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

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

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]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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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.

  • 3-On-The-Tree Jeff I a,so had a 1969 Thunderbird with the 429 V8, and it was a smooth highway cruiser. I sold all those cars when I got commissioned into the Army. I regret selling those cars and miss the simplicity of them. I do have an 1985 FJ 60 Land Cruiser and it is real easy to get to everything in the engine bay. My 16 year old son inherited it. The Mavericks are pretty popular here in Az.
  • John Hummer owners don't care. Like shingles.
  • Wjtinfwb Funny. When EV's were bursting onto the scene; Tesla's, Volt's, Leaf's pure EV was all the rage and Hybrids were derided because they still used a gas engine to make them, ahem; usable. Even Volt's were later derided when it was revealed that the Volt's gas engine was actually connected to the wheels, not just a generator. Now, Hybrids are warmly welcomed into the Electric fraternity by virtue of being "electrified". If a change in definition is what it takes, I'm all for it. Hybrid's make so much sense in most American's usage patterns and if needed you can drive one cross-country essentially non-stop. Glad to see Hybrid's getting the love.
  • 3-On-The-Tree We also had a 1973 IH Scout that we rebuilt the engine in and it had dual glass packs, real loud. I miss those days.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Jeff thanks. Back in 1990 we had a 1964 Dodge D100 with a slant six with a 3 on the tree. I taught myself how to drive a standard in that truck. It was my one of many journeys into Mopar land. Had a 1973 Plymouth duster with a slant six and a 1974 Dodge Dart Custom with 318 V8. Great cars and easy to work on.