By on September 25, 2018

They’ve got two doors, sporty intentions, and names people forgot long ago. Today we cover three oddball offerings from the latter part of the 1980s.

Will you take home the Nissan, the Mitsubishi, or the Subaru?

(Comments on recent editions of this series tells me some of you need a refresher on the rules.)

The late ’80s was an odd time for Japanese two-door offerings, and many of the designs were square-jawed, early-80s holdouts. While the 1990s and its aero shapes were fast approaching, the new cars weren’t ready just yet. Today we spend some time picking through these forgotten leftovers.

Nissan 200SX

Nissan’s Silvia model took on different identities depending on market, and in North America was badged as the 200SX. Available for the 1984 model year, initial engine offerings included 2.0-liter naturally aspirated and 1.8-liter turbo examples. But that was short lived, as for the 1987 model year the turbo went away and was replaced with an SE trim. Said SE had the 3.0-liter VG30 engine from a naturally aspirated 300ZX. Power was upgraded in 1988 via a five-horsepower boost; 165 horsepower then traveled to the rear via the five-speed manual. Limited in production, only 5,000 of each trim made it to North America for the model’s final two years of 1987 and 1988.

Mitsubishi Cordia

The Cordia was the Eclipse’s forgotten predecessor. Equipped with engines between 1.4- and 2.0-liters in displacement, the Cordia was front-drive only in North America (other markets had four-wheel drive versions). After Mitsubishi’s new offering arrived in the United States for the 1983 model year, it was promptly reworked for 1984. A facelift brought exterior styling revisions and a newly available 2.0-liter with a turbo attached. That engine (today’s selection) provided 135 horsepower through the five-speed manual. Not inconsiderable in a liftback weighing just about 2,000 pounds. Of special note is the crazy futuristic digital dash option, an early offering for a rather inexpensive car.

Subaru XT6

Rounding out today’s trio is the angular Subaru XT6. Starting out as just “XT” for 1985, the new coupe was a sign of Subaru’s future as the company tried to step away from its 1970s designs (often considered cheap looking or ugly). Consequently, the XT was the first Subaru designed with fun rather than practicality in mind. The original 1.8-liter boxer four was joined for the 1988 model year by the brand new 2.7-liter H6. Subaru injected some added sporting potential into its coupe with the new 145-horsepower engine, which replaced the turbocharged four-cylinder as top trim. Today’s XT6 is front-drive, equipped with a four-speed automatic. Loaded with technology, the aircraft-inspired interior of the XT6 was not replicated on any other car.

Three Japanese options, all of them forgotten. One must burn (and only one). Which will it be?

[Images: Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru]

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57 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: Forgotten Japanese Compacts From 1988...”


  • avatar
    CoastieLenn

    Buy: The Mitsu because it’s a 4wd Mitsubishi and … well… no real good reason.

    Drive: The 200SX SE V6 because I’ve always wanted to hoon one and I feel like the lighter chassis with the VG30 would make for a more enjoyable thrash than the rest.

    Burn: The Subaru because 1) look at the thing, and 2) you saddled me with a FWD when you could have made this a little harder and given us the AWD choice.

  • avatar
    John Scott

    Burn the NA market Cordia, unless you really want a Galant coupe.

    Buy the XT, even if it is a FWD version it’s still near-peak weird Subaru.

    Drive the 200SX because a V6 powered lightweight RWD car is a good thing (for an LS swap).

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    I had an 86 200SX – 4 cylinder, 5-speed – my first new car – so I’m biased. Plus they are so hard to find nowadays.

    Buy – 200 SX – just because I want one – especially in V6 trim.
    Drive – XT6 – cause it looked so cool back then.
    Burn – Cordia – even though I like it – it’s my only choice left – plus I never warmed up to the styling over the rear wheels. Always looked a little frumpy to me.

    • 0 avatar
      Willyam

      100% agreement for this order.

      That 200SX just like pictured in white and black with the lace wheels. Should have been my 1988 graduation gift that I would cry over as I watched it rust in the snow in the dorm parking lot. (It used to snow in the midwest kids, and all the rwd coupes and trucks were just snow-drifts until March.)

