By on September 9, 2021

Our recent Rare Rides coverage of the Chevrolet Citation made one thing very clear: We need more Citation content. Today’s 1982 Buy/Drive/Burn lineup was suggested by commenter eng_alvarado90, who would like to see all of you struggle. Citation, Aries, Escort, all in their most utilitarian formats. Let’s go.

Chevrolet Citation

The Citation is in its third model year for 1982, and sales have already fallen far from their initial peak of 800,000. The bloom is off this rose, but GM is still on track for six-digit sales this year. Sticking firmly to economy and utility, today’s Citation is a five-door hatchback equipped with the 2.5-liter Iron Duke inline-four and paired to a four-speed manual. Throttle-body injection is new this year and means 90 horses are underfoot. There’s also a new horizontal slats grille.

Dodge Aries K

The Dodge Aries is still new and is in its second model year for 1982. Chrysler started out strong last year with over 300,000 sales, and will likely reach that number again in ’82. Today’s Aries is the four-door wagon, as Chrysler does not offer a hatchback K-car at this level. Underhood is the base 2.2-liter Chrysler inline-four, which uses a two-barrel carb. Eighty-four horses are at the driver’s command, shifted through a four-speed manual. New this year: rear windows roll down on sedans and wagons, replacing the fixed glass.

Ford Escort

Ford’s Escort is also in its second model year for 1982. The American market Escort was supposed to be very similar to the European one for parts sharing purposes. However the respective design teams each headed their own direction, and the two cars share only an engine and transmission. Today’s five-door Escort hatchback is new for ’82, along with a new grille and presence of the familiar Ford Blue Oval. The base 1.6-liter CVH engine gets a high output version this year, which increases power by about 10 horses, to 80. Power is delivered to the front via a four-speed Ford MTX manual.

Economy and cheap driving are available to you, and they’ll probably hold up for at least three years before falling apart. Which gets the Buy?

[Images: GM, Chrysler, Ford]

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51 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: Economical American Compacts From 1982...”


  • avatar
    3800FAN

    Buy the Aries drive the Aries burn the citation. My first car was an 85 Reliant and it was way more reliable than my college friends citation and it was better driving in the snow than anything Ive driven since.

    • 0 avatar
      tomLU86

      The question is wrong. The Escort was “subcompact”. Citation, Fairmont, or Reliant/Aries were compact in 1982. And GM had just launched the J-cars: Cavalier. Ford’s “compact” Tempo, an even more abysmal turd than the Escort, with it’s horrid pushrod 4-cyl, did not arrive till 1983. My college roommate got one in 1984–it’s reliability was worse than its pathetic acceleration.

      That said,

      Burn: the Escort should definitely be crushed first, THEN burned, being so anemic and slow–that’s by 1982 standards.

      Drive: The Citation, which, when it worked, was the arguably a better driver than the K-car.

      Keep: The K-car, because it was more durable and reliable than the other two.

      But the compact to keep would have been the last year Fairmont, which was pointedly excluded because it was not FWD.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Buy the Escort; it offered great fuel economy and a vague promise of ‘European’ world-car design.

    Drive the Aries – roomy and light, the K-car was mostly durable. Later derivatives (if chosen wisely) kept the theme going.

    Burn the Citation – having the X-11 in the lineup didn’t make the base model a better car.

    Only 40 years later, and virtually none of these three vehicles are on the streets anymore.

  • avatar
    96redse5sp

    I agree with buying and driving the Aries. I had two Reliants back in the day. And while a million little things broke, overall I couldn’t kill the cars. They ran forever.

    Burn the Citation.

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    Buy and drive the Citation, it’s got a vertically installed radio! Iron Duke awesomeness! And excellent throttle body fuel injection and a few bugs worked out.

    Drive Dodge… into Aries at high speed… burn both of them.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Buy the Escort. Mainly because I had an Escort GT (maybe an 84?) and it served me rather well. The first car I ever started modifying, although it was fairly minor.

