Mazda RX-8 Or Chrysler New Yorker: Infamous Hot Mess Or Safe Reliable Grandma-Mobile?

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Happy Thursday, everyone! Today we’ve got a couple of cars that I guarantee no one anywhere has ever cross-shopped before… until now. But first let’s check in on our two old diesel tanks that we cross-shopped yesterday:

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Yep, that’s what I think, too.If I were shopping for an old diesel Mercedes, I think I’d favor a 4-speed manual 240D over either of these, but those are getting really hard to find. So an S-Class will have to do. [Editor’s note: I have always had incredible respect for the “SDL” Mercedes Benz. The S-Class Diesel Long wheelbase. It’s everything I could ever want in a luxury car: It’s cheap, comfortable, and reliable. The dream. -DT]

We’ve been showcasing a lot of similar cars, or cars that at least have some tie that binds, but today I wanted to mix it up and feature two cars that have nothing in common except for wheel count, so I found us a really odd couple. (Those of a certain age have some distinctive bouncy theme music going through their heads now, I bet). These two cars are meant for completely different purposes, marketed to completely different demographics, and barely have any business being in the same parking lot, but together they form a sort of personality test: How risk-averse are you?

Given a little over two grand and a need for transportation, would you play it safe or go for broke? Do you take a chance on a beautiful, high-strung, fundamentally flawed sports car icon that could eat away at your soul one massive repair bill at a time, or would you rather have the little-old-lady-only-drove-it-to-church-mobile, even if it bores you to sleep? Is it, in short, better to burn out than to fade away?

1990 Chrysler New Yorker – $2,200

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.3 liter V6, 4 speed automatic, FWD

Location: Duvall, WA

Odometer reading: 136,000 miles

Runs/drives? Current daily driver

Looking at this thirteenth-generation New Yorker, it’s hard to believe it was built in 1990. It wears the style of at least a decade earlier, with its padded landau roof, heavy chrome accents, deeply-tufted seats, and fake woodgrain, all of which were horribly out of fashion by the time Falcon Crest went off the air. Lincoln’s Taurus-based Continental looked like a spaceship by comparison, and even GM’s stodgy Buick Electra looked more modern. But this style still resonated with a certain demographic: One look at this car and you just knew you’d find a stick-on compass on the dash and a bag of Werther’s Originals in the glovebox.

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These days, there’s something quaint and comforting about the Brougham era (basically, the era when automakers offered weirdly opulent cars with vinyl roofs and Landau Bars). for those of us who grew up around these cars; it’s like Thanksgiving dinner in car form, warm and comforting and predictable. And you can’t say there isn’t some appeal to that. It’s still deeply uncool, and the lackluster build quality is starting to show after so many decades, but it sure does look comfy in there.

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This particular New Yorker is the “Mark Cross Edition,” which I think at one time came with matching luggage, or maybe that was just the LeBaron convertible. It does have those lovely cushy leather seats, and they look to be in fine shape. Under the hood is Chrysler’s own 3.3 liter pushrod V6, a nice smooth unassuming engine that does what it’s told while barely being noticed, like a mechanical butler. [Editor’s note: This is Chrysler’s “Minivan motor” that found its way into Chrysler products from 1989 all the way to 2011. The 2011 variant was a 3.8-liter, and it was highly underpowered for the Jeep Wrangler application and tended to burn oil. Good riddance. -DT] . The 4 speed “Ultradrive” transmission wasn’t as accommodating in all of these early-’90s Chrysler vehicles, but at 32 years old and 136,000 miles, it’s safe to assume this one has either been cared for properly or replaced. The fact that the seller is currently driving it daily speaks well of it, too.

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And now for something completely different…

2004 Mazda RX-8 – $2,300

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.3 liter 2 rotor Wankel rotary, 6 speed manual, RWD

Location: Ventura, CA

Odometer reading: 120,000 miles

Runs/drives? Runs fine but won’t pass CA smog

The Wankel engine was everyone’s darling in the 1970s, it seemed. GM was hard at work on developing the company’s own version, including a wild four-rotor that was supposed to power a mid-engine Corvette. AMC’s Pacer was originally slated to have a rotary engine. But only second-tier Japanese automaker Mazda really embraced the technology. In the early ’70s, rotaries were like Frank’s Redhot Sauce to Mazda: they put that shit in everything. Sporty coupes, family station wagons, even the B-series pickup were all available with a Wankel engine for a while.

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After a while, Mazda figured out that a small, high-revving, lowish-torque engine was best suited to sports cars, so the company went back to conventional piston engines for everything else. But Mazda kept on developing the rotary, and created the stuff of legends through three genreations of the RX-7.

That car’s successor, the RX-8, came out with a new version of the famous engine, and brought with it a new slew of problems: leaking apex seals (the blades at the tips of the rotors that perform the same function as piston rings in a conventional engine) leading to loss of compression and therefore power and economy; a weak and finicky ignition system; and fouled catalytic converters, to name a few. These weren’t quality problems experienced by a few cars, like some other well-known “unreliable” cars; they were baked-in to the design. It wasn’t a matter of if these problems would occur, but when.

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This particular RX-8 sounds like it is experiencing all those problems and maybe more. It runs and drives, according to the seller, but a failed smog test and difficulty starting the engine when hot doesn’t bode well. Plus, 120,000 miles is approaching old age for this engine. It may not be long for this world without an overhaul.

