From the May 1984 issue of Car and Driver.
This is a test. Five automobiles—what we believe to be the cream of the American crop in terms of handling prowess—will engage in pitched battle. Twenty tires will be shredded for the greater good. Fenders will rub together on a racetrack, sphincters will pucker, felt-tipped pens will scratch heartfelt comments into logbooks. Names will be named.
A blizzard of accelerometer plots and test-execution speeds will ensue. All things considered, this is the most comprehensive investigation of automobile handling we've ever conducted, but we're not about to confuse the results with side issues. You will find no zero-to-sixty times on these pages. Top speed is irrelevant here.
Power-to-weight ratio has only a limited influence on handling, so we have bent over backward to minimize its impact on the test results. Prices have been included to feed your fantasies, but since we're not talking "handling per dollar," value is not a factor. The bottom line is, quite simply, the best-handling American-made car.
Although we're confident that our battery of ten objective tests will disclose useful evidence, no combination of track results can tell you which car is best on the road. Traffic-cone courses are crude approximations of real-world situations. Skidpad adhesion reveals something about roadholding, but roadholding is not handling.
Since we intend to find out everything that does count about handling, we will use the only known, sure-fire tools to help us make our final judgments: five automobiles, two challenging stretches of mountain highway, and six carefully calibrated pants seats.
Our best-handling equation will be a simple tally of votes culled from six well-seasoned journalists of the road. Whereas the ballot includes a whole matrix of subjective categories—everything that affects handling, from comfort to directional stability—only one column will reveal The Answer. Our best-handling bottom line will come from its own distinct vote; no mystery math applies.
Reading ahead is not allowed. We encourage you to follow our flow chart for best results. Start with the vital-statistics box, where you'll find notes on the participants. We've got new cars, old crocks, a front-driver, a mid-engined machine, and three "classic" front-engine, rear-drive designs, all of which won a berth here by virtue of their past performance.
Since we're plowing fresh ground, watch out for land mines. A vintage myth or two may blow up in your face. (Bathroom-wall proverbs insist that mid-engine handling is indomitable!) Wend your way carefully through the test-track and racetrack trials, but don't place a sucker bet on your favorite car too soon. The Answer will not be revealed prematurely.
The Test Track
Track testing allows a controlled exploration of a car's behavior near and beyond its limits. Our regular skidpad and slalom tests quantify two of the most important handling characteristics: smooth-pavement grip and repetitive directional-changing ability. There are many other aspects to handling, however, so we designed several new tests in the hope of quantifying more of each car's personality.
Rough-road adhesion is important because real-world pavement is rarely as smooth as a skidpad. To supplement our normal grip measurements (on a 300-foot-diameter smooth skidpad), we painted a separate circle on pavement littered with imperfections, ranging from washboard ripples to bumps large enough to launch the test cars momentarily into the air.
To no one's surprise, our Z51-equipped Corvette generated the highest smooth-skidpad figure, 0.86 g. It also easily won the bumpy test at 0.82 g. Although it pounded like a rolling jackhammer in the process, the Corvette was controllable and kept, its rubber firmly planted on the pavement.
The Z28 Camaro felt far more at ease over the bumps, with the smoothest ride of the bunch; surprisingly enough, it didn't swing its tail out much despite its solid rear axle. In the two skidpad tests, the Z28's grip fell by the same increment as the Corvette's, from 0.81 g on the smooth pad to 0.77 g on the rough one. The Pontiac Fiero achieved the same rough-pavement score, hardly worse than its 0.78-g smooth performance, but it did so with considerably more drama, hanging its tail out and pounding up through its suspension forcefully enough to rattle its plastic body panels. The Mustang SVO and the Dodge Daytona Turbo Z both circulated with more aplomb, but neither could equal the Fiero.
In contrast to the skidpad's steady cornering, a slalom test looks at transient maneuverability, rewarding controllable responsiveness more than pure grip. Here, we used a 900-foot arrangement: ten traffic cones spaced at 100-foot intervals. The Corvette and the Camaro tied for the fastest slalom speed at 60.9 mph, but their strengths and weaknesses were slightly different.
