Pontiac Fiero Formula vs Toyota MR2 Supercharged
From the October 1987 issue of Road & Track
Two 2-seat, mid-engine sports cars. The configuration is acknowledged as the way to go for all-out enthusiastic driving, and both of our test cars have established more than respectable credentials. The older of the two, the Pontiac Fiero, is now entering its fifth year of production; the Toyota MR2 is one year newer.
The Fiero started out as a relatively tame 4-cylinder "commuter" with an awkward 4-speed gearbox and has since offered the buyer a substantial list of options: V6 engine, 5-speed Muncie/Getrag gearbox, and GT body with a new nose and an extended roofline. But the original suspension, derived from the lowly Chevrolet Chevette in front and the front-drive half shafts (and thus the wide track) of the Citation for the rear, has been a compromise all along. It has cried out for significant improvement.
The Toyota MR2, if lacking truly inspiring styling, has been essentially right from the beginning. A 16-valver all along, its 1567-cc cylinder, 112-bhp engine has made the MR2 a lively performer from day one, while the usual add-on aerodynamic aids have since provided a more aggressive-looking but still chunky exterior. Now, with a supercharger, it moves up a class, in performance if not in accommodations or trim, and takes a hefty jump in price.
Both mid-engine 2 seaters are significantly improved. How much? We put one each of the 1988 models though their paces, head to head, side by side and back to back, in a quick but intensive comparison test and called up one each of the older versions to see what has been achieved, and how. After track testing for the absolute numbers, four staff members, alternating as pilots and co-pilots, took them on the road for energetic real-world driving. Here's what we learned:
Beause we've always felt that the original coupe styling of the Fiero was fresh and appealing, it's good to see the 2.8-liter V-6/Getrag 5-speed package in its midst. The weight saving compared to the GT version is scarcely 50 lb. but we'll take (away) what we can get (out).
The styling is improved by the smoother ends introduced on the Coupe last year; the tail has the full-width wing you either like or don't like, while the flanks are quite garishly emblazoned with the FORMULA label. Hey, guys, not necessary; we could already see it coming, especially in its yellow paint. The interior is still bright and attractive in the way Pontiac does so well.
The V-6/5-speed drivetrain made the GT a vast improvement over the original car. A properly balanced 60-degree V-6, the 135-bhp engine is smooth, sounds great and has good torque, although it runs out of urge at about 5000 rpm. The gearbox is a bit balky until warm and somewhat vague in use; reverse and 5th are particular bothers. But the gearing is right, and when you're used to the gate, you can put the engine to good use. In other words, essentially the same as in the 1987 GT. With one big difference: When the power gets to the wheels, the wheels do a whole lot better job with it.
With its wide stance and big footprint, the car always had plenty of grip; Pontiac has redesigned the Fiero WS6 suspension with the expressed purpose of improving steering effort and ride. In front: elimination of the steering damper assembly, shorter spindle length, smaller scrub radius, reduction in king_-pin angle, longer upper and lower A-arms, and a larger (28- vs 22-mm) anti_-roll bar. In back: new subframe with different suspension attachment points, 3-link design allowing adjustment of
each component, reduced impact harshness, lower spring rates, and the inclusion of a 22-mm anti-roll bar on the Formula and GT (i.e., V-6) models.
Does all the work better? Definitely yes. How much better? It's a noticeable improvement over the 1987 Fiero but still with a way to go. especially when compared with the nimble MR2. The Fiero remains a wide, heavy car with slow steering, not very subtle and not responsive to the light touch. Manhandle it and you'll get results. Much of the older design's numb feel is gone, there is more road feel and the car turns in better, though retaining a basic understeer. But it still has the annoying bump steer (maybe we can call it "bump wander" now), and undulating road surfaces produce so much suspension movement that it is hard to place the car accurately. Whether this is excessive front-end sensitivity or misaligned rear suspension, the driver must make constant corrections on all but the smoothest roads. On an ideal surface the Fiero has lots of grip, hanging in there better than the MR2. The ride is improved, especially in reducing the shocks that were transmitted so jarringly through the structure before.