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The rest of the car looks alright; the interior is clean and well-kept, and the body is straight. The paint on the plastic nose is more faded than the rest of the car, and the paint elsewhere is scratched up with swirl marks (black cars are impossible to keep looking good), but it’s presentable. There does seem to be a title issue that needs sorting out, and that’s in addition to the smog problems. That sort of paperwork trouble would scare me off, but some people don’t mind plunging into the heart of DMV darkness. And I guess if you’re brave enough to take this car on mechanically, a little title snafu isn’t going to faze you. Remember, this thing’s cheap; $2,300.

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Two very different cars for two very different types of people. A solid, reliable, tidy Felix, or a fun but troublesome Oscar. Which member of our odd couple is right for you?

QuizWiz

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100 Responses

  1. In my teens and early 20s when I would have depended on it for transportation, I’d have sighed heavily and resigned myself to the New Yorker. These days I’ve got options for reliable transportation and room in the garage, so the RX-8 project is an easy choice.

    I think that’s going to be how the vote splits for most. The New Yorker is the only viable option for a daily drive, but the RX-8 is there clear winner for a project/fun car.

  2. Well, that New Yorker would look dope as shit with some serious 18″ donks . . . Not! Still as is, it looks like a good way to drop 2K on reliable transportation. Ubiquitous enough any small garage can work on it and parts are never going to be an issue.

  3. *checks user name* *begins typing*

    GET THE RX8! Saying the engine is blown is pure speculation. Difficulty starting and failing smog, when taken together hints towards the other common fault on these cars–Ignition coils. These also happen to be very easy to replace and relatively cheap. Even if it is the engine, the car is still an amazing chassis and great transmission that can form the backbone of any number of solid projects, or even just overhauling the engine isn’t that big of a deal (though the rebuild kits are shockingly pricy for a few bits of rubber and small metal seals).

    Versus the old Chrysler pos (and be honest, of the landyachts, the pentastars were the least reliable by a wide margin) its not even close– take the ocho all day.

  4. Holy crap! I voted for the New Yorker, I want to be ashamed, and yet, I’m totally not! Yeah it is what it is, but my god those seats, and a backseat that’s big enough to fit grown men.
    I know I’m old when a comfortable daily driver beats out a hoonable (someday soon, maybe) attractive sports sedan.

  5. One of my best friends growing up in late 90s was gifted a 91 New Yorker, black with burgundy interior. Had an obscenely low mileage as it had belonged to some elderly folks that didn’t drive anymore and were family friends. Inside looked and smelled like a law office. I’m not big on shitty American cars of that era but all things aside it was a really comfortable car and it drove well. I remember it having these side lights when you turn on the blinker it illuminates the road in the direction where you are turning maybe dar enough to avoid squishing someone at a street light-less intersection.

  6. Never been in an RX8. Love the look, but title and engine issues, who knows what else, nah, I’m good.

    That New Yorker though…

    Rented a ton of these when they were new. Abused of course, but unlike so many other rentals, couldn’t rattle these damned things. Fun drive? No. Handled like a boat after it broke off its trailer. Good looks? Also no. But damn, it was like driving sitting on a cloud. Take a 500 mile drive in one, and it’s comfortable the whole trip. It runs and can probably run for some time to come.

  7. Best Chrysler minivan motor was a Mitsubishi engine. Those seats are made for high school lovers, don’t rob them of their car.

    RX8 is needing a GM V6 transplant, like the one in my neighbors driveway (minor steering rack modification needed also).

  8. Given these parameters this is a no-brainer. I drove a dynasty for several years. David might not like that V6, and it’s certainly no powerhouse, but the thing just keeps chugging on. I also put 200,000 miles on an ultra drive transmission in a 3.5 liter Intrepid. The key was making sure that you changed the transmission fluid and used the correct Chrysler fluid. Most of the failures could be attributed to people going in and having the quick oil change place put in the wrong fluid.

  9. Nobody seems to understand the real problem with the RX-8 and that is under hood temps. They don’t have weak ignition systems they have coils that get literally cooked to death. The radiator is 2/3 blocked from the factory which makes cooling and moving air through the engine bay a problem. Move the battery to the trunk, put on an AEM intake and everything gets WAY better. On the gen 1 cars get an oil pump adapter to inject 2 stroke oil and on 2nd gen cars run premix and these cars will live a trouble free happy life.

  10. I have thought it would be fun to find a decent RX-8 (body and interior) and swap in a turbo’d NC Miata motor. It should pretty much plug in. It wouldn’t be hugely powerful, but it would be sufficient power for a great chassis.

  11. The Mazda would be fun at least. I’ve owned all the boring snoozemobiles my remaining life can stand. I’ll put that Chrysler’s seats in my living room and fiddle with the RX8 which will at least afford me intermittent giggles.

  12. The pants say RX8, the rest says Start Spreadin’ the News. Now at that price the RX is a prime candidate for a stupid ass LS2 swap, but since I don’t have time to fart in my oatmeal* let alone take that on that ain’t happening.

    *(ED: No idea where he came up with that one. DMP’s been into the bourbon gummies again. )

  13. You’re kidding. The Rex8 is a no brainer. An easy fix. And a definite sweet drive- and seemingly no rust.

    This is not shitbox heaven like some here seem to pine for.

    My faith in folk here is being tested….

  14. If you take the engine out of the RX-8, you still have a modern and beloved Japanese sports car chassis. There is room for improvement for any interested gearhead.

    The New Yorker is an old lump of American cast iron…rather than having one glaring weak point, it has no strengths.

    1. Are you sure this isn’t reflexive and uncritical hatred of either Chrysler or Brougham era cars? No strengths? That interior looks super nice and the car seems well maintained. The styling is verging on classic and this example, if kept well, will appreciate while the RX8 will not.

      It’s an easy pick for the Chrysler. There’s plenty of other cars you can hoon.

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