By on December 10, 2018

 

There are plenty of performance cars from the pages of history whose greatness has been recognized — Integra Type R, Focus RS, anything with GTI appended to its name. A few, however, have slipped through the cracks.

Time is kind to some cars, with their stock rising only long after they’ve gone out of production, but a few never get the recognition they deserve. I’ve got two examples right here … and they’re both from Detroit.

Let’s look at them chronologically. When the Dodge Neon appeared in the early ’90s, it was so different from the K-based Shadow it replaced that it was difficult to believe the thing emerged from the same company. A few years into its tenure, some gearheads deep within Chrysler threw some performance parts at it to create the Neon ACR. By the 1997 model year, it was equipped with the likes of Koni adjustables, a shorter final drive, ample sway bars, and DOHC power.

Your author recalls wit being popular with a certain crowd but those not in-the-know back then largely derided it as “just a Neon.” The striped R/T trim of 1998 had most of the ACR’s goodies as well. That’s a ’94 shown above.

Jumping into the 21st century, Chevy binned the Cavalier name and all its baggage when introducing its new small car, the Cobalt. It quickly became laden with equal amounts, if not more, baggage than its forebear. Buried in the product catalog, though, was an SS version.

The company’s first crack at the can was a supercharged version, making just over 200hp. Following the predictable traction complaints — and GM’s divorce from Eaton plus some pesky emissions issues — Chevy bolted a turbocharger onto the Cobalt SS instead. The bloody thing actually had no-lift-shift and launch control. In a Cobalt! You could even get a sedan in 2009 if the whole bankruptcy thing didn’t bother you.

No Sentra SE-R, no Acura ITR, please — they’re well known. What’s your pick for best unrecognized performance car?

[Images: Chrysler, Hemmings]

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148 Comments on “QOTD: Best Unheralded Performance Car?...”


  • avatar
    NoID

    I’d skip both (though the Neon is a track day legend in some circles) and herald the Chevy HHR SS Panel Wagon.

    • 0 avatar
      Freddie

      +1 I have the HHR SS “half panel” – back seat and doors but no side window over the cargo compartment.
      Got a great deal on a leftover new ’09 in 2010; running great after 123K miles.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Ford Taurus? SHO..

  • avatar
    iNeon

    FCA would be wise to bring back a low-cost neon/pt type vehicle under the Chrysler and Dodge brands.

    Sell it as a Fiat neon, too. They did it before. No confusion—just a neon under any of the corporate brands.

    Now about that 2.0t Compass AWD TSi 6-speed…. purple trim and all.

    Do it now.

    • 0 avatar
      NoID

      Umm…they did. The Dart and 200. Their cancellation in 2016 in the face of poor sales is turning out to be ahead of the curve. if Ford can’t keep is fantastic Fiesta and Focus moving, what makes you think Dodge could get a new Neon to catch enough wind to keep sailing?

      I for one champion the Chryslerfication of the current Fiat lineup as that brand officially fades from our North American shores. Lord knows Chrysler needs some new models.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        “…what makes you think Dodge could get a new Neon to catch enough wind to keep sailing?”

        Maybe if they put Plymouth’s Mayflower-depicting logo on the hood, it would sell.

    • 0 avatar
      xflowgolf

      They had the 500 Abarth as well.

  • avatar

    Yes FCA needs a small performance car!!!!

    I liked the 80’s Turbo Dodge cars. For the day you couldn’t beat a GLHS!

  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    People who know, know, but when I was ripping around in my Swift GT (“Swifty McFast”), 97% of people saw it as “just a Metro”. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, starting with the additional cylinder and only getting better from there. High on the (long) list of stuff I shoulda kept.

    • 0 avatar
      993cc

      We former Geo Metro owners owe a debt of gratitude to the many Swift GT owners who totalled their cars and left a huge supply cheap, easily swapped-in performance parts for our Metros.
      Driving “fast” may have required full utilization of all three cylinders and BOTH foot pounds of torque, but we got most of the fun you did, plus great efficiency and low insurance rates.

