Best of Economy Class - 1981
Earl Vista Value
The top dog in Economy cars this year is a low cost contender that puches well above its weight. The Earl Vista Value delivered a knockout blow to all other competitors, leaving even the second place competitor in the dust.
A fuel-injected, 1.8 liter four-cylinder resides under the hood, putting out a mere 60 horsepower, but that is all that is needed to do the job. Anything over that might detract from the Vista’s sky-high fuel economy numbers, which we tested to be well over 30 MPG in real-world driving.
Interior design is the only flaw we found, with hard, uncomfortable vinyl seating, and an instrument panel that lacks full gauges. It is understandable not to have what may be considered frivolous instrumentation such as a tachometer, but we were unimpressed with the lack of critical gauges, such as water temperature and oil pressure, which are replaced merely with warning lights.
On the road, the Earl Vista is capable and easy to handle, if not anything brilliant.
But for many buyers, the bottom line is just that… the bottom line. The Vista comes through in spades, being the second-least expensive model, having a low cost of ownership and maintenance, and so far, an amazing track record of reliability. The overall engineering and value of the Earl Vista Value should earn it significant interest from its target demographics.
RCM Fox EFI
“…still a good bargain and a wonderful proposition, it should attract buyers not interested in the Earl Vista. Its main downfall is that other competitors are now offering more refinement on the road…”
Pros: Low purchase price, great fuel economy, good reliability
Cons: Poor drivability
Rocha Spok 413
“…holding its course as a steady, reliable, compact car. It’s a bit more costly than the RCM or Earl, and we don’t think that the interior will hold up to buyer scrutiny…”
Pros: Great reliability, low maintenance cost, good practicality
Cons: Poor comfort, mediocre drivability
Hampton Fennec 1.6 3 Door
“…the best road feel and visibility of any car we tested. It’s also one of the more comfortable models we drove, and got good marks for fuel economy as well…”
Pros: Best in class drivability, good comfort, good fuel economy
Cons: Somewhat high maintenance cost, otherwise very mediocre
“…the most versatile of the bunch. Its road manners were very good as well. We think that this model will be one that lasts quite well. Our main gripe was that the seats were too hard, particularly given the car’s high price tag…”
Pros: Highest in class practicality, good reliability, good drivability
Cons: Somewhat high purchase price, poor comfort
Bogliq Button 615B
“…a good contender when longevity and versatility are factored in…”
Pros: Good practicality, good reliability
Cons: Somewhat high purchase price, very mediocre otherwise
Bambi Liberator B-2D
“…the choice when cost is your only consideration. We weren’t pleased with how this drove…”
Pros: Lowest in class purchase price, lowest in class maintenance cost
Cons: Poor drivability, poor fuel economy, poor practicality, terrible engine
Courageux Quinze 1.7
“…sturdy but comfortable seats and a plush ride. It’s just not the value we had hoped it would be…”
Pros: Best in class comfort
Cons: Poor drivability, very mediocre otherwise
Ardent Sentinel DL
“…one of the most comfortable and versatile cars you can buy for the money. But it just doesn’t seem to be able to pass a gas station…”
Pros: Great comfort, great practicality, low purchase cost
Cons: Poor reliability, poor fuel economy, high maintenance cost.
Anhultz Puck V C
“…a pretty good, ergonomic passenger cabin. Real-world fuel mileage was a little north of 30 miles per gallon, so it will be cheap. At least, after it’s on the road…”
Pros: Good comfort, good fuel economy
Cons: High purchase cost, worst in class drivability, poor reliability, poor practicality
Hakumai Crest SX
“…if you have the money to buy one, you might just want to set it on fire right now…”
Pros: Good drivability
Cons: Exorbitant cost, worst in class reliability, worst in class fuel economy, highest in class maintenance cost
Best of Performance Class - 1981
Hampton Harpy 3.5 GTS
Hear that? That’s the sound of a screaming Harpy. Screaming at the track, down the block, and down the boulevard.
Ever since the death knell of the Muscle Car, we’ve been waiting for a worthy performance car. The Hampton Harpy is a happy medium between the ripped, muscular V8s of yore, and small, light sports cars whose popularity has ebbed and flowed.
With a 7.1 second 0-60 time, the Harpy is no slouch in the straight line. And while it may not have the sheer high-G handling of the Bogliq Ungoliant, it also doesn’t have any its competitors bad habits, either.
This is a car that you can own and want to drive to work. And then drive it on the weekend. It fills both roles without filling the owner with regret.
