Online Comparo: Which of these ’80s hatch-coupes is best?

Yesterday, we ran a piece in defence of the original Isuzu Piazza or Impulse, the model name depending of your market region. While the Piazza is relatively obscure by now, it’s not the only slightly oddball car in its class. For every Celica, Supra or 240SX, there are a bunch of weirder coupes that either didn’t do well and vanished almost completely, or did well and still vanished. I decided to assemble a comparison of four cars, including three other coupes vaguely in the same ballpark as the Piazza/Impulse, and instead of casting judgement myself, Twitter users would be the ones deciding which one would be the best pick.

Here’s the list of contenders. The first to be picked is the Honda (Accord) Aerodeck: a sort of a shooting brake variant of the mid-‘80s Accord. Three doors, pop-up headlights, hatchback, yet for some reason there’s more style than the other same generation three-door hatchback Accord variant with pop-ups had. In any case, it matches the Piazza/Impulse better than well.

In a similar style, there’s also the Volvo 480ES. This was the first front-wheel-drive car to wear Volvo badging, so its engineering is fundamentally different from the Isuzu that can trace its lineage to the Chevy Chevette. But it’s super-’80s, also features pop-up headlights, and comes with the “Failed but classy” tag that was affixed to it at an early point in its life due to electrical trouble and premature rust. The 480ES also had a turbocharged option, though the Renault-related engine palette is hilariously weaksauce: 1.7 non-turbo, 109 hp: 1.7 turbo, 120 hp (!), 2.0 non-turbo, 110hp (!!).

The final contender is the Renault Fuego. The 18-based coupe was also available with a turbo engine like the Isuzu and the Volvo, and like the Isuzu, it was available already in the early half of the 1980s, unlike the Honda and the Volvo. The daintily styled Fuegos were built in the hundreds of thousands, but it’s fair to say a large percentage of those didn’t make it to this side of the millennium thanks to various maladies. But it’s still a very pretty car.

The voting started interestingly, as the Isuzu pulled to an early lead, but the others caught it quite quickly, leaving it in third place and with the Renault trailing far behind. Earlier today, the Volvo had cemented its lead with the Honda taking a clear second place after 153 votes, but the Isuzu and Renault were neck to neck with just minutes left in the voting. Then, the last vote was cast, deciding in favor of the Isuzu, granting it 21% of the total votes and leaving the Renault last with a respectable 19%. The Honda took second place with 27% of the total votes, and the Volvo cruised to a comfortable win with a third of all the votes cast. It’s probably likely this is the first comparison test win the Volvo has claimed in a long time.

What would I pick? The Honda is likely to be the most reliable, but rust has eaten up many of them. The Volvo has all of the rust, too, but less stellar reliability – but it can be considered the better-looking design of the two. The Isuzu also scores high on style, but the powertrain would probably drag it down, and the Renault, while comfy, can be the most brittle of the four. Naturally, the logical answer is to pick all of them, as they’re all still so unloved/unnoticed that it only takes new-ish commuter car money to decorate your garage with decent examples of each, instead of being the kind of boring dullard that spends all that money on just one car.

That brings us to an interesting closing question. Is there a market that got all of these cars at the same time? Finns did get the Honda, Volvo and Renault, but no Isuzu; U.S. buyers got the others but not the Volvo, despite earlier intentions of the manufacturer. Perhaps the sole market to cater for all these needs might have been the UK. If anyone knows, comment!

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17 responses to “Online Comparo: Which of these ’80s hatch-coupes is best?”

  1. mdharrell Avatar

    I still haven’t read all the paperwork that came with either 66 GL but I think I’m contractually obligated to favor anything from Volvo Car BV and its successors, NedCar BV and VDL Nedcar. The 480 it is, then. Besides, I’ve already given away my Fuego shop manual.

    1. Vairship Avatar

      Ah, so twenty years from now you’ll be driving a Smart Forfour? (Unless of course you can find a NedCar Access, which would be impressive).

  2. Zentropy Avatar

    This reminds me of when the family is starving during a 12-hour drive to the beach, so we stop at some random interstate exit where the fast-food choices are McDonald’s, Hardee’s, and KFC.

    I just… won’t eat… thanks.

  3. Sjalabais Avatar

    I am surprised the Volvo won this life-changing referendum. Yes, a well-sorted Turbo or 2.0 is a cool car, and there’s a fan scene that is alive and kicking. But even I as a longtime-infected Volvo-nut I find the Impulse to be cooler, the Fuego sexier, and even the Honda more coherent in its design. My biggest “aber” with the 480 though is the dashboard. It’s just a massive wall of cubism, and you’ll be looking at it until your jaws grow square:
    (But, yes, I’ll take one if you give it to me.)

    1. Vairship Avatar

      “Volvo makes trucks, DAF makes trucks, so let’s put a truck dashboard in our coupe!”

    2. Amoore Avatar

      That is so incredibly ridiculous–I love it

  4. ptschett Avatar

    I see the squarer cars here and all I think of is the Nissan Pulsar NX (US name, EXA elsewhere) and its *modular roof*. It was on the cover of the 1988(?) new cars edition of the little “Parade” magazine that was one of the extras in my hometown’s Sunday paper and it’s stuck with me ever since.