      I really miss unassisted steering.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    In the early 00’s Ford created the S/R version of the ZX2 coupe. I guess it still had Escort badge. It competed with sport performance compacts such as the Chevrolet Cobalt SS, Saturn Ion redline, Honda Civic Si and the Dodge Neon SRT.
    It’s Mazda based platform with the 2.0L 130hp Zetec is very tunable.

  • avatar
    salmonmigration

    The current Honda Odyssey will do 0-60 in 6.7 seconds, which is significantly faster than an automatic BRZ. In a vehicle the size of one of those tiny houses. For some reason the marketing focuses on the optional vacuum cleaner.

  • avatar
    salmonmigration

    The current Honda Odyssey will do 0-60 in 6.7 seconds, which is significantly faster than an automatic BRZ. In a vehicle the size of one of those tiny houses. For some reason the marketing focuses on the optional vacuum cleaner.

  • avatar
    pdog_phatpat

    First generation Ford Fiesta.

  • avatar
    copcarguy

    Ford Escort LX-E / Mercury Tracer LTS.

    http://www.curbsideclassic.com/auto-biography/auto-biography-tracer-lts-the-merc-with-zoom-zoom/

  • avatar
    ajla

    Malaise-era Corvettes. I’m not saying they were amazing or anything. But look at some old comparison tests and the Chevy was nearly always laying out the best numbers and often by a big margin.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Gen 1 neons are seriously impressive little cars. They continue to be a dominant force on dirt oval tracks across the country, even the SOHC cars are fully competitive against a typical field of other older compacts.

    Clean ones are impossible to find these days, but I would love to find a 5spd one for daily driver duty.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      A friend had a gen2 5 speed and it was surprisingly decent, without a lot of the roughness of Gen1.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Because most people found the Neon repulsive there used to be a steady stream of clean, very low mile, well maintained, base models at the county auction. Seriously for the last few years there have been 5-10 Neons that would come through the auction with ~40k-70K on them. It was rare to see the price go over $1,000. They were pool cars and people just wouldn’t drive them if they didn’t have to. The Escorts that remained in the fleet mile’d out early as did the Foci they were replaced with. Wouldn’t surprise me to see a few more next spring.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Police cars were largely unheralded.

    Charger R/T is pretty indistinguishable from the regular V6 model unless you know which badges to look for.

    • 0 avatar
      MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

      Especially since they made the same dual exhaust standard regardless of cylinder count. An SXT I was next to this morning even had the R/T 20″ 5 spokes and identical rear spoiler……literally the ONLY way to tell from the outside was the lack of the small “HEMI” badges on the front fender. Then again, some like a sleeper.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I remember reading about the Cobalt SS sedan in all the rags back when it came out. It sure seemed like you’d be an idiot to buy anything else.

    The Legacy GT SpecB should qualify as most people probably never knew it existed. The B stands for Bilstein and while the engine wasn’t any more powerful than the regular Legacy GT, it had aluminum suspension components and came with a 6 speed manual instead of a 5 speed. Plus the seats are really nice places to be. I’ve always wanted to swap them into my wagon.

    This is also another opportunity to point out that if people would stop complaining about how the Monaro GTO looks and that it was called a GTO, they’d see that it is actually a quite capable muscle car that, with some fairly minor tweaks, can make its way around a corner quite well. Though it still seems to want to kill me every time I mash the pedal beyond about 3/4 throttle.

  • avatar
    redapple

    I have owned 2 respected cars. Civic Si and a mid 90s Sentra SE-R.

    Neither were that good.

    My old X11 was better.

    • 0 avatar
      Ol Shel

      I learned in an X-11! Too few know the cheap thrills of an X-11 or Z-24.

      Also, Olds and Chrysler used to offer performance version for the sake of SCCA racers. The Shadow Shelby CSX and Olds Quad442 come to mind.

  • avatar
    cdmoore1972

    Honda Element SC (Honda’s fastest car in the US for a short while)

    Pontiac 6000 STE

    1st gen Scion xB was the most fun I ever had going slow, and it was great in corners.