We can only pick on it for fuel economy, but that’s never really been the strong suit of performance cars anyway.
Silverhare Pegasus XS
“…the quickest off the line of the bunch, and no slouch in corners. All that fun doesn’t come at a huge cost at the pump. It may cost you a little sanity, however, as it’s a bit of a banshee…”
Pros: Best in class 0-60, great sportiness, great fuel economy
Cons: Worst in class drivability, high maintenance cost
Courageux M4 S
“…one of the cheapest ways to get into a potent performer. It’s reasonably balanced…”
Pros: Low purchase cost, high sportiness, good fuel economy
Cons: Mediocre otherwise
Deer and Hunt SuperCoupe 81 SuperRoad
“…everything you’d expect from a personal luxury coupe, including the less than satisfying performance driving dynamics…”
Pros: Best in class drivability, best in class comfort
Cons: Highest in class purchase price, lowest in class sportiness
Bogliq Ungoliant 438S
“…brain-splattering fun that will push you deep into its plush, bolstered bucket seats. You may be using those as lounge chairs while you save up money to keep it on the road…”
Pros: Best in class sportiness, good 0-60, good comfort
Cons: Poor drivability, high purchase cost, highest in class maintenance cost
Rocha Spok RGT
“…a hopped-up version of their Spok economy car. It’s nowhere near as fast as its other competitors, but is still fun to throw around a track or cones…”
Pros: Lowest in class purchase cost, lowest in class maintenance cost, great drivabilityu
Cons: Slowest in class 0-60, poor comfort
RCM Mongoose Turbo*
“…If we had to define a perfect compromise, the Mongoose Turbo would be it…”
Pros: Very well balanced…
Cons: …in the most mediocre way possible
Keika Kakute 2100S
“…it’s kind of like your Dad putting on running shoes and trying out for the Olympics…”
Pros: Best in class fuel economy, decent sportiness
Cons: Very slow 0-60, poor comfort, high maintenance cost
Ardent Marathon GT V6
“…as has been the case with many Ardents lately, it’s inexpensive but sloppy…”
Pros: Low purchase cost, low maintenance cost
Cons: Poor in all other aspects
“…no part of this car could make up for all the pain it inflicted on our staff…”
Pros: Low maintenance cost, decent drivability
Cons: Worst in round comfort, poor sportiness, slow 0-60
Best of Full Size Class - 1981
The calendar may have rolled over to a new decade, but Hirondelle is proving that a little touch of old can bring a huge touch of class. Their Lancelot luxury car is the living embodiment of that.
It helps that there is an uncannily smooth V12 engine under the hood mated to one of the best automatic transmissions we’ve seen. This allows the Lancelot to transcend from the road.
Yet unlike many luxury cars that feel like you’re riding a soft pillow in the middle of the ocean, the Hirondelle Lancelot doesn’t give the driver numbing isolation. It’s nimble for a large car, yet refined and precise.
The interior is full of touches and appointments that are beyond the expectations of even the most discerning drivers. Of course, high quality, padded leather seats are standard, along with power driver and passenger seat adjustments. Cruise control, power steering, windows, mirrors, and even locks are standard, yes. Add to that both a landau roof and power sunroof, and you’re getting closer. Hirondelle has even added seat heaters for the driver and front passenger for cold days, ingenious cupholders that fold away under the dashboard, and air conditioning with separate vents for the rear passengers.
It’s the package that luxury buyers dream of. But if you have to ask how much it costs, just know you can’t afford it.