The Camaro had an ideal blend of sharp steering response, adhesion, and controllability. The Corvette could cut noticeably harder than the Camaro, but its front-rear balance was closer to neutral and it tended to hang its tail out more. Both Chevrolets could be driven in the tail-out mode, but we found that a tidy line was significantly quicker.
The three other cars tied at a considerably slower 58.2 mph through the cones. The Daytona's staunch understeer made it easy to drive, but its front tires scrubbed too much to allow really fast slalom times. The Mustang was hurt by slow steering. Its chassis responded to steering-wheel commands with an awkward two-step reaction, and the tail-out mode didn't work at all in this car. The Fiero suffered from heavy steering and a lack of power.
To quantify transient handling further, we constructed a single-lane-change test, consisting of two parallel twelve-foot-wide lanes connected by a 40-foot-long switch-over gate. The Mustang won this sashay through the cones with an astonishingly high speed of 56.4 mph, though it was far and away the most difficult car to control. Careful steering inputs and a gentle throttle foot were required to keep the SVO from kicking its tail out and spinning off toward oblivion.
The Z28 had far more controllable tail swings but couldn't quite match the Mustang's speed. The Corvette's tail wags were just as controllable, but they also limited its speed. The Daytona was again the easiest to drive (as it was in the slalom), and, as before, the price was excessive understeer. The Fiero was last, hurt by transient oversteer beyond the control of its slow, heavy steering.
Although our first four handling exercises were purely directional changes, we also wanted to test cornering while braking and while accelerating, so we marked a straight line that extended tangentially from our smooth skidpad to help quantify these critical aspects of handling. In one test, we drove toward the skidpad at a high speed and then braked and turned onto the circle. We timed from a point 100 feet before the car's path first touched the circle to a point 120 degrees around it. The outside of the desired J-turn was defined by cones (if any were hit, the run was discarded).
The Corvette was the fastest in this exercise because it was quite comfortable with a driving technique known at the Bondurant school as "trail braking." The Corvette's tail swung out smoothly during the simultaneous braking-and-turn-in stage, pointing the Corvette onto the circle. At the proper time, a touch of the throttle was enough to arrest the car's yaw (rotation about a vertical axis), and the maneuver was complete.
The Camaro exhibited similar behavior, but because it had a bit more understeer, it didn't turn in quite so readily. The Mustang and the Daytona both tended toward irreversible terminal under-steer, plowing off the course if the entry speed was too high. The opposite problem plagued the Fiero; it kicked its tail out spastically on the turn-in and resisted recovery.
To examine simultaneous acceleration and cornering characteristics, we ran the cornering-and-braking course in the opposite direction. None of the cars had a problem putting power to the ground.
Our final track trial took place on a 0.25-mile SCCA Pro Solo gymkhana course at the Chrysler-Shelby Performance Center in Santa Fe Springs, California. This event offered a potpourri of acceleration stretches, corners of varying tightness and duration, and braking areas, all outlined by a forest of traffic cones. A white line defined the desired route to the finish.
With its tenacious grip, quick steering, neutral handling, strong brakes, and smooth throttle response, the Corvette turned in the fastest run, 28.5 mph. Leading the four other cars (all clustered in the 27-mph range) was the Daytona, which darted through the cones very well despite steady understeer and some turbo lag. Similar problems plagued the Mustang. In addition, it suffered from a mushy steering response that demanded large inputs to negotiate the tighter sections of the course.
The Z28 should have done better with its very responsive steering and its choice of readily available understeer or oversteer, but it was hamstrung by the damped responsiveness inherent to its automatic transmission. Finally, the Fiero's advantages of the smallest size and the lightest curb weight in the test were offset by its lack of power and its heavy, slow steering.
The sanctuary of a race circuit allowed us to explore the outer reaches of the handling envelope without terrorizing the citizenry, upsetting the constabulary, or doing ourselves irreparable harm. The venue for this part of the handling exam was Willow Springs International Raceway, which is draped across the Mojave Desert near Rosamond, California. Willow's 2.5-mile ribbon roller-coasters through nine turns and hits you with everything from hairy, flat-out top-gear sweepers to grinding second-gear switchbacks. No wonder it's a favorite test site for Formula 1 teams during their North American swing.
