Dodge Daytona: a performance car designed for the young at heart

By , Charles E. Dole is the Monitor's automotive editor.

It may not have the dash of the spectacular Dodge Daytona-Z car or the Chrysler Laser XE, but the standard Daytona turbo is no slouch. It is, in fact, the epitome of a no-nonsense sports car.

All the cars Chrysler is marketing this year, including the Dodge Daytona, were conceived in 1980 and 1981. This shows the foresight and hard work of a company that appeared to be headed for financial disaster at the time.

Chrysler Corporation somehow managed to stay in business, and today's dramatic new '84 models are the result.

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The Dodge Daytona is a step beyond the Shelby Charger of 1983. It, plus its near-look-alike Chrysler Laser, are high-tech, turbocharged, front-drive sport coupes.

Because of its sports-car heritage, the Daytona doesn't provide much room in the rear. But if you can manage to squeeze two adults into the back seats, they'd better nod their heads or they'll scrape the roof. Headroom in front isn't too generous either.

The base fuel-injected, nonturbo 2.2-liter engine cranks out 99 horsepower, but the turbocharged model jumps up to 142 hp. Equipped with a standard close-ratio 5-speed manual transmission, the car delivers plenty of punch. A 3 -speed automatic transmission is an option.

The suspension is stiff, befitting a sports car; thus, if the road is rough, the ride is likely to be rough as well. That's the way most sports-car buyers want it; you can't expect a glassy-smooth ride in a sports car. A less-tight suspension package is available, however.

The Daytona takes the curves, even sharp curves, with precision. It has a noisy rear hatch, however, just like the Chrysler Laser I drove across country a few months ago.

The computerized message center keeps tabs on such things as fuel, washer fluid, and doors, and a voice-alert system is available if you want the car to talk back to you. ''The voice'' checks out 11 functions on the car and tells you of a lapse.

An interesting touch: sun visors on the rear window glass. This makes a lot of sense. After all, many cars have glass defoggers, washers, and wipers on the back window, so why not a sun visor to reduce the glare as the sun drops lower on the horizon?

Chrysler is hard on the heels of the competition - Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Pontiac Firebird - and it's counting on the Daytona to help it gain ground.

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