“…a very close second to the Hirondelle in our opinion. The slightly higher price tag buys you better fuel economy and reputation for quality, but at the substantial cost of features…”
Pros: Highest in class reliability, best in class fuel economy, good comfort, good drivability
Cons: Highest in class purchase cost, poor prestige
Bogliq Baller 254GT
“…recently featured in several high profile movies and TV series, making it a bit of a chic item. What Hollywood left out is how badly the Baller handles…”
Pros: Good prestige, good fuel economy, good reliability
Cons: Worst in class drivability, highest in class maintenance cost
Hampton Vanguard Mk.3 3.5i Elite
“…fashionable British luxury cruiser with, unfortunately, British reliability…”
Pros: Great prestige, great comfort, great drivability
Cons: Worst in round reliability, poor fuel economy
RCM Regal Luxe
“…solid contender for the sub-luxury market. It’s not the most refined ride, however…”
Pros: Low purchase price, great reliability, low maintenance cost
Cons: Poor drivability, subpar comfort
Courageux Courchevel 2.6
“…supremely well mannered at a bargain price. Still, not without a host of French quirks…”
Pros: Best in class drivability, low purchase cost, low maintenance cost
Cons: Poor comfort, poor reliability, poor prestige
Rocha Dallas Imperial III 630
“…becomes increasingly clear that the motor is not a good match either for the car or the segment…”
Pros: Good comfort
Cons: High purchase cost, poor drivability, poor prestige
Anhultz Dione VIII B (TIE - 8th)
“…a good large family car for those looking for no frills and a heaping dose of anonymity…”
Pros: Lowest in class purchase cost, lowest in class maintenance cost, good fuel economy
Cons: Poor in all other categories
Ardent Smoke GT Competition (TIE - 8th)
“…probably the most fun to drive of the segment. This true GT coupe is good at what it does, but falls short of the competition against whom it is stacked…”
Pros: Good reliability, relatively low purchase cost, decent prestige
Cons: Worst in class comfort, poor fuel economy, high maintenance cost
Deer and Hunt Tines Convertible
“…seeming the last gasp of a dying breed. It’s a worthy salute to large convertibles of old, but sadly we don’t think the public will be as interested…”
Pros: Great prestige
Cons: Poor drivability, poor reliability, poor economy, high maintenance cost, relatively high purchase cost
Best Engine - 1981
Hirondelle Opus Twelve 6.0i
No Bonus; Manufacturer already at 100 RR points for the round
Our favorite engine this year is, hands down, a dream machine. Not only in the way it runs, but in the fact that most people could only dream of owning a car equipped with it. It is, of course, the Hirondelle Opus Twelve 6-liter V12 fuel-injected engine.
It is a marvel of engineering that drives the Lancelot to its top position. While it doesn’t have the absolute highest power (that honor goes to the Ardent MechJect 333), it is more than ample to push around the luxury car. Owners may even think that the motor is off while idling at lights, given how smooth and quiet it is.
For your money, there is no better engine. Even if it costs a lot of money to begin with.
GENERAL ENGINE ADVISORY
Bambi 1 Liter Engine
In an era of downsized engines, we understand that downsized power will be a side effect. But there’s a point at which a lack of power makes a car a danger to itself.
Such is the case with Bambi vehicles powered by their 1 liter, 3-cylinder carbureted engine. In this day of fast freeways and short on-ramps, 41 horsepower just doesn’t really cut it anymore. And while we might be able to grudgingly overlook this if it were in a good package, the Bambi just isn’t. It is a very coarse engine, and sounds like it is going to rattle itself to death at any moment. From our early reliability projections, that scenario may well happen, too.
We’ve been hearing a steadily increasing buzz over the last few years, coming from readers and staff alike. It seems that an unexpected side effect has come of manufacturers’ efforts to make their cars more reliable and go longer between major services. It so far is appearing mostly in Midwest and New England states, but occasionally also in the Rockies, and even areas right on the Gulf Coast.
Cars are rusting out before they die. It would have been unthinkable even, say, five years ago. But now with engines able to last over a hundred thousand miles before they’re ready for the scrap pile, it seems that some parts of the country are experiencing cars that need to be retired before they actually give up the ghost.
Now, the engineering-minded folks among our staff are speculating that this has something to do with salt. It seems to be the only common denominator between, say, Duluth and Tampa Bay. You can bet that we’re going to be keeping an eye on this and how manufacturers respond to this curious turn of events.
(Meta: Environmental Resistance is now going to factor at least somewhat into ALL categories.)
Visual Design Honorable Mentions
The entire Deer and Hunt lineup
1981 Reliability Rankings
Katsuro - 66.67
Rocha - 65.67
Earl - 65.20
Bogliq - 65.00
RCM - 64.63
Courageux - 63.90
Ardent - 62.83
Anhultz - 61.73
Hampton - 61.70
Deer and Hunt - 59.87
Hakumai - 59.60 (LIMITED DATA AVAILABLE)
1981 Relative Ratings
Earl/Silverhare/Hirondelle - 100.00
Hampton - 87.94
Dominion/RCM - 83.96
Rocha - 80.78
Katsuro - 80.54
Bogliq - 74.49
Courageux - 73.94
Deer and Hunt - 67.89
Anhultz - 65.09
Ardent - 64.02
Hakumai - 17.11
Charge - (Eliminated due to missing 3 consecutive rounds)