    • 0 avatar
      MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

      Oh yes the American Audi, the STE! GREAT cars, I had two of them. Seriously had to be the best American car in the 80s.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        @ cdmoore1972 & MiataReallyIsTheAnswer – Suede seats FTW!

        Yours are timely posts, as a family friend and former neighbor just died. He got a well-optioned STE as a company car in 1985. He was an industrial engineer who’d gone into management, but I think he was a frustrated mechanical engineer at heart. He knew I was a car guy–I was too young to drive–and took me on a *very* aggressive ride in the STE. Kind of fun to have one of your parents’ friends cut loose like that.

        Not a fast car by today’s standards, but people have to remember the context of floaty 1970s sedans that still were on the US and Canada’s roads. IMO, the STE largely lived up to the hype of its three Car and Driver 10 best awards. It’s a little sad that it’s remembered almost solely for the quirky, so-rare-it-may-as-well-not-have-existed AWD model.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      When was the Element SC Honda’s fastest car in the US? The production version had 166 hp, weighed 3,593 lbs and was exclusively front wheel drive. Most were automatics. A 2007 Civic Si or Accord V6 6-speed coupe would run rings around it.

      https://www.caranddriver.com/news/a15143725/2007-honda-element-sc-hits-the-streets-car-news/

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Buick Regal T-type? ‘Nope, not a Grand National, nothing to see here, just a mild-mannered Buick.’ I’m actually thinking of a Cobalt SS as a track-day car. The Neons are completely gone from this area, haven’t seen one in 15-years. Speaking of Neon, I think that the last Dodge Dart would have been better received as a Neon. Though they are long gone, people seemed to love the crap out of their Neons.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    The Civic EX/LX/whatever /a lot of kids from the 1990s and the early aughts

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I submit the mid 80’s Ford EXP.
    The one i had was MT, MW, ML, MS. (Windows, locks and steering for you millenialsout there).

    I put some wide (er) tires on it along with a JC Whitney turbo muffler and had a car that handled great and was reasonably quick for the time. It was not a heavy car so it didnt take much to get it going.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Here’s three from the ’80s:
    1) Isuzu I-Mark RS (turbo version)
    2) Chevy Nova Twincam (clone of the Toyota Corolla FX16)
    3) Mitsubishi Galant VR-4

    I’d also nominate the original Subaru Forester XT – one of the best sleepers ever.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Back in the mid-90s, the LT1 powered Buick Roadmaster was a decent sleeper, especially if it had the towing package which gave it 3.08 gears. It handled about as well as you would expect – like a tugboat – but my brown 4-door surprised a lot of people who wanted to cut off the “grandpa car”.

    These days its performance wouldn’t be anything worth mentioning, since a V6 Camry would pull away without too much fuss.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Car must be judged by the time period it was produced. Some speak highly of the Stutz Bearcat but obviously a Sonic would run rings around it now

    • 0 avatar
      CaddyDaddy

      My 96 Caprice never took 2nd fiddle to anything going up Vail or Monarch pass. Left many a long faced 540 and A8 drivers with busted egos. Those sure were good memories.

      I have a feeling by now all those German Luxury Cars have been run through the Arc Furnaces in Pueblo or are rebar in China.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        “many a long faced 540 and A8 drivers with busted egos”

        Unless you had your Caprice re-geared (9C1?) or otherwise modified, that doesn’t exactly stack up. A stick 540i especially would leave you thoroughly for dead, but even an auto is a good bit quicker than the ol B-Body.

        But the second comment is hard to disagree with lol

        • 0 avatar
          87 Morgan

          Except the A8. Wasnt it the fisrt to utilize aluminum on an extensive basis?

          I was selling them in 97′, there were two body shops in the country that could fix them supposedly. Needless to say owners were not pleased with insurance premiums.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            Sure the body metal would still be in great shape, but that’s generally not the problem with old Germans. “Ask the man that owns one” :P

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          A nonSS/non9C1 LT1 B-body could give an E34 540i a run for its money.