    Drive the Aries. Wouldn’t want to own one (too boring), but it certainly did Chrysler proud.

    Burn the Citation. For starters. Actually, burning’s too good for the car. There’s got to be a better way to trash it.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Buy the Citation. It’s not good but it is the only one with fuel injection.

    Drive the Escort. I like the name.

    Burn the Aries.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Buy the Aries. Still a decent looking little wagon.
    Drive the Escort.
    We all know what to do with the Citation.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Buy: Escort. Every time something breaks it’s 500$. Drive: Aries wagon like the one pictured. If it gets scratched, dinged, or the muffler falls off; does it really matter? No not burn; break into a secret government bombing range. Park the Citation with the windows down. Dance a gleeful dance as the best American bombers blow it to scientifically nasty bits.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Buy the Citation with the fuel injection and the 4 speed manual which worked well in my brother’s 82 Skylark Limited which is the Citation’s better X car version. Drive the Aries which is a wagon and the K cars were half way decent cars. Blow up the Escort having had an 85 Mercury Lynx it was a miserable car and even with a 4 speed manual Fred Flintstone’s foot powered car had more get up and go. The best Escorts were 1991 and after which were based on the Mazda 323. Ford really didn’t get their small cars right until they shared development and production with Mazda. My wife’s 1994 Escort LX wagon with a 5 speed manual was a much much better car in every way compared to the 85 Mercury Lynx we had.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Yes the Fairmont would be a closer comparison since it was a compact but it had no hatchback. I use to drive a 78 Ford Fairmont company car when new with a 6 cylinder and it was miserable. It shook, rattled, and had miserable acceleration. Again it took partnering with Mazda for Ford to make better small cars and trucks.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    If Stellantis (Ask your doctor!) brought back the K-wagon tomorrow with a modern powertrain, I’d go buy one.

    • 0 avatar

      They’re so tiny. Even the original Chrysler vans are just miniscule against a modern compact sedan.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        I went from a 1974 Plymouth Fury III to a 1984 Reliant Wagon.

        The Reliant could seat six people in reasonable comfort like the Fury. What you shed to get it so small was:

        * A hood long enough to house a 440 V-8
        * A trunk big enough to hold several dead bodies
        * Thick fuselage styled doors, the K cars were paper thin in comparison.
        * Handling like a battleship
        * 9 MPG mileage.

        You got amazingly nimble handling in return, and mileage nearly three times as well.

        My Dad was so surprised at the difference he bought a total of three wagons to give to us kids. All gave good service with few issues.

        Rented an Escort in CO, trying to cross the divide on I-70 with three people left us crawling along while everyone passed us up, the engine screaming for it’s life. Ever experienced a Citation.

        So buy and drive an Aries, push the Citation off the edge of the mountain and set it on fire at the bottom.

    • 0 avatar
      wolfwagen

      +1

  • avatar
    spookiness

    Had a 83 Escort GL like the red one in the ad.

    Burn the Escort.
    Drive the Citation because that’s the rules.
    Buy the Aries. I wouldn’t mind an Aries wagon today. Good space utilization.

    If you see any of these on the road anymore, it’s most likely an Aries/Reliant. My Escort ate through countless EFI ignition control modules and left me stranded at least 4 times in only a few years. And budget cars with interference engines and timing belts don’t live long lives.

  • avatar
    eng_alvarado90

    hey, my B/D/B suggestion is here. An uninspiring lineup but let’s get to it.

    Buy: Aries. My grandfather bought a brand new 2dr Aries with the 2.2 and 4 spd. That car never had any issues although it was gone at age 5.

    Drive: Escort. Those European roots + some help from Mazdamust have made this car a bit more entertaining than the other two.

    Burn: Citation.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    The Citation is yet another interesting GM design crippled by their inability to finish the job properly. I worked at a GM dealers at this time and FWD was still very new in this market. One of the salesmen, impressed with the nimbleness of the car took a customer out and told him to floor it approaching a 90-degree turn, assuring him the car’s amazing FWD would pull the car around the turn safely – nope ended up in the ditch, upside down.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      That’s awesome.