The brakes do a good job—balanced, progressive and easy to modulate. The stopping distances, longer than the MR2's, are easily explained by the Fiero's greater weight. The fuel consumption, 17.2 mpg for the nearly 1000 miles of mostly hard driving we put on it, is acceptable and quite close to the MR2's 21.1 mpg when engine displacement, weight and frontal area are considered.
In all-around driving the 1988 Fiero is more pleasant than before. With its good gearing and improved ride, it's a fine cruiser, though still too wide and with outward vision too poor for confident in-town play. While the exterior is not up to the MR2's finish and the cargo and engine compartments are crudely finished, our drivers found the interior very attractive, but not as functional as the MR2's. Three of the four found the Fiero's driving position too low.
The MR2 doesn't look much different for 1988. There is a better_ shaped air dam in front, more nicely formed taillights with integrated license lamps, the engine lid is slightly higher to accommodate the intercooler and our test car had a T-top with removable (but lockable) glass panels and snap-in shades. The Supercharger lettering was discreet, especially in comparison with the Formula's pronouncement: in any case, the new supercharged model could go by you slowly and you probably wouldn't notice much difference.
Except that it wouldn't go by you slowly. The MR2's supercharger, despite being based on an ages-old method of adding horsepower, adds so much of it so well that it seems like a leap forward in technology. The 16-valve 1.6-liter four was already such a high-revver, and geared for strong acceleration all the way up through 5th, that all we could ask for was lower-end muscle. And a turbo would only make it fiercer at the top. Toyota's answer is a Roots-type blower, with an air-to-air intercooler, that boosts the output by 29 percent, from the 1987 MR2's 112 bhp to a whopping 145 (the 1988 unsupercharged engine is now up to 115 bhp). We're talking 90 bhp/liter, 1.5 bhp/cu in., here. Even better, the torque is improved 44 percent, up from 97 lb-ft at 4800 to 140 at 4000.
On the road, you'll feel what's been done. This is one truly super engine. It's smooth, flexible, instantaneous in response and progressive all the way. To eliminate a constant drag on the engine, there is an electromagnetic clutch and air-bypass system that disengages the supercharger when not in demand. A little green light—for go—tells you when it is engaged. As if you couldn't tell!
In a little car like the MR2 the results are marvelous. It humbles an engine almost twice its size without any fuss whatsoever. Is the turbo suddenly passé as a means of packing real charge into a combustion chamber? With a slight qualification regarding fuel efficiency, Toyota seems to be measuring the "old" exhaust-driven system for a coffin.
The supercharged MR2 is fast. You don't wait for acceleration and you never seem to run out of it. The MR2 reaches 60 mph in 7.0 seconds, a full second before the Fiero, and never looks back, passing 100 mph before the sweep second hand touches 20. The shifter works well, with good ratios, but it may not hold up under all this power. Our long-term MR2's gearbox is getting a bit notchy at 30,000 miles, and we did beat the supercharged car's box in fast shifting, so a little care is advised for the owner who wants it to live. In a car that gains speed so well, it's good that the brakes work, and they really do, bringing the car up smartly, with full control, in very short distances.
But with this superb engine, the chassis is displaying some shortcomings and in fact did not produce as good skidpad and slalom results as the long-term car. On the road the handling is neutral until near the limit, then it pushes, but if you get off the throttle it becomes suddenly tail-happy, almost in Porsche 911 fashion. Because of the excellent road feel and precise steering, this can be dealt with by an alert driver. In any case, it's probably time to give this instant supercar some further chassis tuning.
In regular use, the supercharged car has the many virtues and few failings of the previous model. The exterior, cargo and engine compartments, and interior are all very well finished, much better than the Fiero's. While the styling of the interior is no more exciting than the outside, its function is excellent in every way except outward vision, particularly to the rear; as with the Fiero, an already existing blindspot from the pillars is enlarged by the decktop rear wing. But the MR2 is a narrower, more nimble handler, so this problem is less intimidating.
Only available to us for a short time and driven hard for the 750 miles we were able to pack in it, the supercharged MR2 did not return the fuel mileage we have come to expect from the type. In fairness, a long highway cruise, with the supercharger not in play, would probably yield closer to 30 mpg.
And the winner is…
Read More Here: Pontiac Fiero Formula vs Toyota MR2 Supercharged
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