          Here’s a test that included a ’95 Roadmaster: 0-60 in 6.7 and [email protected]

          motortrend.com/news/six-passenger-sedans/
          __________________
          And here’s a MotorTrend test of a ’94 540i: 0-60 in 6.9 and [email protected]

          motortrend.com/cars/bmw/5-series/1994/1994-bmw-540i/

          Even an E39 540i wasn’t going to be considerably quicker until ’98.

          The biggest issue on the “normal” LT1 sedans against the Germans would be the low top speed. It’s 110 instead of 140+ on the ‘performance’ versions.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            If the 540i is a stick, it’s all over: 5.6 0-60, 14 flat @101 quarter:
            https://www.motortrend.com/cars/bmw/5-series/1997/1997-bmw-540i-2/

            Indeed, an earlier E34+auto would yield a driver’s race. I also forgot that we even got a FWD A8 on our shores with the smaller 3.7L. But if it’s the 4.2L Quattro, again a driver’s race but favoring the A8 (6.4 0-60, [email protected] quarter):

            http://www.motorweek.org/reviews/road_tests/1997_audi_a8_quattro

            C&D got an Impala SS to go 0-60 in 6.4 and the quarter [email protected]

            To me it looks like the Impala stands most of a chance from a stop and through the lower end, but once the Germans get going they’re walking away from the Caprice pretty good.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Geo Storm GSi. Ran with the Sentra SE-R. Had a front end only a mother could love, but was quick, had a nice interior, an airbag when everything else had robobelts, and was cheap.
    Mazda MX-3 with the 1.8l V6. I still can’t get over the fact that someone designed that small of a V6 and then stuck it in a small commuter sports car. But a friend of mine owned a new one and it was a blast to drive.

  • avatar
    whynot

    Amazing how great that Neon looks fresh from the factory, before it starts falling apart and the clearcoat fails after about 5 minutes outside.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    Citroen Xantia Activa V6. A rather unassumingly-looking early ’90s French family liftback with ca. 180 hp from a 3-litre V6 is already something to behold, but the Activa suspension makes it unique: the already great hydro-pneumatic suspension is enhanced by a system that actively hardens the outboard suspension in curves, thereby eliminating body roll. The Activa dominated the Swedish “elk test” speed chart for literally decades, with all the Porsches and whatever following at a respectful distance. And it still rides like a Citroen!

    Edited to add: the 2.0 TCT inline-four mild turbo is quite popular with the tuning crowd. Seems it’s quite easy to make it out-perform the V6.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    The Saab 9-7X Aero had all of the go-fast bits from the Chevrolet TrailBlazer with the SS package—including the 390-horsepower 6.0-liter LS2 V8—and was virtually indistinguishable from the other versions of the 9-7X.

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    Mazda Protege MP3

    • 0 avatar
      AlfaRomasochist

      I prefer the 2001-2003 Protege ES over the MP3. The ES had most of the goodies of the MP3 but without the silly body effects. When you went from the LX to the ES you got 5 lug wheels with four wheel discs instead of rear drums, stiffer suspension, nicer seats, and some other minor changes. I took mine to Summit Point for HPDEs and with a set of sticky tires on a twisty course you could really annoy the crap out of some serious machinery.

      There was one guy in a mid-90s 911 targa who finally gave me the point by, then afterwards came up to see if I’d added a turbo or something. He had a hard time believing such a boring looking little stock grocery getter could give him such trouble. Yes, driving and tires had a lot to do with it but the ES was really a great little package.

      I had owned an original Sentra SE-R a couple years before the Protege ES and to me the Mazda felt almost like a 4 door SE-R.

  • avatar
    AlfaRomasochist

    My first brand new car was a ’99 Neon R/T with the twin cam 2.0 and the 5-speed, and it was a hoot to drive. The long-term durability scared me but it was a lot of fun for those first few (under warranty) years.

