to this day the most enjoyable car to drive I ever owned. It wasn’t fast off the line, but it was quick from 30-50 on the road and the handling was great. Got great mileage too. Engine died in 2001 at 170K miles and there was a decent amount of rust by then. I think I had it for six of those years and about 90K of those miles. Only gripe I ever had was the tiny backseat.