The biggest pitfall in analyzing racecourse lap times is reading too much into them. Racetrack driving is a specialized event that focuses on a car's ability at the hairy edge of adhesion—and sometimes beyond. You simply can't drive this way on the street—at least not for long—or you'll soon be stopping at the big tollbooth in the sky. In the simplest terms, lap times are merely indicators of a street car's ultimate cornering, braking, and accelerating potential, much as the classic skidpad test is just one indicator of roadholding. The numbers produced at a racetrack are far from the bottom line of handling.
There are, however, other good reasons for trekking to a racecourse, some of which fall under the heading "revelations." We hoped to gain additional subjective insight at Willow Springs just by paying attention to seat-of-the-pants-acquired evidence. In addition to thorough drivers' notes, we of course took lap times. To minimize the wide variances in power-to-weight ratios, we also set up a test within a test: a short timing trap through Turn Five.
As corners go, the Turn Five kink is a one-and-a-half gainer with a twist. The entrance plummets downhill to the right. After a flash of braking over ripply pavement, you dive to the left as the ground comes up to meet you. From the driver's seat, a pass through Turn Five at over 70 mph feels as if someone's yanked the track out from under you. This was the perfect place to isolate a car's handling of a difficult transient maneuver under braking. Horsepower really didn't enter in.
The test procedures at Willow Springs were simple to the extreme: this was not an endurance race, so we purposely limited back-to-back hot laps, though every contestant had ample opportunity to show its stuff. Tire pressures were raised slightly above the manufacturers' recommendations to minimize tread damage. Rich Ceppos's able driving produced the lap times of record, while the five other judges contributed observations and track impressions.
As for the results, the spec chart spells them out in full. The Corvette flat smoked 'em at Willow, racking up an 85.3-mph average lap speed, 1.5 mph clear of the second-place SVO and 7.9 mph ahead of the last-place Fiero. The Turn Five switchback produced a similar pecking order (except that the Fiero moved up two notches while the Camaro slid down one).
Subjectively, we also added several pieces to the jigsaw puzzle. Discovery number one was that our gang of five cars behaved themselves on the racetrack pretty much as they do on the road (the details of which follow). As often as not, a car will have some surprises in store for you when you press it for all it's worth on the track-but not this group.
The track also afforded us a chance to unravel more of the mystery surrounding the Corvette and its optional Z51 suspension. Chevrolet development engineers recently admitted something we've suspected all along: that the Z51 setup offers no improvement in street behavior and that it was developed to maximize racetrack and autocross performance. Indeed, the Corvette felt more like a race car than any of the other contestants: you could make it do almost anything you wished, yet it was difficult to drive fast. Even the staff's seasoned racers agreed that the Corvette doesn't open up to you quickly; you'd probably still be stretching its limits and learning its secrets after a couple of days of racetrack lapping. Since it's a harder car to get to know, we suspect that the gap between its lap times and those of the four other cars might widen with practice.
Finally, there's the SVO's stellar second placings in overall lap speed and in the Turn Five competition. It might have been the gobs of confidence-inspiring under-steer that made it easy to drive to the limit in so few laps. Or maybe it was that the third-fastest car, the Camaro, was hampered more than we might have imagined by its automatic transmission. (The five-speed test car we'd planned to use was stolen out from under us.) But that's the thing about racetrack testing: as often as not, a day at the circuit poses as many questions as it answers.
Artificial test courses and racetrack exercises advance the quest for handling excellence, but what really counts is life on the road. Ride with us now as we relive the miles that mattered: up, down, around, and through the Angeles Crest and Angeles Forest highways. The angels were good to us, and our logbooks are bursting with insight; their innermost secrets follow.
Pontiac Fiero 2M4
A great chassis is useless to a driver who cannot interface properly with it. Ergonomically, the test team generally approved of the little Fiero's cockpit. Visibility seemed fine. The steering wheel drew raves, and the general placement of the controls was considered good. Several drivers praised the seats. "Nice, cozy, bolted-in feel," concluded one.