  • avatar
    TNJed

    1986-87 Honda Prelude 2.0 Si

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Our Honda mechanic back in NY threw a junkyard turbo setup on a ’87 Si, just a really rudimentary home-brew log manifold, a mitsu turbo off a Dodge Daytona, basic vacuum fuel pressure regulator for fuel management, no intercooler, manual wastegate, 5 psi. It wasn’t exactly a street terror but it could keep up with newer EP3 Civic Sis and such, and was really fun to ride in, particularly with how cool that 2nd gen Prelude is to sit in to begin with and the neat turbo sounds. He got a bit greedy with the boost and blew the motor shortly afterwards.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    I’ve sung its praises on here before, but the MR2 Spyder gets a bad rap mostly because of awkward looks and significantly lower power compared to the previous generation.

    But it’s still an affordable 2100 lb mid engine car with the reliability of a Corolla. Assuming you get the MT at least.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah I love these things Haven’t looked recently but the resale used to be poor making them a good value.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      Yea but aren’t they in the same insurance category as a Ferrari? That’s if you can fit in it.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        That has not been my experience. Insurance is pretty cheap on my project Spyder. Maybe it’s different if you daily drive it, but State Farm basically quoted me what any other 18 year old car would cost if driven low miles.

        I’m also not the biggest guy but don’t have any trouble fitting in one. The cargo space is severely limited, but the cabin is decent sized.

  • avatar

    Neon is a good answer. The 2nd gen actually fixed some of the first gen issues but fell far behind the other compacts on features etc. I almost bought a 2nd gen ACR when they were new, pretty rare these days. Ended up panicking at the idea of a car loan and bailed out before I signed thou. For other forgotten cars
    PT cruiser Turbo (GT Cruiser)
    Dodge Spirit R/T
    Plymouth Duster v6
    Any 2wd Dakota with a V8 but bonus points for regular cab R/T’s.
    Escort GT
    Turbo Mirage
    S70R V70R Volvo’s
    Forester XT
    And more if I think harder.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Agree on the Volvo Rs and the Dakota R/Ts. I got a 2WD Dakota with a V8, but its the 4.7 not the 5.9 sport truck.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Speaking of the 5.9 V8-The 98-99 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 5.9 is a good special edition performance vehicle. The hot rod Jeep and predecessor to the SRT.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      I had a couple R/Ts – extended cabs. the first was modified and a lot of fun to drive. The second was completely stock and a bit of a dog. I wouldn’t describe them as fast from the factory. But I loved them.

      This was my first one:
      https://imgur.com/bXX0fkJ

      • 0 avatar

        I think the Reg cab got you under 7 sec 0-60. I have spent some time with a regular cab R/T and a 4.7 2wd reg cab. Both were alot of fun and felt quicker then they were. They also handled better then a pickup truck should, possibly because during development of the Viper the used some Dakota bits and the lessons learned transferred to the 2nd gen.
        I think people have forgotten them compared to a lightning or the old 454 SS 1500 chevy they really haven’t held their value. While were talking forgotten option packages, the kid up the street from me had a Ram SST for a while that’s something you don’t see many of.

        • 0 avatar
          SC5door

          I loved my Quad Cab 5.9 Dakota, except for the fuel bill.

          I also found it odd that Chrysler went with 6 lug wheels on the Dakota/Durango while the Ram 1500 only had 5.

    • 0 avatar
      WhatsMyNextCar

      Shadow ES V6
      Prowler

  • avatar
    scott25

    The thing that the vast majority of the cars mentioned in these comments have in common is that they just haven’t survived. Whether that’s due to quality or because no one thought they were worth maintaining is up for debate. But most of them will be forgotten solely because there are no survivors. Which is sad.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I think it’s because they were exactly what their users wanted them to be: fun to wring out, but not so valuable to treasure and try to preserve.

      • 0 avatar

        This is true. even some of these that are known for high miles like the Hondas and to a lesser extent Volvos, may have been pampered by their first owners but by the time their a 5K car they are gonna get driven hard with no money for repairs.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Arn’t Jetta TSI/GLI circa 2010 were like 6 sec quick?

    Or, Q50 sport

  • avatar
    Rick Astley

    The first model which jumps to mind, and hasn’t been mentioned yet…. Mitsubishi Eclipse GS-T.

