News Culture

What Performance Variant Is Way Better Than It Should Be?

Every once in a while, an automaker's performance division polishes a real turd into a diamond. What's your favorite example?
Maddox Kay

It’s a fact of nature: Some cars just ain’t great. But occasionally, an automaker’s skunkworks performance team gets their hands on one of those not-great cars and turns it into something special. Think the Volkswagen New Beetle RSI, Chevy Cobalt SS, and Dodge Caliber SRT-4. Heck, even the original Ford Mustang was a spiced-up version of the tepid Falcon sedan. What other performance variants are better than they have any right to be?

This question occurred to me when I spotted a neighbor’s 1991 Dodge Spirit R/T. The garden-variety Dodge Spirit was an unremarkable Chrysler K-product with a boxy design and barely triple-digit horsepower. But for the R/T, Dodge tapped Lotus engineers to develop a 16-valve head for its 2.2-liter turbo inline-four, more than doubling output to 224 horsepower and 217 lb-ft of torque.

Only available with a five-speed manual, the Spirit R/T accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and aced the quarter mile in 14.5 according to a period test by Car & Driver. That made it the fastest American sedan at the time, beating out the Taurus SHO by 0.8 of a second to 60 mph and nearly keeping up with a 310-horsepower BMW M5.

Dodge sold just 1,399 Spirit R/Ts in the U.S. during model years 1991 and 1992, the only years it offered the variant. The R/T had no right to be as potent as it was, and Dodge seemed to realize that.

But I’d rather hear from you—what souped-up version of an awful or awfully normal car is way better than it should be? Let us know in the comments down below.