    Wagon? Coupe?
    Why not both?

    And the taillights are *awesome*.–PokhJWam–/c_scale,dpr_2.0,f_auto,fl_progressive,q_80,w_800/fzcqzyxi3fep8yz1bvre.jpg

  5. Maymar Avatar

    I’m not sure what to make of this, but looking on Kijiji (local classifieds) throughout the entire province, the only one of the four I could find was a single Fuego in rather scruffy shape. The 480 was going to be a a hard find (although some has a 1/18th scale model for sale), but not a single pop-up headlight Accord of any variety, and no Impulses (not even the later FWD models, and not in their GEO/Asuna guise either). So, clearly, that means the Renault is the durability champ?

    Were I buying new, the Accord would have stood out as the rational choice, but I keep gravitating to the Volvo (possibly because it’s got the strongest “not from here” vibes).

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      Of all those cars, the Fuego is the most rustproof with the strongest mechanicals behind the Honda, but the trim falling off and breaking would drive you crazy. Also they never had a luggage cover, so anything you left under the one piece hatchback glass would cook while being on display

      The Fuego had the longest production life too, with the tooling moved to Argentina and Venezuela, production finishing in South America in ’92, six years after production finished in Europe and seven years after finishing in France. There was a mild facelift to straighten out Robert Opron’s original curves and remove the black grooves, (Opron was the designer of the Citroens SM, GS and CX)

      I have driven and/or owned everyone of these cars and to actually DRIVE, the Fuego is the winner with the best steering and handling and ride, and in my experience was the fastest in either 2 litre or turbo forms. As a piece of automotive sculpture I’d lean towards the Piazza and I already have a spare set of wheels for one.The Honda and the Isuzu would probably be the most reliable mechanically, for what it counts with cars as old as these with years of impecunious owners

      Running one today, parts supply from Renault is better than the other three as well, though some parts can be eye-wateringly expensive, – don’t break that hatch glass.

      The Volvo would be last on my list, as Richard Bremner wrote in ‘Car’ magazine, ” badly built, pointless, DAF coupé with an outrageous asking price of £16,500 that was “”was no sports car” with most versions being “ridiculously underpowered” and those mechanicals are pure Renault, so no Volvo red block reliability. Think more likely of US PRV V6s. A common fault is an erratic idle and ignition problems caused by faulty electrics, and just as many trim falling apart problems as the Fuego, if not more.

      But, of course twitter has a strong bias to the USA, so Volvo fans, none of whom have driven the 480, placed it first on a brand only basis. It is, IMHO, the worst of these four.

      1. julkinen Avatar

        Thanks for the expert insight! I’ve only driven the Volvo out of these four, and my Renault analysis is based on the Fuego battles a former co-worker told me about.

      2. Maymar Avatar

        I will fully admit, the Volvo is a purely aesthetic decision for me, mostly for the 1800ES-aping rear hatch which carried on through to the C30, which we did get, and was reasonably well received so long as you weren’t expecting a Scandinavian GTI). And I do like the Fuego plenty, although I’d probably end up holding out for one with the massive fabric sunroof (and also probably one that wasn’t a basket case).

        I suspect though that for North American parts availability, nothing could hold a candle to the Accord .

      3. salguod Avatar

        In the US, the Fuego was a terrible car. I don’t remember them rusting but that may be because they suffered mechanical failures so quickly that not many remained on the road long enough to show significant rust. They are all but gone from our roads.

  6. crank_case Avatar

    Piazza for the lols, Accord (does it really quite count as a coupe?) for the looks, but we’re talking peak 80s coupe territory and in a decade where any Irish buyer who was particularly flush could have posibly had an AE86, S13 200sx (like a 240sx but with a CA18DET), Honda Prelude, perhaps even Lotus Excel or RX7 at push, it feels like asking who we’re giving the nicest participation medal to.

  7. outback_ute Avatar

    They didn’t sell the Volvo in Australia, and I’m not sure about the Aerodeck version of the Accord either, but there was the normal hatch version.

    I’d go for the Honda for the goodness of the cars in those years plus the shooting brake styling, then the Fuego; I once saw a well kept and modified one that was easily keeping up with modern hot hatches on a run through the hills.

  8. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

    I’d opt for none of the above and get either a 16V Scirocco or a Corrado VR6. VWs were still mostly reliable in the 80s, and both cars had excellent handling ans entertaining amounts of power. If I had to choose, I’d go with a turbo Fuego, assuming it didn’t catch fire.

  9. salguod Avatar

    Can I have one of each?

  10. Manic_King Avatar

    I once had this Finnish car mag from 1992 where they compared some higher spec version of Volvo to other sporty cars, Celica, MR2, 200sx, V6 Firebird and Calibra and I just can’t remember which won and can’t find in the net either, drives me crazy….wasn’t Volvo or the ‘bird. Probably Calibra won and that photo below shows actual result, Opel first, Pontiac last.

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