      Understeer was definitely a novel experience back then. FWD was largely the domain of imports until the Omni/Horizon and Fiesta appeared in 1978, and even then it was sort of a nerd thing. The three cars in today’s selection really helped to mainstream it in the US market.

      It’s interesting that 300 HP still seems to be the upper limit on FWD usable traction. And that’s after decades of development. A recent review on the 290-HP Kia K5 GT noted its struggle to stay planted due to inferior tires; it would still spin while upshifting to 3rd gear.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    I owned not one, but two 5-door Citations. First the rough and rumbly Iron Duke L4, then the pretty nice V6. Usual angular chromed plastic interiors of the era and generally iffy build quality, but that was normal back then too. I never had any trouble with either of them over some 5 years of ownership, so I vote BUY.

    I drove lots of K cars back then, since they were a staple of the rental fleets. Vague, frightening handling, terrible brakes, loose and rattling everything. If they were reliable then that was a bad thing, since these absolute turds might then be kept on the road instead of being BURNED as they so richly deserved.

    Never drove a US Escort, but the Euro version was pretty decent, so I’m giving this one the benefit of the doubt for a DRIVE rating.

  • avatar
    JREwing

    I’ll take “None of the above” and curve-ball this into the purchase of an ’82 Pontiac T-1000 with the (new for ’82) 5-speed manual.

    Almost pulled the trigger on the diesel, but I live where it actually gets cold in winter, and the 1.6L gas engine might actually start on the 1st or 2nd try.

    The price difference between that and the Citation lets me get air conditioning and AM/FM radio, and the 5-speed means the poor 1.6 isn’t revving its guts out at Sammy Hagar speeds.

    Coming into the T platform’s 7th model year in the US, the worst of the bugs are worked out and it will be (relatively) reliable, unlike the Citation. It’s primitive as hell, but it’ll stay screwed together.

  • avatar
    seanx37

    Burn them all. Along with anyone who approved these rolling dumpster fires.
    Then go buy a Honda

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    Buy the Aries. The K cars were the best of this bunch.
    Drive the Citation. Not great but not as bad as most people think or remember.
    Burn the Escort. The 1st gen car in the US was the worst driving and performing vehicle Ford ever released. The European version was pretty highly regarded but did not translate over here.

  • avatar
    craiger

    My dad had a late model K with the Mitsu motor. You can imagine what went through my mind when I would hop from my E39 into that, but the thing ran forever without a hiccup. “A door is a jar.”

    So, buy the K, burn the Citation. The Escort is probably worth allowing to live, but I’ve never driven one.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    As others have pointed out, the Escort belongs with the Omnirizon and Chevette. The Fairmont was Ford’s compact entry in the K-car and Citation’s class in 1982.

    With that said, sheesh, what a decision. I know it’s nearly 40 years later, and if it was 1982, it would be like asking which 1941 car someone would buy/drive/burn.

    But in that regard, the Big 3 domestic cars of 1941 were relatively okay, certainly not as bad as the primary domestic sellers of 1982.

    But if forced, I guess it would be:

    Buy – Aries
    Drive – Citation
    Burn – Escort

    Frankly, though, it would be a toss-up between the Ford and Chevy. They’re both about dismally equal.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    Buy the Escort. A class lower than the other two, it was inexpensive, and built to look (and drive) that way.

    Drive the Citation. My parents had a 1981 model (loaded 2.5L auto), and it must have escaped GM quality control (if we don’t control our quality, our quality might get out of hand), because, aside from the a/c self-destructing, it proved stone reliable.

    Burn the Aries. I remember seeing one in a showroom when Chrysler was introducing its 1983 models. Bumpers a slightly different hue from the body, paint looked thin, bodyside moldings didn’t line up, interior looked pretty recyclable–and this was a $7,000 car?! (That was quite expensive for the time.) No. Sorry. No.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Buy the Escort because of its highly sexualized name.

