Buy/Drive/Burn: Economical, Basic American Sedans for 1985

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
buy drive burn economical basic american sedans for 1985

It’s the mid-1980s, so having a gas-guzzling, rear-drive Malaise box from the late ’70s is unthinkable. No, you’re a modern consumer, and you demand something front-drive and economical, but still with Malaise build quality.

Today we pick a compact Ace of Base from 1985.

Dodge Aries

We start with the oldest design first today. Introduced for 1981, the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant twins were the first K-cars offered by Chrysler. The replacements for the Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen, the more rust-proof K-cars were offered in coupe, sedan, and wagon formats. Today’s selection is a base model sedan, with a 2.2-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder under hood. It has a carburetor and produces 82 sporty horsepower. Paired to our basic Aries is a four-speed manual.

Chevrolet Cavalier

The Cavalier was an all-new model for 1982, replacing the Monza. In typical GM fashion, the Cavalier was sold as many different vehicles across the company’s portfolio. Available in more forms than the Aries, there were coupes, convertibles, a hatchback, and the requisite sedan and wagon. Today’s 1985 model has the refreshed quad-lamp fascia that is much more familiar than the short-lived two-lamp design with which the Cavalier debuted. Only one engine is available in ’86, and it’s a 2.0-liter unit with throttle body injection. Producing 86 horsepower, the transmission is a four-speed manual.

Ford Tempo

The Tempo was brand new in 1984, and was Ford’s late response to the Cavalier. The Tempo and its slightly more fancy twin, the Mercury Topaz, replaced the Fox-body Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr. Less keen on body variation than other domestic brands, choice was limited to a sedan with either two or four doors. In a unique offering to the class, the Tempo later offered four-wheel drive. But that was for fancy people who liked wood trim. Today we stick to a base Tempo sedan with a 2.3-liter engine. It has a carburetor and is matched to a four-speed manual; 86 horsepower are available to your right foot.

Three tasty compact sedans, each ready to carry customers through 1990 (when they’d probably switch to a Japanese car). Which is worth the Buy?

(H/t mention to Old Car Brochures, which offers a huge catalog of brochures free of charge.)

[Images: Chrysler, GM, Ford]

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2 of 83 comments
  • 07NodnarB 07NodnarB on May 08, 2020

    i cant do a thing with any of the three. i cant drive a stick!!

  • MyerShift MyerShift on Jul 05, 2021

    Easy. Buy the Aries because it's the best in any given area. Drive the Chevrolet because parts are cheap. Burn the Tempo/Topaz. The worst, most insipid car here. I've driven them all and interned m owned two- the K and the J. I speak from ACTUAL experience, not uninformed opinion.

  • Lou_BC "Owners of affected Wrangles" Does a missing "r" cancel an extra stud?
  • Slavuta One can put a secret breaker that will disable the starter or spark plug supply. Even disabling headlights or all lights will bring more trouble to thieves than they wish for. With no brake lights, someone will hit from behind, they will leave fingerprints inside. Or if they steal at night, they will have to drive with no lights. Any of these things definitely will bring attention.I remember people removing rotor from under distributor cup.
  • Slavuta Government Motors + Government big tech + government + Federal police = fascist surveillance state. USSR surveillance pales...
  • Johnster Another quibble, this time about the contextualization of the Thunderbird and Cougar, and their relationship to the prestigious Continental Mark. (I know. It's confusing.) The Thunderbird/Mark IV platform introduced for the 1971 model year was apparently derived from the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform (also introduced for the 1971 model year), but should probably be considered different from it.As we all know, the Cougar shared its platform with the Ford Mustang up through the 1973 model year, moving to the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform for the 1974 model year. This platform was also shared with the failed Ford Gran Torino Elite, (introduced in February of 1974, the "Gran Torino" part of the name was dropped for the 1975 and 1976 model years).The Thunderbird/Mark series duo's separation occurred with the 1977 model year when the Thunderbird was downsized to share a platform with the LTD II/Cougar. The 1977 model year saw Mercury drop the "Montego" name and adopt the "Cougar" name for all of their mid-sized cars, including plain 2-doors, 4-doors and and 4-door station wagons. Meanwhile, the Cougar PLC was sold as the "Cougar XR-7." The Cougar wagon was dropped for the 1978 model year (arguably replaced by the new Zephyr wagon) while the (plain) 2-door and 4-door models remained in production for the 1978 and 1979 model years. It was a major prestige blow for the Thunderbird. Underneath, the Thunderbird and Cougar XR-7 for 1977 were warmed-over versions of the failed Ford Elite (1974-1976), while the Mark V was a warmed-over version of the previous Mark IV.
  • Stuart de Baker This is depressing, and I don't own one of these.