The shifter, on the other hand, was condemned by one and all. Notchy, balky, heavy, slow, and unfriendly, it was a chore to use. Putting these mixed ergonomics into action disclosed mixed handling characteristics. "Basic cornering balance is power-on understeer, power-off oversteer," said Csaba Csere, "but it's not very pronounced because the difference between zero and full throttle is minimal. Tail is a little unstable. It doesn't seriously threaten to get out, but under hard braking, turn-in, or throttle movement, it is mildly disconcerting."
"Rubbery but very coordinated" is the way Larry Griffin put it. "Like most mid-engined cars, this one likes to be set politely on a line and held, whereupon it folds into and out of corners really well." Ceppos discovered "lots of ride steer over bumps," as well as what he called an "orbital ride motion in the rear suspension." Don Sherman amplified: "At times this feels as if you're managing two cars—a separate front, a very independent rear. The front can't be felt very well through the steering. The rear is substantially under-damped. The back end bottoms at times. This car doesn't feel of a piece at all."
The steering feel troubled everyone—not because of its comparative heaviness at parking-lot speeds, which didn't bother everybody and which eased at higher velocities anyway, but because of its surprising lack of feel and its unpleasant way of telegraphing bumps. Jean Lindamood called the steering "ponderous." Pete Lyons said: "I can tell the front wheels are trying to talk to me, but the message isn't getting through. The steering wheel kicks back on bumps and longitudinal ridges. It's tiresome." Ceppos complained: "No steering feel to warn you of impending under-steer." Csere: "Forces build up, but only in relation to the steering angle, not to steering effort."
Under braking, more problems appeared. "Brakes are touchy," Csere noted. "Must be applied with great care. Not progressive enough." As Sherman put it, "Brakes feel powerful enough, don't fade, but pedal is distance-, not effort-, dependent. Not good."
What the brakes did to the chassis was not appreciated, either. Lyons complained that the Fiero was downright "squirrelly under hard braking into a bend. Under panic conditions, it feels awful." As for the anemic 92-horse engine, nobody had a good word. "Serious power shortage." "Engine drones, does nothing." "Lack of power is killing this car. Once settled into the corner, you can't accelerate enough to work the tires."
We'd say that if Pontiac intends to make an honest sports car out of the Fiero—and we sincerely hope it does—it's time to get on with the effort.
1984 Pontiac Fiero 2M4
Mid-engine, rear-drive 4-inline, 4-speed manual, 2580 lb
Base/as-tested price: $9599/$11,621
C/D TEST RESULTS
Average lap speed: 77.4 mph
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.78 g
Ford Mustang SVO
One of the briefs of Ford's SVO group was to build cars true to the European grand-touring tradition, capable of comfortably covering long distances at high speeds. Such cars tend to be well-rounded performers, with excellence in all areas given a higher priority than superiority in only a few.
The Mustang SVO is a clear demonstration of this philosophy. Its excellent driving position was praised by all of our testers. Much of the credit goes to the seats, which everyone found quite comfortable, though some felt that a bit more lateral support would be useful. The smoothly operating controls, ranging from the slickest shifter in the group to the heel-and-toe layout of the pedals, also earned praise.
This hospitable interior was complemented by the Mustang's comfortable ride, probably the best in the test. As Lyons said, "It has a pleasant, velvety smoothness." The Mustang absorbed large bumps in a positively European fashion with long, supple, fluid suspension strokes, yet it suppressed small road imperfections with the compliance of a Detroit luxosedan. These suspension characteristics prevailed over a wide speed range, from in-town slow to back-road brisk.
Unfortunately, control deteriorated as we began to push the SVO to its limit. The front end started to bob over bumps, and the body and the chassis developed a disconnected feeling, as if the two were moving independently. Our Hungarian handling expert suggested in the logbook that "this car feels a bit floaty over bumps, comfortable but not tied down quite enough."
