Best of Economy Class - 1987
Cascadia Stellar 1.5
The True North has decided to come in like a polar storm this year. Its strongest model, edging out a couple other serious contenders in this class, is the Cascadia Stellar 1.5.
Cascadia, a division of RCM, has installed a slick multi-point injected, twin-cam 1.5 liter four-cylinder under the hood, putting out a very respectable 74 horsepower. Our test model returned fuel economy numbers of just over 35 MPG in combined driving, which left it at the head of the class by a fair margin.
Interior design is also quite good for an economy car. Bucket cloth seats, an instrument panel with full gauges, and tilt steering were among the appointments that come standard on the Stellar. Overall comfort was good, including reasonable leg room both front and rear for a small car. We would have liked to see better side bolsters or possibly adjustable lumbar support, but that’s heading over into nitpick territory for a car of this kind.
On the road, the Stellar is precise and feels much more stout than its stature would indicate. Potholes don’t shake or throw it around like they do other competitors.
So what does all this cost? That’s the only real catch with the Stellar. It’s not the most expensive in the class, but for only a thousand or so more dollars, you can move up to a base-model in the midsize category. Would our editors do that? Not unless we absolutely had to. The Cascadia Stellar is worth the extra cost up front, by just about any measure you use.
Earl Vista Value Plus
“…still a good bargain and a wonderful proposition, it should attract buyers whose budgets may not be able to stretch enough for a Cascadia Stellar. Its main downfall is that Vistas are starting to gain a reputation for rotting to death…”
Pros: Low purchase price, great fuel economy, low maintenance cost
Cons: Subpar comfort, worst in class environmental resistance
Ardent Piper DL
“…another budget fighter, even cleaper than the Earl Vista. It is projected to be among the most reliable cars we tested. Overall, it’s well balanced, although fuel economy could be better…”
Pros: Great reliability, low maintenance cost, lowest in class purchase price (tie)
Cons: Poor fuel economy
Rocha Spok 413
“…the best selection if longevity is your main concern. Just expect to pay out a bit for that…”
Pros: Great reliability, great environmental resistance, good comfort
Cons: Somewhat high purchase price, poor drivability
“…the alternative to the Ardent Piper if you’re looking for inexpensive. Basic and bulletproof, the A3 is expected to rust out long before the mechanicals wear out…”
Pros: Best in class reliability, lowest in class purchase price (tie)
Cons: Poor drivability, poor environmental resistance, poor comfort
Bogliq Beagle 518B
“…the Bogliq combination of cheap to buy and cheap to run sees it earn a spot as a solid, though not stellar, competitor…”
Pros: Lowest in class maintenance cost, relatively low purchase price, good reliability
Cons: Poor drivability, poor comfort
Hampton Fennec II 1.6 Essence
“…the absolute finest road experience of any car in the class. The cost is a bit steep, though, and with it unable to otherwise stand out from the crowd, the Fennec falls quite far…”
Pros: Best in class drivability, great comfort, better than average environmental resistance
Cons: High purchase price, high maintenance cost, poor reliability
Hakumai Crest SLT
“…great road manners, and easy to park in the city. That doesn’t forgive its atrocious price or spine-breaking seats…”
Pros: Best in class environmental resistance, good drivability, good fuel economy
Cons: Highest in class purchase price, worst in class comfort, highest in class maintenance cost
Courageux Opal 2.0
“…reminds us of an even more luxurious Fennec. But between its inability to pass a gas station and poor projected reliability…”
Pros: Best in class comfort, great drivability
Cons: Literally everything else
Bambi Liberator 2C-T
“…the aim for a pocket rocket just ended up exploding on the launch pad for Bambi…”
Pros: Low maintenance cost, good environmental resistance
Cons: Worst in class reliability, poor fuel economy, poor comfort, worst in class drivability
Best of Midsize Class - 1987
Silverhare Spear ES
The wagon is far from dead. Silverhare has made that explicitly clear with the 1987 Spear ES.
Let’s ignore for the moment that the massive cargo area can hold far more than any sedan on the market (because, it seems, sedan drivers always do so) and focus on its on-road performance.
In this area, it shines well over nearly every competitor. Visibility is exceptional in all directions. Standard power steering is tight and even. Parallel parking is easy despite the Spear’s size. Road imperfections are well dampened by the suspension, without jarring hops or shifts. Cornering is even, with body roll well controlled.
The interior is as expected for a more “entry-level” vehicle of the class, with supportive sueded-cloth seats all around, central power locking, and a tilt steering wheel. Cruise control is another nice feature, making highway travel that much easier and more efficient.