    The turbo model (FWD) priced right about where the Cobalt SS was, also to be had in a manual and was quite a bit more powerful than the entry level offerings around it. The 4G63T motor was stout and could take just about as much as the average tuner could throw at it.

    Not to mention it looked light years better than the cars of the article, but went relatively unknown due to (typical) Mitsubishi mismanagement and an abysmal dealer network.

  • avatar
    jatz

    Since one type of performance expected of a car is weatherproofed transport of people and things I nominate the first two generations of the Honda Fit.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I was going to list the Cobalt SS with the 2.0 ECOTEC turbo-4. 260 HP, 300 pound feet of torque, launch control, no-lift shift, Brembos, faster than a 335i, optional Recaros, a tremendous suspension. Really it’s main sin is similar to the Neon – a bargain basement God awful cheap interior.

    I would add the Gen I Ford Probe GT/ Mazda MX-6 GT with the manual. Grossly underrated power numbers from the factory to make insurance companies happy as the sport compact hatchback was being insurance priced out of existence.

    I think the Probe is overshadowed because it was leap-frogged by a number of other offerings and moved to a V6 in 1993.

    • 0 avatar
      MrIcky

      And the other part of the Cobalt SS- for $695 + 1 hour labor you could get GMS1 (GM Stage 1) and add 30hp and 60lb/ft all factory.

      When you started looking around at the parts catalogue, it was funny how many parts were Saab stuff.

      I kind of miss it some days.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      Gen 1 Probe was a very well built car. Better built than the Gen 2. It also had more torque steer than I’ve ever experienced in a vehicle.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    Lincoln Mark VIII LSC. 290 hp 32-valve DOHC V8 and trick air suspension. Faster and better handling than you might think.

  • avatar
    energetik9

    Some cars that crossed my mind.

    (1) Ford probe GT/Mazda MX-6 with the V-6. I personally owned the MX-6 and loved it.
    (2) 1st gen MR2 with the supercharger
    (3) 1st gen BMW M Roadster
    (4) VW Corrado? No idea how they drove, but I always liked the look of them.

  • avatar
    arach

    You gotta be kidding me… This far down the list, and no one mentioned the freaking DODGE CARAVAN?

    the Turbovan is by far one of the coolest performance cars that no one knows exists.

    2.5L Turbo that can run a 12-13 second quarter mile… 5 Spd manual… http://www.turbovan.net/

    I know compared to today’s numbers its not that impressive, but for the late 80s, this thing is nuts.

  • avatar
    MBella

    Even more unheralded than the Cobalt As was it’s cousin the Ion Red Line.

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    Forester XT.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Nissan NX2000. It was a B13 SE-R underneath but with better brakes, less weight, and a face only a mother could love.

  • avatar
    e30gator

    The 2nd gen Saturn SL2 was a pretty fun car to flog around town with the twin can 1.9 and it’s Miata-esque curb weight. In fact, it felt like a 4-door Miata with a cheap interior bits.

  • avatar
    nels0300

    Cavalier Z24 with the 3.1L V6 and a 5 speed.

    Dodge Spirit R/T.

    Galant VR-4.

    Plymouth Duster with the mitsu 3.0L V6 and a 5 speed.

    My 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport with cheesy Tucson rims/winter tires that looks like a rental car.

  • avatar
    kkop

    Easy. Original Mini.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    91-94 Pontiac Grand Am with 5 Speed and 180 HP “Quad 4 HO” motor.
    Discuss

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      91-94 Grand Am is my biggest guilty pleasure. In GT form, all the better with the Quad4, and the right color it was my favorite attainable GM car of the 90s.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      I’d rather have the Olds version. An SCX looks like every other rental Achieva but goes like stink.

    • 0 avatar
      MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

      91 was the last of the good looking, cleanly styled ones, when the SE was top of the line. The GT came after 92, the insect lookin ones. My first brand new car was a black (tan interior) 91 Grand Am SE coupe, HO Q4, stick. Every option, even factory sunroof. Loved the 4 exhaust pipes and the body-colored 16″ alloys, yuuuge at the time. Mine was great fun and totally reliable, but I did not keep it real long, moving to a new Grand Prix coupe after a couple years (had the rare 3.4L “twin dual cam” V6). Had my first Fiero GT alongside both those, too.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Chevette Diesel

  • avatar
    7402

    Volvo 740 Turbo

    Mine was a wagon with an automatic. From the factory the car was only a set of IPD sway bars away from great.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Yep- really great cars.