A similar transformation happened to the steering. Its linear responses, adequate effort, and total lack of twitchiness made the Mustang one of the easiest cars in the group to drive smoothly. But when pushed, these docile characteristics turned sluggish and the Mustang demanded overlarge steering inputs. Furthermore, the steering feeds little information to the driver about the front tires' exertions.
Ceppos reflected, "You get a lot of warning from the tires' progressive breakaway, but no feel through the steering at the limit." Kicking the tail out could be achieved with a sudden steering input, a heavy application of power, or the help of some convenient bumps, but our testers found that such antics weren't worth the effort. According to Csere, "The Mustang is hard to drive tail-out, demanding sensitive throttle action and quick directional corrections that its steering mechanism is ill-equipped to deliver.
In much the same vein, the Mustang's brakes, which felt firm and progressive most of the time, went flabby under pressure. An initial dead spot developed (possibly a result of boiling brake fluid), and the brakes faded severely, requiring heavy pressure to produce any deceleration. Lindamood: "The brakes have gone south!" The fast pace also pointed up substantial turbo lag, which was present even when the engine was kept in its irritatingly buzz), upper-rpm range. "Turbo lag is not a good deal," Sherman observed. "It changes your setup for a turn."
None of this detracts from the Mustang SVO as a legitimate high-performance GT car. Indeed, we were happy with the SVO when we drove it in that mode. But for those who like to explore a car's limits, or those who get their thrills from Sunday-morning canyon races, the Mustang SVO is well down from our first choice.
1984 Ford Mustang SVO
Front-engine, rear-drive 4-inline, 5-speed manual, 3100 lb
Base/as-tested price: $15,970/$17,223
C/D TEST RESULTS
Average lap speed: 83.8 mph
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.76 g
Dodge Daytona Turbo Z
If there was one car that was a shock to our six-person jury, it was the Dodge Daytona. As they say, you learn something every day. The Daytona was entered in this running of the sweet-handling sweepstakes almost as a courtesy to the friends of front-wheel drive. Some of us had the uneasy feeling that the Turbo Z wasn't a wholly righteous member of this group—whose stuff for the most part, is so very right. We had quickly seized on the four other candidates, each the ultimate domestic development of its configuration.
What in the name of all that's holy where the rubber meets the road could the Dodge Daytona with its front-wheel drive and its pissant 2.2 liters of engine displacement hope to do against the true monsters of the macadam? We're glad you asked that question, and we're thanking our lucky stars that we did.
Oh, we found room for complaint. Virtually everyone complained about the Turbo Z's relative lack of sophistication in noise, vibration, and harshness control. The power seats (which allowed just about all of us to find a good position behind the tilt-adjustable wheel, the fine heel-and-toe pedal arrangement, and the dandy dead pedal) had a disconcerting tendency to shift now and then in small increments on their mounts. And, although we liked the positioning of the wheel's four partially leather-wrapped spokes, nobody liked its cutting edges, left unblunted right where a vigorous driver's thumbs tend to snuggle. And the shifter, though precise, was on the notch, side.
This burst of negatives had a short half-life. The minute the going got hot and heavy, the Daytona had no trouble generating enthusiasm. Sherman pointed out that the Daytona had "great turn-in." He rambled on: "Very stable under hard braking, hard cornering, or both at once. The chassis never wobbles or frightens. Steering a bit numb on center but gets far more telegraphic just off center. You ask, it answers. A friendly car."
Rich Ceppos: "This car is a delight to drive hard. The turbo lag is imperceptible from 3000 to 5000 rpm. A little ruffled on hard braking and a bit rough on ride, but quite the canyon car." Csaba Csere concurred: "Damn good car! Feels incredibly good. I can get everything out of it that it has to offer. Engine makes nice power, has much less lag than the Mustang's turbo." Jean Lindamood: "Fun car to drive because it feels a little nasty, a little macho. Lots of action for the driver."
Lyons evidenced mixed emotions: "The car is a little soft and roly-poly, but it will stay with you as you escalate your effort to the near-berserk level. It seems forgiving; however, it also seems cheap. This is just an econobox." Larry Griffin, however, found a friend: "Pedals perfect. Promises to be most comfortable on long trips. Tracks best, too."
