1990 Plymouth Laser
No squeaks or rattles.No bouncing up and down after rolling over a tar mark. No grabbing for the rosary on the first sharp corner because the body and suspension are operating on different wave lengths. No reaching for an air purifier after having to inhale all other cars`exhausts at the stoplight. The 1990 Plymouth Laser just doesn`t behave like most small Chryslercars. It`s solid; it`s quiet; and, with a 16-valve, turbocharged 4-cylinderengine under the hood, it`s mighty quick. From a performance and appearance standpoint, Laser ranks not only as one of the better Chrysler Corp. vehicles, but also as a car the competition will have to take seriously. It falls short of perfection, however. Laser is the subcompact, front-wheel-drive, two-door sports coupe builtjointly by Chrysler and Mitsubishi of Japan at the Diamond-Star plant inDownstate Normal, to compete with the Ford Probe, Mazda MX-6 and Nissan240SX. Laser is built on a modified Mitsubishi Galant platform, used to ensureroom for 16-inch performance tires. Chrysler offers Laser in base, RS and RS turbo versions. There are also 3 engine choices: a 1.8-liter, single overhead cam 4-cylinder that delivers 92horsepower; a 2-liter, dual overhead cam, 16-valve 4-cylinder with 135horsepower; and the turbocharged version of the 2-liter with 190 horsepower.The 2-liter engines require premium unleaded gas. A 5-speed is standard and a 4-speed automatic is optional, except withthe turbo. We test-drove the RS with turbo. It`s quick even before the turbo kicksin. You`ll play games at the light. Laser features a large, wraparound reartaillight, all the better for other motorists to catch a glimpse of as theywatch it fade from sight. Word travels fast in Detroit, by the way. Ford reportedly is preparing to put a V-6 in Probe to compete with the 190 horsepower of the turbo Laser. There`s no telltale whistle to let you know turbo power is kicking in.Once, we looked at the speedometer and it read 70 miles an hour in third gear.The engine and transmission were so quiet and smooth that only the speed ofthe scenery moving past hinted that the legal limit had been exceeded. The Laser turbo RS rides on Goodyear 16-inch performance all-seasonradials developed for this car and its cousin, the Mitsubishi Eclipse, alsobuilt at Diamond-Star. With 190 horsepower in such a little package-97.2-inch wheelbase, 170.5-inch length-the added road-holding stability was needed. With those tires and the sports suspension-independent up front, 3 linkin the rear-you can take any twist in the roadway at speed with nearly no bodyroll or sway. You snap into and out of any curve or turn. But bury the pedalinto the floor at the light and those rear tires seem to want to hop a bit. Goodyear came up with a special compound for the tires to keep sidewallsstiff enough for high-speed cornering, yet tread material soft enough for asmooth ride. Perhaps a drop or two more of stickum compound would improve the grip during quick accleration. The thickly padded and wide front bucket seats provide sufficient support for performance driving and comfort for cruising. No gimmicky inflatablebladders on the Laser seats. Automatic shoulder belts that fasten/retract fromthe driver/passenger upper torso when the ignition is on or off fit snugly andprovide support as well as safety. Laser comfort is complemented by an almost eerie quiet untypical of small cars. The standard AM/FM radio with cassette seems to have above averageclarity, thanks to passenger compartment insulation. Of course, give Chrysler a pat on the back for quality design and engineering. It eliminated squeaks and rattles so common in its other small cars, such as Reliant/Aries, in which Georg Solti and crew would be drowned out if theywere in the back seat. If only the radio had larger contro l buttons thatdidn`t require wafer-thin fingers to operate. From a styling standpoint, Laser looks a lot like a LeBaron two-doorcoupe. The nose is low slung and features hidden retractable headlamps. Therear hatch lid is raised. The deck stands so high that liftover height is abit too much when loading the ample cargo compartment in back. Wide bodysidemoldings protect from parking lot dents and dings. Interior design shows attention to detail, but there`s some of the``where do we put it now that we`re running out of room`` mentality. Light and wiper controls are mounted on steering wheel stalks for easyuse. Fan, heat, rear-window washer/wiper, hazard lights and rear defrostercontrols are in the center of the dash in easy view and reach. But Chrysler placed the ashtray in the center console just about at thedriver`s elbow and had the cover open toward the user to make it even moredifficult to use. That console also houses dual cupholders. But the holders are further back than the ashtray, and you have to juggle a hot cup in or out of them. Laser features a sharply slanted rear glass hatch lid. Unlike Probe, therear glass isn`t so sloped that it reduces rear visibility. But like Probe,the slant takes away rear-seat head room. If you can bend your head so thatyour chin touches your knees without bending your back, you`ll fit in the rearseat of the Laser. Rear seat leg room is no treasure, either. One final irritant-the heavy hood is held up with a metal prop, not aspring, and the oil filter is reachable only from underneath. Standard equipment includes power steering, power four-wheel disc brakes, AM/FM stereo with cassette, remote liftgate and fuel filler door releases,tilt steering column, fold-down rear seat, intermittent wipers, sportsuspension, stainless steel exhaust, dual-power outside mirrors, wide bodysidemoldings, tinted glass, body-colored front and rear bumper facia, electricrear defroster and a power bulge in the hood. A rear-window wiper is a $125 option and is advised. The windshield is so slanted that when spraying to clean, the water shoots off the glass, over the roof and onto the rear window. The base Laser starts at $10,397, the RS at $11,417 and the RS turbo at$13,394. Though Diamond-Star eventually will produce 240,000 cars annually,startup has been slow, and only 32,000 will be available this calendar year.There are reports of dealers asking full list price for Laser. One caller saidthat with common options, the RS turbo he priced ran $18,000 and change.
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||January 23, 1989|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||November 11, 1988|
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