      Losing the Corida is safest. Talk to any DiamondStar tech from the late 80’s to the end of that mess in 95. (Exception for any wide-body Starion which looks great even when it won’t start.)

    • 0 avatar
      toplessFC3Sman

      Absolutely agree. I had a black ’88 200sx with the NA 4 cyl (CA20E) and 5 speed as my first car – it deserved better than a dumb teenager but I certainly loved it until putting it through a telephone pole.

      Wish I could find another as a low-cost, simple DD but it seems they’ve all disappeared by now.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Buy the 200SX V-6. I did a brief stint selling Nissans back in the day, and we had one of these. It was terrific to drive, and gave you about 95% of what you could get in a Z without the Leisure Suit Larry vibe.
    Drive the Mitsu.
    Burn the Subaru. It’s too ugly to live.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Buy the Nissan, because it had a good reputation (all Nissans did)
    Drive the Subaru, because it always intrigued me
    The Cordia? I don’t even remember it

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I got to test drive a used XT6 – sometime in 1994-ish when I was helping my then-GF with car shopping. It was a pretty cool little car and, for the era, seemed pretty sporty. The loan for it fell through though so she ended up driving a 1980 Honda Civic wagon that she bought for cash.

    Anyhoo –

    Buy: Nissan 200SX – was a Nissan fanatic back then so I can relive those memories.

    Drive: Subaru XT6 – it would certainly stand out today. Can’t remember the last time I saw one on the road.

    Burn: Mitsubishi (which is a hard choice since it’s just as fun and funky as the others).

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    By no means forgotten; I wanted each of them at the time.

    That said, this is going to be very difficult for me. Because I wanted them then, I have to remember what little experience I had with them… and that could be faulty.

    Interestingly, I owned a Mitsubishi Sport pickup in ’83 and it was a surprisingly good little truck. However, the Cordia simply felt weak… either too heavy for the engine or a poor gearing selection; I don’t know which. As such, she’s a Burn. The Starion was a much more appealing model for fun.

    The Subaru was more appealing than the Cordia… at least from behind the wheel. Still, the oddly-elongated body was different enough to raise eyebrows… it just didn’t look proportional at the time. A driver for sure, but not really quite good enough to buy.

    The 200SX… Now there was a little beastie. She beckoned to me every time I saw one and I absolutely wanted one. Problem was, I couldn’t afford it… at the time. She was everything I wanted in a personal car—no aspersions towards practicality, just a nice two-seater with a mock rear seat for throwing books and gear into. A fun car that still slipped under the radar when it came to insurance rates. This would be my buyer… even today.

    So in review;

    Mitsubishi Cordia: Burn
    Subaru XT: Drive
    Datsun/Nissan 200SX: Buy

  • avatar
    gtem

    Buy Nissan, Drive Cordia, Burn Subie (FWD and automatic kill it for me). The Subie being AWD would make it much closer.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      My sentiments exactly, although if the Subaru was AWD as you say, it’d only move up to the “drive” selection. The Nissan gets a “buy” no matter what. I respected Nissan at the time, its a shame what they’ve turned into.

  • avatar
    Syke

    This is going to be a difficult one for me. First, the easy part:

    Buy the Subaru. I just love the weirdnesses of Subaru of that vintage. Before they almost completely sold out to the SUV world.

    Drive the Nissan. It’s a Sylvia. Can a couple of bazillion tuners be wrong?

    Here’s the hard part. Burn the Mitsubishi. But I don’t want to. Not quite a weird as the Subaru, it’s still interesting, different enough, uncommon enough, and a good, competent car. I’d probably hide it out back to save it from burning.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The tuners mostly ignore the S12 and earlier Silvias. The one to get back in the homeland was the FJ20-powered coupe:
      https://www.japandirectmotors.com/vehicle/1985-nissan-silvia/

  • avatar
    la834

    Buy the Nissan because their V6 was sweet as was the 5 spped manual driving the rear wheels. The interior styling, comfort, and ergonomics were quite good on these too. There was hatchback versatility, and even the tight but usable rear seat had things like grab handles in front of the armrests, covered compartments, and openable windows. One curiosity was the strip of warning lights in front of the passenger instead of the driver, although IIRC this was toned down some around the time the V6 became available.