Speaking of efficient, the Spear ES returned combined fuel economy results of just over 23 miles per gallon in our testing. While this is not tops in the class, it is significantly better than average.
Overall, the Silverhare Spear ES combines entry-level pricing with exceptional poise and usability. It is a package we can’t help but recommend to anyone.
Ardent Chancellor GL V8
“…for those with a bigger budget for both a car and fuel, the Chancellor can be thought of as a fast, luxurious competitor to the Spear…”
Pros: Great comfort, good environmental resistance, good drivability, good practicality
Cons: High purchase cost, mediocre fuel economy
RCM Atlantic V6
“…somewhat of a midway point between the Chancellor and Spear, the RCM Atlantic is also worthy of a good, hard look…”
Pros: Best in class drivability, good comfort, great practicality, good fuel economy
Cons: High purchase price, poor reliability
“…reasonably priced, well-appointed, and reliable. Still, the Princess seems to be plagued by the same lack of rustproofing as other Katsuro products…”
Pros: Great reliability, great fuel economy, relatively low purchase price, Engine of the Year
Cons: Worst in class environmental resistance, worst in class practicality
Hampton Ferret 2.8 Prime
“…overall well-balanced machine. If you’re looking for the best at something, this isn’t it, but it is a very worthy car…”
Pros: Good drivability, good fuel economy, good environmental resistance
Cons: Mediocre in all other aspects
Rocha Toledo 416
“…very inexpensive to get into, costing less than some compact cars. Other than a car that will want to run forever, you get nothing else for your money…”
Pros: Low purchase cost, best in class reliability, great environmental resistance, best in class fuel economy
Cons: Worst in class drivability, poor comfort, poor practicality
Courageux Vingt 2.9 V6*
“…exquisite comfort like this comes with a hefty price tag. Add in signs that these will not be long-lived cars, and we feel that the Ardent Chancellor is the far better choice…”
Pros: Best in class comfort, good practicality
Cons: Worst in class reliability, poor environmental resistance, high purchase price
Deer and Hunt Goonie Base
“…least expensive model in the class. It didn’t make much of an impression on us…”
Pros: Lowest in class purchase price, good reliability
Cons: Poor drivability, poor comfort, poor practicality, poor fuel economy
Bogliq Buttress 132C
“…Bogliq just seemed to be lost with what they were aiming for with the Buttress. It seems to be the automotive equivalent of throwing a dart at the wall blindfolded and hoping you just hit the board…”
Cons: Poor reliability, otherwise mediocre
Hakumai Premier LX
“…this car was a little like paying your chiropractor to pull all the muscles in your back, then paying again for him not to fix what he did…”
Pros: Best in class environmental resistance, good practicality
Cons: Worst in round comfort, highest in class purchase cost, poor drivability, worst in class fuel economy
Best of People Mover Class (TIE) - 1987
This year, we cannot definitively choose a single winner in this category, so we present you the best two that money can buy.
Hampton Transliner Prime
Britain’s idea of a mini-van came to our shores in the form of the Transliner Prime. A somewhat large, square-ish body with a 2.2 liter twin-cam motor under the hood and an advanced electronically controlled automatic transmission.
This is somewhat on the “premium” end of vans that we tested this year, with a higher retail price but also more upscale features than its competitors. This premium shines in its handling of the road. The ride is incredibly well balanced, and control and transmission of power is sublime.
Interior and comfort appointments are good, but not overly lavish. Three rows of well padded cloth seats await inside, with lumbar adjustment and good lateral support up front. Our test model was equipped with cruise control, tilt wheel, power windows, power locks, and a 4-speaker AM/FM stereo with cassette.
Exterior styling is crisp, with a definite European flair. Our test model came with attractive alloy wheels, a nice touch for a vehicle designed to simply ferry people around.
Ardent Kestrel SE
Venerable American nameplate Ardent quietly started producing Kestrels last year, and the SE model they sent us to test is their base model. Despite that, it comes well equipped, even if the 1.9 liter single-cam engine doesn’t feel like it’s putting down a lot of power thanks to its venerable hydraulic 3-speed transmission design.
Even as a base model, the Kestrel SE includes full cloth seating surfaces, tilt wheel, power steering and central locking, an AM/FM stereo with digital memory function, and seating for seven. We found the seats supportive and the lumbar feature of the front seats to be very pleasant. We wish that there was a little more lateral support up front.
Exterior styling is decidedly American and blocky. Our test model came with steel wheels, though alloys are standard on top-trim GL models and optional on mid-level DLs.
