Design, innovation, and technology in automobiles have advanced dramatically over several decades, but the 1980s saw some of the most pivotal shifts in the industry. The era introduced a new wave of original thinking, with innovations like carburetors and cassette players kicked to the curb. On the other hand, features such as turbocharging, fuel injection, four-wheel steering, computerized SatNav, CD players and airbags became common.
The 1980s also saw automakers struggle to balance impressive performance with compliance with tightening emissions, speed limits, and safety regulations. At the same time, the then-advanced construction and manufacturing procedures meant automakers were producing more reliable and durable cars with better build quality and easier maintenance than in previous decades. If you’re in the market for a used car, here’s a list of reliable cars from the ’80s that you can use as a daily driver.
10/10 Audi 100
The arrival of the Audi 100 C3 model marks the departure of the two-door coupe model, leaving customers with the four-door sedan and newly introduced 100 Avant. The Audi 1000 set a design trend with its striking aerodynamic appearance, flush windows, thick black side door molding, and black window frames.
The engine range consists of 2.1-litre and 2.2-litre in five variants boasting between 100 and 220 hp, equipped with Audi’s revolutionary quattro system, all-wheel drive and optional turbocharging. The Audi 100 has taken a giant leap forward with its Procon-Ten safety system and galvanized steel construction for longevity and rust resistance.
9/10 Ford Taurus SHO
Famous for saving Ford from the brink of bankruptcy in the early 1980s, the Taurus blew everyone’s minds with its futuristic design. Despite the tightening regulations of the era, Ford offered the iconic high-performance SHO (Super High Output) version at a discount.
Ford teamed up with Yamaha to create a 3.0-liter Vulcan V6 with 220 horsepower that made the Taurus SHO one of the most powerful front-wheel-drive cars out there. Besides being an unparalleled performance sedan from the era, the Japanese engine and Ford’s excellent build quality also add to the Taurus SHO’s appeal.
8/10 Volvo 240 series
The untrained eye might view the Volvo 240 series as a simple, boring, boxy and limited range of cars, but keen gear-heads understand the legend of this Swedish sleeper. Sold as a two-door sedan (242), four-door sedan (244), and wagon (245), the 240 Series revolutionized its versatility in safety to become one of the safest models in every class.
Admittedly, early 1980s models are prone to rust, and there really isn’t any compelling reason to buy them. In contrast, later models from 1985 offer more attractive and more solid engines with proven success in motorsport, not forgetting better durability after Volvo introduced galvanized body panels.
7/10 Mercedes-Benz W124 Series
Before Mercedes-Benz introduced its venerable E-Class, there was the nameless and ubiquitous W124 series, arguably one of the finest models the three-star brand had ever made. Despite the modest appearance, the W124 series set an impressive standard for engineering and design, adopting all the sporty, compact elements of the W201.
Throughout the 1980s, the W124 chassis housed several four-, five- and six-cylinder engine variants, with the arrival of the 4MATIC automatically assisted all-wheel drive system in 1985. Without Audi, BMW, and Lexus to compete, Mercedes engineers built a series of versatile and unrivaled models. Indestructible and performance-oriented with an impressively long lifespan.
6/10 Acura Integra
The first-generation Integra made its mark in the mid-1980s as one of the best front-wheel-drive compact cars money can buy. Besides sporty design touches and distinctive pop-up headlights, the Integra has enhanced its appeal with outstanding achievements and accolades in IMSA motorsports competitions.
Acura sold Integra models in RS and LS trims, equipped with either a 1.6-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine rated at 113 horsepower or 118 horsepower, depending on the model year. Thanks to Acura’s ties to the Honda brand, it’s no surprise that first-generation Integra models are of excellent quality and remain reliable.
5/10 Jeep Cherokee
The 1980s saw the Jeep Cherokee downsize from a full-size SUV to a compact crossover, ditching the body-on-frame to a lightweight unibody design. The Cherokee XJ revolutionized the SUV segment, introducing the first four-door compact SUV configuration and the first full-time 4X4 system.
Since Jeep built the first generation Cherokee XJ models to take a beating and keep rolling, it has built a respected reputation for reliability and low maintenance costs. Interestingly, the second-generation Cherokee is likely to outlast more recent iterations despite the advances in comfort and technology.
4/10 Pontiac 6000 STE
With the 6000 STE, Pontiac attempted to bring back the American tradition of performance improvement full-size cars that defined the 1960s. In addition to the distinctive two-tone paint and six-light grille, suspension and styling tweaks carried over from its European A-body style cousins have allowed the 6000 STE to stand head and shoulders above its competitors.
Under the hood sits Chevy’s 2.8-liter V-6, mated to a three-speed automatic transmission to produce 130 horsepower. Although most Pontiac models from that era are remarkably reliable, the 6000 STE models from 1986 are more desirable because of their retuned suspension, quicker steering, anti-lock brakes, and all-wheel drive.
3/10 Lexus LS400
Arriving in the late 1980s, the LS 400 rocked the luxury car market with unparalleled levels of luxury, quality, and technology. Lexus introduced the flagship LS model with groundbreaking features such as SRS airbags, motor-driven automatic tilt and telescope, power-adjustable shoulder seat belts, electroluminescent instrument clusters, and power rearview mirrors.
The first-generation LS 400 features a 4.0-liter 1UZ-FE V-8 engine that Lexus pairs with a four-speed automatic transmission to produce 250 horsepower. The extraordinary refinement of technology makes the LS 400 ahead of its time, but its most important quality is Lexus’ reliable character.
2/10 Porsche 944
Despite being one of the most iconic Porsches of all time, the 944 was still one of the most underrated sports cars of its era. Porsche has provided the 944 with impeccable design, reliable powertrain, near perfect weight distribution, ample trunk space and impressive handling characteristics.
The 944 debuted a 2.5-liter inline-four with 143 hp, and Porsche later upgraded it in 1985 to include a rare turbocharged version producing 217 hp. As one of the best sports cars from the 1980s, this well-maintained Porsche 944 delivers driving entertainment and excellent reliability with routine maintenance.
1/10 BMW E28 M5
The first M5 was the benchmark for all performance sedans of the time, allowing BMW to break through and dominate the executive sedan segment. Streamlined limousine design cues aside, the E28 M5 was a factory-built luxury sleeper with rugged sporting credentials and superior everyday practicality.
BMW has equipped the E28 M5 with a 3.5-liter, six-cylinder engine that develops 286 horsepower. By comparison, the 911 Carrera 3.2 made 234 horsepower, while the Ferrari 328 made 270 horsepower, meaning the M5’s performance was outrageous for a four-door sedan.
Sources: Volvo Newsroom, Jeep site.