The Daytona Turbo's tidy size was unquestionably a big help climbing mountains. Even the hard-grunting Corvette couldn't get away during some of the high-altitude uphill runs, the Daytona boost pulling beautifully in the 'rarefied air. All in all, this Dodge is one fine piece of work. Furthermore, none of us now harbors any lingering doubts about whether it belongs with the righteous.
1984 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z
Front-engine, front-drive 4-inline, 5-speed manual, 2840 lb
Base/as-tested price: $11,493/$14,033
C/D TEST RESULTS
Average lap speed: 80.6 mph
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.78 g
If ever a car looked like an overdog on paper, the Corvette is it. In track testing, the Corvette was a whiz. It rides on the fattest, stickiest tires this side of Formula 1, and its chassis is full of forged-aluminum exotica. Yet its logbook was a near-equal mix of praise and protest. Lyons loved the chassis's stick but hated its dartiness. Ceppos extolled the grip but called the steering response "knife-edged." Sherman liked the steering response but despised the lack of road feel.
Everybody was impressed by the brakes but felt let down by the seats. Griffin applauded the driving position but complained of a "loose-tail feeling" even at moderate speeds. Page after page, the balance swung back and forth, first good, then bad. The metronoming would have mesmerized Judge Wapner, and our jury sweat bullets coming to grips with the Corvette. Eventually we accumulated the necessary road miles to call a clear verdict: good, but not yet great.
In this liberated age the idea of a "man's car" may be inappropriate, but there are masculine cars—and the new Corvette is clearly one of them. If the Corvette were human, it would be an NFL lineman—big, brutish, mean, nasty, and forceful.
Our foray on the Angeles Crest Highway proved conclusively that the Corvette is the fastest point A—to—point B American-made car—at least when the way is filled with zigs and zags. At speeds that had the other contestants screeching, bouncing, sluing, and clawing for traction, the Corvette bulled its way around corners without even sliding a tire—as if it were a giant slot car. Its adhesion is an order of magnitude higher than that of anything else on the street. "Awesome" was penned in the Corvette's logbook more than once to describe its cornering power.
Mixed with the Corvette's road-wrinkling grip was a liberal dose of orneriness—a collection of feints and darts that scare you into thinking danger is imminent when you're well below the spin-out threshold. Part of the problem is the Z51 combination of fast steering and no-nonsense tires. The chassis is so responsive to the wheel that you have to be careful not to change lanes every time you blink.
Ultimately, the Corvette is a difficult car to drive hard and fast because it just doesn't talk to you. Understanding the messages it sends up through the seat of your pants and through the numb steering is a long-term learning process.
Of course, there's a whole world of handling that exists in the normal, everyday driving mode, and here there is even more trouble in paradise. Though the steering gear has a strong on-center sense, the Corvette wanders occasionally, and it's easily upset by the scalloped edges of country roads. In moderate freeway-speed lane changes the Corvette doesn't feel as confident or of a piece as you'd expect.
Somewhere deep within its chassis there are components that haven't yet jelled. And the ride, though better than that of earlier production models, is still about the rockiest thing this side of a Mack. The bottom line on the Corvette is that it's one tough sumbitch, with a no-compromises, racer-for-the-street temperament. It has high limits, and it places even higher demands on the driver. Handling perfection, however, is still many engineering-development months away for this car.
1984 Chevrolet Corvette
Front-engine, rear-drive V-8, 7-speed manual, 3220 lb
Base/as-tested price: $23,360/$25,036
C/D TEST RESULTS
Average lap speed: 85.3 mph
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.86 g
Chevrolet Camaro Z28
The Z28 came to our shoot-out with the mark of Cain branded on its hood: we'd spent a disastrous 25,000 miles with a 1983 model (C/D, December), our five-speed test car was stolen before we ever laid hands on it, and the stand-in came handicapped with an automatic transmission. As if this weren't enough, an intermittent fuel-delivery problem cropped up halfway through the testing. Despite these drawbacks, we all took a real shine to the Camaro.