So what’s the end difference between the two?
We appreciated the level of on-road and interior refinement of the Transliner, with the extra legroom in the slightly larger van being helpful when we were hauling adults in the rear. The cassette deck was a nice feature as well; Ardent requires you to step up to a higher trim in order to add this feature.
The Kestrel beat out the Transliner everywhere cost was involved. The MSRP was significantly lower, cost of maintenance lower, cost of refueling also slightly lower. Projected reliability of the Kestrel is also better than the Transliner. And while rustproofing measures have been applied to both models, our engineers believe there are fewer places on the Kestrel for dirt and salt to accumulate, giving it the edge in body durability.
In the end, your choice may simply boil down to budget. The more costly but nicer Transliner, or the less expensive, reliable, durable but more pedestrian Kestrel. In the end, this is why we couldn’t decide between the two, as it’s your money, not ours, on the line here.
Earl Pilgrim S
“…the Earl Pilgrim places third in our test, missing out on a three-way tie by only the slimmest margins. It is only slightly less comfortable than the Ardent, while still being less expensive. Unfortunately it appears all of the money savings came from skimping out on rustproofing…”
Pros: Low purchase price, great fuel economy, low maintenance cost, good drivability
Cons: Poor comfort, poor environmental resistance
RCM Provincial VE-6
“…a mid-level minivan that fails to take on the Transliner in value. Its lack of road manners left us wanting more…”
Pros: Good reliability, decent fuel mileage
Cons: Poor drivability, somewhat high purchase price, somewhat poor environmental resistance
Bogliq Bastion 132F
“…impressive comfort and ride for the price. Bogliq quality has been rather off as of late…”
Pros: Good comfort, good drivability
Cons: Poor reliability, poor fuel economy, somewhat high maintenance cost
“…sumptuous luxury with good road manners. Unfortunately that’s where it all ends…”
Pros: Best in class comfort, good drivability
Cons: Highest in round purchase price, poor reliability, poor fuel economy, high maintenance cost
Katsuro Pro Ace
“…rather feels like an economy car that was stretched both physically and existentially…”
Pros: Lowest in class purchase price, best in class reliability, lowest in class maintenance cost
Cons: Worst in class comfort, worst in class drivability, poor environmental resistance
Rocha Transporter 630
“…somehow managed to make a van more expensive than the Katsuro with all of its failings…”
Pros: Low purchase price, good reliability, low maintenance cost
Cons: Poor comfort, poor drivability, poor fuel economy, worst in round environmental resistance
Deer and Hunt Buck PM Mk.2
“…plagued by a host of engineering flaws and design issues…”
Pros: Great comfort, best in class environmental resistance
Cons: Worst in class reliability, high purchase price, poor drivability, worst in class fuel mileage, highest in class maintenance cost
Best of Utility Class - 1987
Hampton Nevis III 4x4
For the second time this year, we recommend a model from Hampton. The Nevis III 4WD pickup truck goes above and beyond in the Utility category, cementing its already strong reputation.
For a no-frills, inexpensive pickup, it oozes capability.
Locking hubs in its 4WD system guarantee traction in the worst muddy and rocky terrain. Plenty of ground clearance means little chance of high centering and damaging critical components. And for all that capability, it still drives on street and highway almost like a family sedan.
Truly, Hampton engineered a diamond to run in the rough.
