Street-Spotted: Plymouth Laser RS ​​Turbo

It’s hard to process today that not long ago Chrysler Corporation offered several small sporty coupes from no fewer than four of its brands.

But that’s where we were in the early 1990s with Dodge, Eagle, Chrysler, and Plymouth models, as the automaker fought a battle against Japanese passenger cars of all sizes. And the early 1990s were arguably the last time we saw such a variety from Chrysler with models targeting the same and slightly overlapping segments.

While Dodge had staked much of the 1980s on the Daytona, production of which didn’t end until 1993 and which was also sold as the Chrysler Laser for a time, the other parts of the company were already looking ahead.

In 1989 Plymouth, which had been without a sports car for a couple of years since the product cycles of the Conquest and Turismo had ended, revealed the sleek and futuristic Laser, presenting a compact coupe intended to revitalize the brand’s more athletic side.

The slimmer light design only lasted for the first two models years: 1990 and 1991.

Introduced at the start of 1989 as a 1990 model, the Laser was paired closely with the Diamond-Star Motors siblings Mitsubishi Eclipse and Eagle Talon, with all three sharing the same basic front fascia pop-up headlights and relatively few cosmetic differences. Despite its modest footprint, the Laser and its siblings featured a 2+2 layout and relatively short overhangs, combined with some cargo capacity out back.

“This is the Laser, the first Plymouth of the ’90s, and it’s all new from the ground up,” ad copy of the time proclaimed. “Take the wheel and feel the excitement. Plymouth’s tradition of value and customer satisfaction offer you the driving refinement of Laser at an affordable price.”

Plymouth served up three trims at launch, all with front-wheel drive, and the base Laser came with a 1.8-liter inline-four good for 92 hp, while the Laser RS ​​offered a choice of the same engine or a slightly more serious 2.0 -liter 16-valve inline-four good for 135 hp.

Above the Laser RS ​​sat the RS Turbo variant, which dialed things up to 195 hp, representing the top of the FWD menu. That’s the model we spotted earlier this year, and you’ll note it’s the early version—the Laser and its siblings were redesigned for 1992, losing the pop-up headlights and gaining a new front fascia. Rare for this segment, an all-wheel-drive version of the Laser was offered when the 1992 model year rolled around, starting at $16,853 and badged as the RS Turbo AWD.

It was the most expensive Laser at the time, with the base model starting just below $11,000. Remember when cars cost this much?

plymouth laser rs turbo

The Laser offered very trendy styling for the time, arriving on sale in early 1989.

“Together with standard power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes, five-speed manual overdrive transaxle, dual remote control outside mirrors, tilt steering column and cloth reclining front bucket seats, Laser delivers more fun for the money and goes beyond what you’d Normally expect,” the automaker promised. “That’s why the critics are raving about Laser’s exciting looks and electrifying performance.”

The critics did rave about the Laser, with the model making Car and Driver’s Ten Best for several years, starting in 1989.

But when it came to sales, the Plymouth version of this platform followed a pretty steep downward trajectory starting with the first model year, which also explains why you don’t see these too often.

Sales peaked for 1990 with just over 42,000 sold, but declined to just under 15,000 for 1993. The 1994 model year would be the Laser’s last, and it ended being cut short as Diamond-Star Motors readied the next-gen model that Eagle and Mitsubishi would receive, but Plymouth would not.

plymouth laser rs turbo

The Mitsubishi Eclipse and the Eagle Talon can still be spotted on the street with some effort, as they remain in enthusiast hands, but the Plymouth version appears to be rarer.

In hindsight, it’s pretty clear the Plymouth version was easily upstaged by the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Eagle Talon, with those two models being the best sellers of the trio. The Plymouth version, on the other hand, now seems aimed at merely giving Plymouth dealers something to sell.

For Plymouth, the Laser also ended up being the last small and sporty coupe that didn’t have a sedan variant. Fortunately for Plymouth dealers, the Neon arrived shortly after production of the Laser ended, ushering in a new era of small cars for the automaker.

While you still might see an Eagle Talon in traffic today, spotting a Plymouth Laser seems like a taller order, at least outside of club gatherings awash in rare Diamond-Star Motors cars. And that’s why spotting this one seemed like a special occasion.

Have you seen a Plymouth Laser on the street in recent years, or do you know anyone who had one back in the day? Let us know in the comments below.

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