    Drive the Subie because it’s just so one of a kind. Just not very often

    Burn the Mitsu, which was pleasant enough but dull to look at and drive compared to the Nissan.

  • avatar
    FWD Donuts

    Burn them all.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Ok here we are back in the last century , I assume these things roughly cost the same so tossing the money part out of the equation and I put my best choice in the drive category

    Buy the Subie- it was wired but I would not really want to drive it, but could sell it in a few years time anywhere in New England ( see I keep to the rules)
    Drive the Nissan- to me the best looking, biggest engine, can be had w a stick and at least in that time Nissan had good rep and sportiness for the whole line, as others have said what happened Nissan?
    Burn the Mitsu – it is weird even for this group and really does nothing for me so into the fire it goes.

  • avatar
    jeoff

    These are the (used cars) I would be looking at when I first began buying cars with my own money. I ended up with a base Celica and a trashed 240Z instead.

    I always liked the Subaru, there were just not that many of them in Atlanta at the time, so that’s my buy.
    The Nissan looked too much like my Mom’s Corolla, but the Cordia looked like my even older Corolla from college, so drive the Nissan and burn the Mitsubishi.

  • avatar
    John R

    Buy: Nissan 200SX because RWD V6
    Drive: Subaru XT6 only because I can’t burn it (FWD? Pass.)
    Burn: Mitsubishi Cordia

  • avatar
    ernest

    Seems to be a bit of a consensus here.

    Buy the Nissan, burn the other two.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Buy the Mitsubishi/Drive the Subaru, just don’t get on it, you’ll blow the head gasket/Burn the Datsun, those things rusted out faster than Mazdas back then.

  • avatar
    clay433

    Burn them all

  • avatar
    clay433

    Burn all of them

  • avatar
    BunkerMan

    Buy the Nissan for the reasons others have stated above.
    Drive the Subaru because middle school me loved them at the time.
    Burn the Mitusbishi. Hell, they didn’t even sell them in Canada, so I wouldn’t have even had the choice anyway.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Burn Mitsu.
    Drive Silvia (I guess).
    Keep awesome Subbie.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Buy the Nissan. Would do so today, instantly, if it looked like the one pictured and came with a stick.
    Drive the Mitsu, only because I am somewhat of a closet Diamond-Star fan (at least back in the day. Not so much these days).
    Burn the Subie, only because them’s the rules! But I do love the quirky styling and would shed a tear as she crumbled to the ground.

  • avatar
    deanst

    Can you even buy a 2 door hatch compact now? I can only think of smaller hatches like the 500, Yaris or mini.

  • avatar
    scott25

    Buy the Subaru, just because it’s one of my long time dream cars. I’d only be buying it for the style and to cruise in, so don’t care what engine or drivetrain it has.

    Drive the Nissan, since it’s probably the only one here that’s actually fun to drive. And the only one that has any value nowadays.

    Burn the Mitsubishi, I guess, though I’d give it a home. Never seen one of these in my life.

  • avatar
    Blackcloud_9

    Buy the Subaru – Almost bought one in 88 or 89 but couldn’t quite swing the payments. Bought an 89 Pontiac Grand Am – a regret to this day

    Drive the Nissan – My best friend’s then girlfriend bought a 4-cylinder model. Loved all the bells and whistles back then

    Burn the Mitsu – Still haven’t forgiven them for the Dodge Colt/Mitsu Mirage carburetor fiasco

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Mitsubishi had 2 ltr turbo AND 4wd?!?!?!?

    It was predicting the future!

  • avatar
    Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

    Buy the Subie, drive the Nissan and – as is often the case – burn the Mitsubishi.

  • avatar
    EAF

    I would buy the Mitsu. Add a manual boost controller and turn up the boost by 5lbs. It is also super easy to work on.

    I dislike boxer engines but I would not burn the Subaru, it reminds me of my Impulse Turbo on the interior and just looks different.

    I would burn the Nissan because my first car was a VG powered S12 and it was a complete POS. Rust was eating it alive and it consumed large amounts of oil between changes.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I haven’t driven any, so I’ve got to go with some basic principles.