Earl E15 Xtra Cab Base
“…dead reliable, with the most usable and flexible pickup bed in its class. It’s a bit more costly than the Nevis, but still a very solid choice…”
Pros: Best in class utility, good offroad, low purchase price, best in class reliability
Ardent Ozette GL 4WD Soft Top
“…can get into spots off the beaten path that the Hampton Nevis couldn’t possibly fit. This amazing little dune-runner-mud-monster is an absolute bargain wonder. Its only real drawback is that it’s not a pickup…”
Pros: Low purchase price, great reliability, great offroad, best in class fuel economy, best in class environmental resistance
Cons: Poor drivability, worst in class utility
“…money can buy you a seat at any table. In this case, that table is halfway up the side of a mountain. You just might want to look into a dual tank system, however…”
Pros: Best in class offroad, great utility, good reliability
Cons: Worst in round fuel economy, poor environmental resistance, poor drivability, high purchase price
RCM Provincial 4WD
“…the only choice when you have to get the whole family there, when there is most definitely over the river and through the woods…”
Pros: Great fuel economy, good reliability, good offroad
Cons: Poor utility, poor environmental resistance, high purchase price
Deer and Hunt Fallow Base
“…normally among the best trucks available, Deer and Hunt seems to be outclassed this year. Reliability and economy concerns fuel this in part…”
Pros: Good drivability, great utility
Cons: Poor fuel economy, poor environmental resistance, poor reliability
Bogliq Beagle Highlander
“…though the concept and price point are similar to the Ardent Ozette, Bogliq went with a hard top, and some questionable engineering decisions to boot…”
Pros: Good drivability, great fuel economy
Cons: Poor utility, poor offroad, otherwise mediocre
Rocha Colorado 650
“…a way to travel the road less traveled in relative luxury. Still, we have to wonder if it’s all too much…”
Pros: Engine of the Year, great drivability, good utility, decent offroad
Cons: Poor or worst in class in all other categories
Courageux Utility 2.6
“…cheap for the sake of being cheap. When we look at the overall package, we are not impressed…”
Pros: Low purchase price
Cons: Worst in class reliability, otherwise mediocre or poor
Hakumai Super Hauler 250
“…we can only recommend this as a truck for couriers, or occasional weekend project and dump runs…”
Pros: Good environmental resistance
Cons: Worst in class offroad, poor utility, worst in class drivability, poor fuel economy
Best Engine (TIE) - 1987
*Katsuro I626-EFI and Rocha 650 MPFI
+5 point RR bonus for both manufacturers
Two manufacturers with very different-purposed engines have managed to duke themselves to a standstill in our contest of Best Engine for 1987.
Katsuro comes to us with their I626-EFI, a 2.6 liter inline-6 engine. This motor has 24 valves, actuated from just a single cam. It is found in the Princess sedan, where the 107 horsepower is adequate, if not anywhere close to class-leading. What makes it so spectacular is its willingness to bend to the driver’s exact command, without giving up anything in the realm of noise or harshness. Throttle response is exact and with no perceptible lag, and we felt almost no vibration coming through the pedal at any point during our rev cycle tests. Furthermore, Katsuro is well known for the reliability of its motors, and the I626 is not expected to be an exception to this.
Rocha, on the other hand, has brought to the table their 650 (6-cylinder, 5.0 liter) boxer engine, found in their Colorado large utility vehicle. With 196 horsepower and 258 ft-lbs of torque on tap, it is certainly up to the task of hauling around passengers, cargo, and a good sized trailer should one desire. And while it doesn’t do it with the absolute buttery smoothness of the Katsuro, it is one of the smoothest large-displacement engines on the market. Reliability of the Rocha motor is expected to be a bit better than average, though not at the top of the heap this year. Still, they have made great strides over the years to close the gap from their humble beginnings to now.
GENERAL ENGINE ADVISORY
Bambi 1.6 Liter Turbocharged Engine
We haven’t been keen on the Bambi engine seen in Liberator models for some time. Our previous gripes with it included an utter lack of power and refinement, as well as poor projected reliability.
Our initial studies on the 1 liter model available earlier in the decade panned out, with the engine just not being up to snuff. Now the engineers at parent company Deer and Hunt have provided new motivation for their Liberator models, in the form of a massive (for a 3-cylider) 1.6 liter turbo. This engine, in our opinion, is just as bad, if not worse, than the original. Yes, it’s more powerful, but not significantly enough so to overcome the fact that it’s an absolutely dreadful engine otherwise. It puts out very harsh vibrations at all speeds. Thanks to its reliance on a carburetor, its response when you push the pedal is to pause, hiccup, and then go. And we’re fairly certain that the nearly 10 pounds of boost being fed back into that carburetor by the turbocharger is what caused our test unit to blow out its base gasket after just 300 miles.
Visual Design Honorable Mentions
Deer and Hunt Buck
Deer and Hunt Fallow
Bogliq Bastion 132F
RCM Provincial (both versions)
Earl Vista Value Plus
Silverhare Spear ES
1987 Reliability Rankings
Katsuro - 70.23
Rocha - 69.18
Earl/Silverhare/Hirondelle - 69.03
Ardent - 68.85
Hakumai - 66.93 (LIMITED DATA AVAILABLE)
Bogliq - 66.75
RCM (Dominion) - 66.70
Hampton - 66.35
Deer and Hunt - 64.35
Courageux - 63.93
1987 Relative Ratings
Earl/Silverhare/Hirondelle - 100.00
Ardent - 92.57
Hampton - 90.60
Katsuro - 87.41
Dominion/RCM - 86.88
Rocha - 79.60
Bogliq - 71.80
Courageux - 65.13
Deer and Hunt - 58.38
Hakumai - 54.74
Anhultz - (Voluntarily withdrawn)