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

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?

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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

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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

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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.

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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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05LGT
05LGT
2 years ago

The New Yorker is transportation. The Mazda is an exercise machine you keep in the garage.

Justin Rohde
Justin Rohde
2 years ago

1990 Chrysler New Yorker Landau, in that exact color blue, was my first car (but it was almost 10 years old at the time I inherited it). 16 year-old me driving that grandma-boat to and from highschool with three other friends. It wasn’t fast, the transmission was on its last legs, it leaned HARD on the highway off ramps, and it would overheat if you so much as looked at the Air Conditioner button, but dear god were those seats comfortable. I had the crushed velour, not the leather that this one has, but it was that same blue color.

Crazy to think a car like that was being built all the way into the early ’90s!

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
2 years ago

The Chrysler wins by forfeit. This RX-8 is an absolute dog turd. It is a particularly bad example of a lousy car. Plus, with the title issues, getting full insurance coverage could be challenging. You may not even be able to push it into a lake for the insurance money when it inevitably drives you nuts.

chad Face
chad Face
2 years ago

I owned an Rx8 for literally one monthba few years ago. I traded a shitbox $1k sequoia for it and sold it for a little over $4k. My overall impression is that I loved everything about the car except the wankle. Not much power, sucked gas, and I knew it was a ticking time bomb. But the actual car was great. I didn’t realize how handy the rear half doors are until I was putting a car seat in.

I still voted Rx8, assuming that I would set aside a couple grand for an LS swap. The Chrysler is just so boring. I’m falling asleep looking at the pictures

Nopithyusername
Nopithyusername
2 years ago

Didn’t Jason or David write something somewhere else about those Landau tops HAD to be there to cover the backyard way Chrysler changed the rear window rake? …found it: https://jalopnik.com/remember-the-past-was-garbage-chrysler-edition-1848363114

R W
R W
2 years ago

That New Yorker is pretty fuckin’ aesthetic and those seats look COMFY. I love Mazdas for sure, but if I’m in shitbox budget territory, that’s not a wise choice.

Nopithyusername
Nopithyusername
2 years ago

I see what’s wrong with that RX8 right there, the battery is disconnected. Sure connecting that will set everything right. Seriously tho, I was ok w RX8 until I saw that the title would end up as salvage or rebuilt. That’s more than a “missing” title. I guess I’ll take the New Yorker.

Evo_CS
Evo_CS
2 years ago

I almost voted New Yorker because I have a very weird obsession with taking a K car and turning it into a freak bosozoku/kaido racer kind of thing. But that is better suited to a Reliant or Aries. This one is too nice? I don’t know, but either way, not exactly a good starting point for my stupid idea.

RX-8 it is then, knowing full well that an engine swap (rotary? LS? K series? who knows?!) is a foregone conclusion. The rest of the car looks solid, so might as well make the most of it.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
2 years ago
Reply to  Evo_CS

I never knew I needed a thing until I read this comment. I can picture that thing perfectly in my mind’s eye.

We need the Professional Car Designer on this, STAT!!!

JerryLH3
JerryLH3
2 years ago

“Bought it new. Has babied that engine like you wouldn’t believe. And at 120k with a religious adherence to no silly revving, low RPMs till warmed up, always the right oil, and mostly highway miles? Yeah. Apex seals are barely holding up.”

I’m confused by the “religious adherence to no silly revving” part. Low RPMs until warm is obvious for an engine of any type, but if by no silly revving it means he has never taken it to redline regularly, that is part of the problem. The RENESIS is susceptible (like nearly all rotaries) to build up of carbon deposits. Regular high revving once the engine is warm can help keep the engine carbon free. Maintaining them is crucial, babying them is a recipe for disaster.

JohnTaurus
JohnTaurus
2 years ago
Reply to  JerryLH3

But that one guy had problems so they’re all junk no matter what!

Then you’ve got the UltraFail that has to be cared for and babied and repaired regularly but that’s okay because seats.

DerFahrt
DerFahrt
2 years ago
Reply to  JerryLH3

Honestly that whole schtick about gently driven irks me. I’ve seen gobs of data showing that running engines hard helps their longevity. Especially on new motors, there is a better mating surface between rings/cylinders if you hammer it early, change the oil, then drive “normally”.
Dad had an FC RX-7 in the 80s and although it’s not a Renesis, he wasn’t gentle on it and it never gave him issues except for how much fuel it required.

JerryLH3
JerryLH3
2 years ago

Currently, 59% of you have absolutely zero sense of adventure.

But yes, at that mileage, assuming it is the original engine, that is likely going to need a rebuild soon.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
2 years ago

I’ll live dangerously. I would never have an RX8 as a DD but I could use this to learn how to remove and rebuild a renesis.

J Edgar
J Edgar
2 years ago

New Yorker for me. There are a few cars that I have always wanted but will never buy, and the RX-8 is one of them. Based on my morning perusal of Craigslist (filtering only for manual transmission cars), there are always a few with bad apex seals or worse problems. Some look really nice, and they are all temptingly cheap, but even If you rebuild the engine or source a used mill, you still have a car that you can’t trust and that the market is sour on.

One of the other cars on that “never buy” list is the 986 Boxster, yet I bought one a few months ago because I found one in great shape, with low miles and a good backstory (pampered, one owner car with great service history, IMS/RMS done). It’s an amazing car, and a true joy to drive but within the first 500 miles it slipped a sleeve and the engine was toast. Now I’m into this car at about 18K after putting a used 35K mile engine in it and a new clutch while it was apart, so I can never sell it without taking a big loss. I’d seen countless 1st gen Boxsters with cracked heads, IMS failures, slipped sleeves, etc, on CL over the years but I thought I might be lucky and get a good one. Anyway, learn from my mistakes. There are certain cars with such notorious reputations that they should be avoided regardless of how cheap the point of entry is, and the RX-8 is probably one of them.