    Drive the Aries because “Aries always need to have sex with strangers.”
    [source:]
    https://www.zodiacsigns-horoscope.com/love-life/aries-sexuality/

    Burn the Citation because GM couldn’t be bothered to install two outside rearview mirrors? Plus, it is Very Wrong to incorporate design elements from the flag of the United States of America into one’s vehicle logo.

    But the miserableness of all three of these vehicles points to the wisdom of the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. plan for 1982: Commute 74 minutes each way on the heavily-subsidized train.
    https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/2018-10/41955-Amtrak.pdf

    • 0 avatar
      tombalas

      “Burn the Citation because GM couldn’t be bothered to install two outside rearview mirrors?”

      Back then, you had to pay GM extra for the passenger rearview mirror. Oh yea, AM radio was also standard – you needed to pay extra for AM/FM/Cassette! Those were the days!

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    When I go in the office I commute on a subsidized Park & Ride bus that my employer pays my fare. Nothing wrong with taking public transit and an additional benefit it reduces vehicle expense and makes you vehicle last longer. I telework mostly but having a Park & Ride 3 miles from my house is a benefit I can use when I need it. At least I am getting back some of my tax dollars using mass transit.

  • avatar
    The Snu

    I had an 82 Citation and an 81 Aries K. A friend had an 86 escort.

    This is super tough, and it pains me to have to choose.

    Buy the Citation. With the rear seat down, there’s a lot of space, and it was comfortable to be in. If you’re going to be stuck with a car, it might as well be comfortable and usable.

    The harder decision is Drive vs. burn.

    Drive the Escort. It’s the smallest, and the most nimble of the lot. As the saying goes, it’s more fun to drive a small car fast than a fast car slow.

    If you have to burn one, I’d say burn the K car. While it was simple and reliable, and relatively comfortable on the inside, it was CHEEEEEEEAP. Felt cheap, looked cheap (ish), and while I’m nostalgic for it, a choice had to be made…

  • avatar

    The escort and the K are the far more reliable cars here. Citations just had so many issues (my fathers GM loving friend and mechanic couldn’t stand them) . I have never driven A Citation so can’t comment there. The K and escorts Ive driven have both been fine.

    Buy K car
    Drive Escort
    Burn Citation

  • avatar
    Vanillasludge

    The Citation will leak all its oil and burn itself. Buy the wagon. Drive the Escort to the dump

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Yes the Fairmont is the correct Ford entry, not the Escort.

    Drive: The K-Car. Particularly in wagon form.
    Burn: The other two

    Buy: Well the correct answer is Honda.

    Which is what I did in 1982. And never regretted that choice.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Buy: Escort- It’s the most European inspired of the three. My sister owned one and the body held up well. Since it was a first year 81 it had a head gasket issue.

    Drive: Aries- My grandfather owned one and he liked it. You’ll still see them running and parts are fairly inexpensive.

    Burn: Citation- The X-car problems are legion. Find a decent A-body since they’re vastly improved from the bones of the X-car.

    Honorable mention- Fairmont/Zephyr since they were a comparable mid compact that the car magazines and Consumer reports would comparison test. The Escort/Lynx would be put up against the Omni/Horizon and the Chevette.

  • avatar

    Totally unrelated, but the greenhouse of the Aries wagon bears a striking resemblance to the greenhouse of the new Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer. Everything old is new again I guess.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    This is possibly the most depressing B/D/B ever. Thanks Corey.

  • avatar
    Hydromatic

    I’d go against B/D/B orthodoxy and buy a 1979 Chevy Nova. Used, yes. Likely to be more reliable and comfortable than any of the above-mentioned B/D/B fodder of the time? Most definitely.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I’ll take the bus, thanks

    Seriously, Drive the Citation because those who don’t learn History are doomed to repeat it.

    Buy the K car. I was always partial to Lee Iacocca pointing at the camera in those ads doing the “If you can find a better car, buy it.”. There were plenty of better cars for sure, but I respect that.

    Burn the Escort. My High School girlfriend had one of these crap boxes. Burn it.

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