When the Dodge Stealth first hit the streets back in 1991, it was hailed as a supercar for the mass market, a technology-packed high-performance machine offered at a sensible price. The top-of-the-line Stealth R/T Turbo's list of features - a twin-turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive, 4-wheel steering and more - looked to have been pirated from a European exotic with a 6-figure price tag. And, though short of high-tech goodies, the more basic models delivered high style for even less money.
The name also provoked a fair amount of fun. This car is about as stealthy as a cheetah at a cat show. But the shape is incredibly sexy and undeniably unique.
Nevertheless, this car's position in the competitive environment has changed. Today's Stealth has crept up the cost ladder to the point where it is beyond the reach of many would-be buyers. Moreover, some of its more exotic fitments - among them the 4-wheel steering - have been superseded by other, simpler stability-enhancing chassis components.
In fact, 4-wheel steering has all but disappeared from the few brands that ever offered it. Judging by buyer response, it was a high-tech answer to a question no one ever asked.
All-wheel drive and turbocharging have lost some of their luster as well; the number of automobile manufacturers offering or even considering the use of such devices has declined dramatically in the last few years.
None of which should be taken to mean that today's Stealth is lacking in appeal. Performance is performance, no matter how it is produced, and the Stealth's eye-catching shape, well-conceived at the start, still draws attention. And, as always, it is difficult to find fault with the amenities provided. Even if the state of the performance-car art has changed, Dodge's Mitsubishi-built supercoupe generally delivers what its exciting looks seem to promise.
The model we tested was an R/T Turbo equipped with leather seats, 18-in. chrome wheels and a CD player, all of which brought the sticker price to $41,115.
Driven gently, all Stealths are very pleasant cars. Each is quiet, rides smoothly and demands little effort from its pilot. If your driving routine consists primarily of commuting and easy open-road motoring, the midlevel R/T will be your best choice. It provides enough power for most conditions, is relatively economical and can be ordered with a fine 4-speed automatic transmission in place of the standard 5-speed manual.
Those who have become accustomed to rear-drive sports coupes will find they have to make a few minor adjustments to adapt to the front-drive R/T. Engine torque tugs at the steering wheel during hard acceleration, and the front wheels are the first to lose grip when the Stealth's cornering limits are exceeded. These are the natural results of channeling power through the front wheels of a heavy car.
For more aggressive use, the R/T Turbo is the way to go. All-wheel drive increases traction and eliminates the aforementioned wheel tugging. With an extra 100 hp under the hood, the Turbo accelerates far more rapidly than its non-turbo stablemates, and takes to slick or twisting roads with much more enthusiasm.
The elements of high weight, a relatively small engine and the natural characteristics of turbocharging all combine to require a certain amount of finesse from the driver if the available horsepower is to be fully exploited. There is some delay between right foot pressure and turbo boost buildup, but it can be minimized by keeping rpms high.
Attention has obviously been paid to minimizing wind and road noise: The Stealth's cockpit is quiet enough for the longest trips. And the steering is excellent. So are the brakes. An anti-lock braking system is standard on the R/T Turbo and optional on the base and R/T; it should be ordered, as it completes a near-flawless system.
Not so pleasant is the shift linkage attached to the R/T Turbo's 6-speed manual transmission. It is less precise and requires more effort than we'd expect from a car in this class.
Base version aside, the Stealth is a satisfying driver's car under any conditions. Some adaptation may be necessary before you're totally comfortable in the R/T Turbo, but the re-wards make the learning process worthwhile.
It's a buyer's market in Stealth-land. Sales have been slow, due in large part to the availability of lower-priced, more nimble alternatives (the Mitsubishi Eclipse/Eagle Talon, for example), and to formidable direct competitors. The Toyota Supra and Mazda RX-7 are just two of the outstanding sports cars available in this segment.
Still, the Dodge Stealth has its attractions, and a friendly dealer may well be willing to cut the price to a degree that puts it within your means.