JohnTaurus
JohnTaurus
2 years ago
Reply to  J Edgar

I get what you’re saying, but is a 1990 Chrysler that much more reliable? And even if it is, it’s always going to be a 1990 Chrysler stretched K car with seats from a 1981 airport bar.

I have similar craigslist searches. Some for manual transmission only. Some for 1999- or 1995-and-older only.

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
2 years ago

The auto enthusiast in me wants the RX-8.

But the geriatric curmudgeon in me wants to arrive at my destination without an engine rebuild or apex seal replacement.

Genewich
Genewich
2 years ago

Both of these are bad. If I’m going brougham, I need RWD and I need mass. I don’t need a K car in drag.

T Beam
T Beam
2 years ago

I had a ’90 Dodge Dynasty, which was the same platform as that New Yorker, with the 2.5l 4 banger. For what it was, it wasn’t a totally horrible car for someone fresh out of college. Bought it used, it was a fleet car for an insurance company. It ended up getting totaled when I got t-boned by an ’89 Lincoln. Amazingly I walked away without a scratch.

Dave Horchak
Dave Horchak
2 years ago

Yeah you’re doing it right

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
2 years ago

I feel like a bad Jalop- I mean Autopianer- for voting for the K car over a rotary sports car. But the fancy LeBaron runs like it should and doesn’t have a shady title.

S13 Sedan
S13 Sedan
2 years ago

Easy choice, RX-8 all day. A good condition New Yorker is interesting but FWD Malaise Era American cars do absolutely nothing for me and I have no interest in owning any of them. The RX-8 will need work soon/right now but once it’s fixed it will be tons more fun to drive than the New Yorker could ever dream of being.

Tommy Helios
Tommy Helios
2 years ago

I know the used car market is crazy and all but I wouldn’t drop more than 500-1k on either of these. Maybe it is the permanent malaise of the rust belt but you can find better cars cheaper on FB marketplace all day here.

That being said if I am so broke that I am picking one of these I would take the Chrysler, sell all my shit, park at a planet fitness and sleep better on those seats than in my own bed.

Hangover Grenade
Hangover Grenade
2 years ago

I think either is a cool base for an LS swap.

jwarren
jwarren
2 years ago

RX-8 with a turbo K series is a back burner wish of mine, so I voted accordingly. Take $1500 cash, drive or trailer it home, and start tearing the rotary out.

Mike S
Mike S
2 years ago

New Yorker for sure. It’s just modestly grand in that old-fashioned sorta way. Plus I want to sink into those plush comfy leather seats!

Segador
Segador
2 years ago

That New Yorker would be like lazily driving a stick of butter across a warm pan, and would likely produce similar smells. Those seats look like you’d sink an easy 6-8 inches into them. I’d worry about falling asleep driving it.

I’d still take it over the RX-8.

Duke of Kent
Duke of Kent
2 years ago

I’m somewhat new to this game, so I might not be playing it with the same mindset as others. I am not a man for whom the word “wrench” is a verb, so I usually scroll right by these articles about cars that need tons of work. But I’ve often wondered, in The Crazy Used Car Market™ what I might do if my car were to be totaled and I had to rush out to find a replacement — and that’s pretty much the situation where I’d consider a car like these. Just reading headlines for the past several months, I’m somewhat surprised to see any running driving cars for under $5k, so that’s somewhat encouraging.

I like the RX-8 a lot, and I’m not scared off by the emissions issues (my state no longer has an emissions test requirement), but the hot start issues are a big strike against it, and then the title issues are a deal killer. The DMV is a nightmare when everything goes right, so I’d hate to deal with it when there’s a snag in the process.

I was lukewarm on the New Yorker until I saw the interior. Those seats look VERY comfortable, and it reminds me of the car driven by a girl I dated when I was in high school (predictably, she got it from her grandma). The fact that it runs well enough to be a daily driver is encouraging. While Chryslers of that era weren’t designed to last more than a few years, the fact that this one has made it this long gives me enough encouragement that, with just a bit of car, it can continue to last at least long enough until I can get behind the wheel of something that I really want.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
2 years ago

I’ve been looking for a cheap truck to use as an occasional weekend hauler.
But, truck prices…
Looking at that Chrysler’s trunk has got me thinking. Sans back seats I think that just might do.
I’ll go with the New Yorker.

Tommy Helios
Tommy Helios
2 years ago

2wd V/I6 5 speed single cab long bed obs Chevy or Ford is the answer. You can find them needing some work but solid for 2k across most of the country still.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
2 years ago

You’d be better to buy an old Chrysler minivan – stow and go for the win!

JohnTaurus
JohnTaurus
2 years ago
Reply to  Mr. Canoehead

Your definition of old is curious.

Raj S
Raj S
2 years ago

If you get out of the Toyota circlejerk there are actually some solid options from the early-mid 90s. I picked up a 91k mile 94 b4000 4×4, 98% rust free, for $5200 a few months ago. It needed a new battery, shifter cable, filters cleaned, and a leak fixed in the fuel pump. $1k later and it’s perfect and my daily driver. That’s cheaper than the tires it came with.

You can find Ford rangers with $150k miles and rwd (usually with the 3.0 Vulcan, which is terrible but reliable), for around $4k pretty easily.

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