Vintage Review: 1984 Chrysler Laser (Dodge Daytona) XE Turbo — “A Strong Running Package In Need Of Refinement”

The ’70s had certainly been a rough decade for Chrysler. After barely surviving, a renaissance of sorts had been in the works with the K-Car era that arrived in 1981. A series of modern and practical FWD products, pragmatic almost to a fault, ready to serve a world still carrying the uncertainties left by the previous decade. Yet, by ’84, the corporation had recovered enough to offer fun motoring again. Reasonable and cost-effective fun, mind you, appropriate for the decade.

So, for ’84 the Laser/Daytona sports car duo arrived in Chrysler’s G-platform, a derivative of the K-platform. All part of what became the corporation’s endless proKreation of K-derived models. And befitting an era of more responsible fun, the models used Chrysler’s 2.2L inline-4; either normally aspirated or sexily turbocharged. Specs for the turbo were very good for the times: 142 hp at 5200 rpm, 0-60 in 8.6 secs and 23 MPG fuel consumption.

As R&T’s insert chart shows, the turbo’s numbers were quite competitive against Ford’s and GM’s performance cars.

As period advertising suggests, Car And Driver was particularly taken with Chrysler’s new sports car, with the Daytona even appearing in the magazine’s Ten Best for 1984.

Road & Track, however, wasn’t quite so enthused. An assessment they held on most of the K-cars of the period: Vehicles that were the right concept, but in need of refinement.

R&T’s test model was a Chrysler Laser XE. Being a Chrysler, it was the upscale version of the duo, carrying luxury trim and options as standard. (FWIW, back in ’82 R&T believed the sporty duo would appear under the Dodge and Plymouth umbrellas).

First the mostly-positives: “The Laser/Daytona is a good package, with clean styling, a well thought-out interior, a potent turbo engine, and capable if not ultrasophisticated handling. The exterior finish and fit are up to the standards of the Laser’s class, while those of the interior are somewhat less so.”

More thoughts on the interior followed; “… the driver’s seat is very well designed… the steering wheel also satisfies in position and feel, if not in aesthetics… Rear seating is inadequate for adults… Overall, considering it as a 2+2 coupe, the Laser has good interior accommodation.”

The car’s forte was straight-line acceleration; 0-60 arrived in a very competitive 8.6 secs, and the quarter mile in 16.2 secs at 82 mph. Slalom and skidpad numbers were just as good.

Meanwhile, the 5-speed manual was considered well suited to the task, but vague and somewhat clunky. In regards to the vehicle’s handling: “Torque steer, to the right under power, is an annoyance… Otherwise, the handling is capable; you feel the car is controllable when driven hard.” Last, the brakes offered good stopping power, while the clutch pedal effort was deemed heavy.

Overall, a rather “strong running package”. All, except for the car’s engine; “Chrysler’s ubiquitous 2.2 transverse four turbocharged to a healthy 142 bhp… It starts easily, has good driveability, produces enough torque… and its turbo effect some in with reasonable smoothness… The one reservation… The engine has a constant booming resonance that intrudes at anything over 2000 rpm… it’s a resonance that fills the head rather than delights the ear.”

R & T summed up; “Although we applaud the concept and basic execution of the Laser, the car badly needs refinement.”

Quite different from the “The competition is good, we had to be better” Iaccoca attributed lines from period Chrysler advertising. Statements aside, like many products during that tortuous transition, the Laser/Daytona duo arrived as works in progress. Not that such a thing was rare in Detroit at the time, and Chrysler did work to make the sporty cars deliver on their promise.

Or more precisely, they worked to make the Daytona deliver, as it was the longer-lasting model. While its sales figures were often in line with its Dodge sibling, the Laser line was dropped for good in 1986.

That aside, as mentioned, Chrysler took to fixing the sporty pair’s rougher edges. In 1985 a new shift linkage arrived. For ’86, a 2.5L inline 4 with much-needed balance shafts became available (not turbocharged, however). Meanwhile, a Shelby suspension package also appeared that year. More distinctive styling arrived in 1987, with the Daytona going solo until the end of its run in 1993, all while enjoying a rather wild career thanks to hotter versions such as the IROC R/T.

But we’ll leave those events out for now, for those belong to the Daytona’s days as a solo act.


Related CC reading:

Parking Lot Outtake: 1984 Chrysler Laser Turbo – What Kind Of Person Is Still Driving One Today?

eBay Find: 1984 Chrysler Laser Turbo – Mopar’s Answer For The Hair Metal Set

Curbside Classic: 1986 Dodge Daytona – The Un-boxy K