      No love in these comments yet for the 240 turbos. If you wanted them to really go then you had to get the intercooler (dealer installed kit), but a really great sleeper car in the malaise era. I think they were only around for three or four model years.

  • avatar

    I would say the best subcompact domestic performer was the Saturn Ion Redline. The ground effects even made it somewhat attractive. I would certainly perfer it to any lousy SUV GM makes today.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      YES! The plastic-fantastic turd mobile that killed its owners with defective parts and killed the Saturn brand by laughing in the face of those who made the brand popular to begin with. Best “subcompact” ever! Eat your heart out, Fiesta ST!

  • avatar
    96redse5sp

    1995 and 1996 Ford Contour SE. With its standard 24V 170 hp V6 and five speed manual transmission, it was no speed demon but it was affordable and in its day, there wasn’t a better handling and more fun unassuming family sedan.

  • avatar
    bunkster

    For a short period of time I had a V8 manual Aspen RtT. Always thought that could be a fun project car to build. Also the V8 Gremlin.

  • avatar
    JGlanton

    1986 Pontiac Sunbird GT

    https://assets.hemmings.com/blog/wp-content/uploads//2014/06/C5518-0138-700×449.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

      When they took the Turbo from 1.8L to 2.OL around that time, they created a lil monster. Sweet cars. You’d punch it, take off, then halfway across the intersection the tires just go up in smoke.

  • avatar
    RangerM

    I had a 93 Ford Ranger STX with a 4.0L V6 and 5-speed. Not a particularly happy engine at high revs, but gobs of low end torque.

    Handled actually well for a pickup truck with the anti-roll bars on front and back, and the lightness of the truck combined with the largest V6 available of any small pickup that year (that I know of), made for a truck I’d never hand to a 16 year old.

    Maybe not a “sleeper”, but could keep up with most other (non-performance) cars/trucks of its time.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Chevys/Jimmies had the 4.3L for some time by that point with a similar fun result. 1st gen Dakotas could be configured (I think) in a pretty pared down RWD+stick configuration with the 5.2L to boot.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    Beretta GTZ
    Beretta GTU
    Beretta Z26

    I still want one, preferably a GTZ with the body colored bits and wheels.

  • avatar
    SavageATL

    2nd gen supercharged w bodies, in the regal and Grand Prix. No one thinks of them as performance cars but the chassis was much improved, a solid handler, and could spank a lot of “performance” cars. My second vote goes to the gray Nissan Altima. For some reason their owners drive those things like they are qualifying for a rally. Every so often you hear about someone attaining ludicrous speeds in one, usually yo the detriment of the driver.

  • avatar
    WhatsMyNextCar

    I submit the Toyota Tacoma XRunner. It was a 2WD V6 MT Xtra Cab with an upgraded suspension that enabled it to run a track with the then-current Nissan 350Z. Not too shabby.

  • avatar
    WhatsMyNextCar

    I should have also mentioned the Matrix and Corolla XR-S, with the Celica’s 180hp motor.

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    You can find 3.5 V6 manual Altimas pretty cheap right now.

  • avatar
    gtem

    No one has mentioned yet: turbo saabs! I guess to car guys in the know, they’re no so unknown, but the 9000 Turbos, 9-3s, 9-5s are all serious highway roll-on machines, and have tons of fairly accessible horsepower with a bit of tuning.

  • avatar
    xflowgolf

    Olds Calais 442 W41

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Oh, for the old days, when you could have a non-descript sedan and drop some power into it. I bought a 1968 Mercury Montego in 1973 from my mechanic. His kid trashed the 302 so he took it away from him and gave him a 6 cylinder Fairlane. He put a 351 4 barrel and C6 auto in the Montego and sold it to me when he needed money. Best car I ever had.

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