Everybody agreed that the Z28 had a delightful combination of tight adhesion, telegraphic controls, manageable response, and forgiving limits. We are pleased to report that Chevrolet's once-rough gem has been polished into a handling jewel. "It's a bit harder to drive at ten-tenths than the Daytona," explained Ceppos in the Z28's logbook, "but it's far easier to handle than the Corvette." This opinion was echoed by more than one staffer in the logbook.
Unlike the Corvette, the Z28 encourages its driver to explore the upper registers, and its chassis sends back honest assessments of the situation at hand. Steaming into the tight turns of our serpentine road course through the San Gabriel Mountains brought on a smidgen of understeer. A lift of the right foot, and the tail would nudge out proportionately, though it was easy to check with the proper amount of opposite steering lock. "Perfect for trail braking," wrote Csere. "Bon-durant would love this car."
The Z28 remained collected, controlled, and maneuverable at the limit even in the face of adversity. We encountered corners sprinkled with grit, cracked and broken pavement, and decreasing-radii bends that demanded heavy braking; the unflappable Camaro ate up the route and spit expertly processed highway out the back. "Have we complained about the harshness of the Z28's ride in the past? Forget it," said Lindamood. "The suspension was thoroughly recalibrated for 1984. It works!"
Indeed, there were only two true disruptions of this car's handling prowess. First, every tester voted to give the Z28 more steering feel (higher effort and improved sensitivity), while praising its crisp and linear responsiveness. Second, we were bothered by the Z28's optional six-way power Content- seat ("Trash!" "Junk!" "Sucks!"), the most ill-conceived bucket in our five-car group. The padding appears to be in all the right places, but Chevy apparently forgot to take out the rocks and put in the foam rubber. Lindamood recommended substituting the seats from the Corvette.
The Camaro had a tough row to hoe in our driving rotation, because it followed the race-ready Corvette in our anti-alphabetical order. We quickly learned, however, that a turn in the Z28 was true handling relief: an effortless, confidence-inspiring drive. One comment in the logbook summed up the relative merits of the Chevrolet siblings precisely: "It makes me think that the Corvette ought to be sent to Camaro school."
All hail the best-handling car made in America: the Chevrolet Camaro Z28. It's a clear winner, thanks to its well-developed chassis and sensational over-the-road poise. Three judges spotted it first overall, while the other three awarded it their second-place scores. (Five points were allotted to the best handler, one to the worst. Ties were allowed.)
It would be difficult to name two cars less alike than the Corvette and the Daytona, but our bottom-line ballot has nonetheless joined them in unholy matrimony: a second-place tie. The Corvette's high limits and quirky responses prompted votes that ran the gamut (one, two, four, and five points), while the easy-handling Daytona won three, four, or five points from everyone. The SVO Mustang racked up a fifteen-point total (two, three, or four points per judge), for fourth overall. Clearly, the Ford Motor Company is in the hunt, but there's plenty of room for improving the handling of its performance flagship.
The Fiero scored only one or two points per judge, and we're convinced its distinct lack of power was a significant but not the primary reason the new Pontiac ended up in the cellar. Pontiac engineers apparently had images of a cute commuter fixed a bit too firmly in their minds during the design and development phases. Once those philosophies are flushed and replaced by honest sports-car aspirations, the Fiero will surely advance to a much higher orbit in the car cosmos.
After weeks of planning, executing, and mulling over this investigation, we're convinced the results are well worth the effort. Fresh information was gleaned, a number of pet theories were either proved valid or shot full of holes, and one very impressive automobile had an excellent opportunity to distinguish itself from its peers. Six judges really can tell what is good and what isn't in car handling as long as the back-to-back comparisons are carefully conducted. As a matter of fact, we may just fine-tune our test-track decathlon a bit, buy another batch of airline tickets to visit the angels, and launch a similar search for the best handling import.
1984 Chevrolet Camaro Z28
Front-engine, rear-drive V-8, 4-speed automatic, 3420 lb
Base/as-tested price: $10,620/$15,418
C/D TEST RESULTS
Average lap speed: 82.6 mph
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.81 g
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