If you think Chrysler's Plymouth division builds only stodgy family sedans and minivans, the Laser RS Turbo All-Wheel Drive will burn a hole in your perception.This car is dynamite on wheels. Chrysler's marriage with Mitsubishi has produced some nice-looking offspring. The Laser is a product of the Chrysler/Mitsubishi joint venture that also produces the Eagle Talon and Mitsubishi Eclipse at a plant in Normal, Ill. Chrysler and Mitsubishi also collaborated on the hot-selling Dodge Stealth and Mitsubishi 3000 GT sports cars, but the Laser came first and still is among the best values among sports coupes. ENGINE, TRANSMISSION, PERFORMANCE The test car's 16-valve, 2.0-liter, fuel-injected four-cylinder cranks out 195 horsepower. That gives the car stellar performance. Several enthusiast magazines have tested the Laser and have clocked acceleration from zero to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds or less. That's fast - brutally fast. Power is, for the most part, smooth and consistent all the way to about 6,500 rpm. That's where it begins to flatten, so there's no use in winding the engine up to the 7,000 rpm redline. Gas mileage is excellent at 23 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving - and I did not drive with a tender foot. If you opt for a Laser that's fully equipped, like the test car, you can get only a five-speed manual transmission. An automatic, however, is available in the higher-priced Eagle Talon. The transmission is easy to shift. The gears are well-matched to the engine's power. The gear ratios are designed so that you can reach 60mph in second gear without over-revving the engine or you can cruise in fifth gear at 65 mph barely turning over 2,000. The clutch is smooth and easy. STEERING, HANDLING, BRAKING If you're an experienced driver who knows how to extract the most performance from a car, you'll love the Laser. If you're an inexperienced driver who wants to twist through curves aggressively and almost effortlessly, you'll love the Laser, too. It is one of the best-handling sports coupes available for less than $20,000. The suspension is firm. There is little or no body roll in tight, fast maneuvers, and he Laser is amazingly forgiving if you overdo it in spirited driving. Chrysler and Mitsubishi engineers have developed a superb four-wheel suspension system. Steering is power variable-assisted rack and pinion, and it is easy to turn the wheel at all times. There is no free play in the wheel. Response is instantaneous. The turning diameter is 35 feet. The test car did not come with the optional anti-lock brakes, but I wouldn't buy the car without them. I have tested a similar Eagle Talon with anti-lock brakes, and, along with the all-wheel drive, they helped give the car a secure feeling. Though the four-wheel disc brakes stop the car quickly, a little extra pedal pressure locks the wheels and sends the car in to a skid. Such a high-performance machine deserves anti-lock brakes as standard equipment. FIT, FINISH, CONTROLS Except for the rear seat, the interior of the Laser is a nice place to be. Even though there is seating for two in the back, there is not much room. Small children are likely to find the rear comfortable, but not adults. Anyone taller than, say, 5 feet 10 inches is likely to strike the roof with his head, and legs and knees are cramped. Up front it is a different story. A pair of comfortable and supportive cloth-covered bucket seats hold occupants firmly in place. There is plenty of foot, leg and head room. The cockpit features a full set of analog instruments, a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, power windows and door locks, rear windshield wiper/washer and numerous other accessories. The car is so user-friendly that you need not crack open the owner's manual to see how things operate. Plymouth engineers could simplify the cruise control switch, which is located on the right hand stalk that controls the wind shield wiper and washer. There are too many functions in too small an area. The test car had no mechanical flaws. There were no rattles, and the car ran perfectly during the nearly 500-mile test drive. You may not think of Plymouth first when you think of sports coupes, but if you are in the market for this type of car, you'll have a hard time finding one that offers the performance and handling of the Laser Turbo All-Wheel Drive for less money.
|Richard Truett||Orlando Sentinel||December 26, 1991|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||December 9, 1991|
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