    Buy the Nissan. RWD, manual.
    Drive the Mitsubishi. On winter highway trips and salty days.
    Burn the Subaru. FWD, automatic.

  • avatar
    spyked

    Buy: Nissan
    Drive: Subaru
    Burn: Mitsu

    *I demand to know why the first gen (for U.S.) Isuzu Impulse is not part of this series. The answer is always Impulse with checkerboard alloys.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Buy and drive the Nissan.

    Burn the Mitsubishi because it deserves to burn.

    Burn the Subaru because it’s not a 4WD Subaru.

    Why no turbo-manual Isuzu Impulse here? ’88 was a redesign year, beefier engine and Lotus suspension.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    you gotta love the time when NISSAN could just fit on the grill. Buy it.

    Burn Subaru because it is AUTO
    Drive Mitsu

  • avatar
    Manic

    Honda Prelude was 2 inches wider but same length as Nissan. Just saying. Toyota Celica was available too. And great looking Mazda 626 Coupe. Burn all 3 above.

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    Buy the Mitsu—the turbo made this a quick little car. I would disagree re: being the Galant’s predecessor since the Galant was available in mid year 1985.
    Drive the Nissan—not in love with the styling but better than the Subaru.
    Burn the Subaru—styling plus the wacky steering wheel.

  • avatar
    willicent

    I owned two XT6s in the 80s when living in Ohio. The car was as good as a snowmobile in winter. I would lay down money today for a new one. The main thing I hated was the track based automated seatbelt. The steering wheel was very cool.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    “The Cordia was the Galant’s forgotten predecessor.”

    Actually, the Cordia was the Eclipse’s forgotten predecessor. The “Tredia” was the Galant’s forgotten predessor.

    The Tredia was a 4-door sedan built on the same platform as, and which shared the same drivetrains as, the Cordia, but had a slightly longer wheelbase. It looked like a slightly larger Mirage or Colt.

    That said, buy the Subaru XT (weird and charming), drive the Nissan 200 SX, and burn the Mitsu Cordia.

    Back in the ’80s there used to be someone who wrote letters to “Car and Driver” and signed them as, “the Cordia Kid.” Probably drives a Hyundai now.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Secretly buy and store all three for future rarity, burn some other similarish cars to make it look like they are lost forever.
    ‘Find’ them in barn and sell for a ridiculous sum in the future.
    In total I can recall seeing as much as 5 of these cars in real life. (2 silvias, 2 Cordia and 1 XT6)

  • avatar

    Buy the Nissan, again, because I bought an 88 SE V6 in 2001 and still have it. It was my DD and roadtrip monster for years, and surprised many a buzzing Civic & Integra back in the peak Fast & Furious days. I even slept in it, stretched out diagonally in the hatch with the seats down, when camping near the Tail of the Dragon in 2004.

    Drive the Mitsu, because it seems even rarer than the XT (if that’s possible).

    It would hurt, because I love its weirdness, but burn the Subaru, because automatic.

  • avatar
    beken

    I have driven the Subaru XT because my sister-in-law owned one. I drove the Nissan because one of my best friends had one. I don’t think the Mitsu ever made it to Canada, but another friend had an Eagle Talon and he noted that Mitsubishi was not one of the more reliable Japanese brands.

    The Nissan felt heavier than it was whenever I drove it. But quality-wise, it was very good. The Subaru had a cheap interior and uncomfortable seats. But handling was competent and I liked the quirky interior.

    Since I never got to drive the Mitsu, I would say burn that one.

  • avatar

    Like the styling of the 200SX (probably since it reminds me of the car I did own at that time – 84 Shelby Charger). So either drive/buy for the 200SX. The other two I have no strong feelings for – probably burn the Subie and buy/drive the Mitsu depending on the day. I’d rather borrow it to drive than the Subie – rather own the 200SX.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I had no idea this 200SX could be had with a V6. 3/4 Z car without the “heavy” styling of the same era Z? That’s a buy.

    I’ve grown to like the angular Subie and only learned a few years ago that HT6 was a six cylinder boxer. I love the interior. I’d drive the Subaru.

    Not that I don’t love the Mitsubishi, but it’s the least interesting of the three. Burn it.


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