In '85, Chrysler decided to bring in a replacement for the Omni/Horizon. It never happened.
Even though it was only .1 inches shorter in wheelbase than the K cars, it was called a subcompact, and had aerodynamic styling (which covered its lack of aerodynamics!) and was shorter in length than the K.
When it was first announced, Chrysler said it would have a 1.8 liter derivative of the popular 2.2. This never happened, possibly because Iaccoca balked at the development costs for a new engine, possibly because the heavy car would have been too sluggish with the 1.8. It was designed to have a sporty appearance, leaving the family sedan role to other cars.
The Plymouth Sundance / Dodge Shadow appeared in the fall of 1986, and looked just like the LeBaron GTS and Lancer (H-bodies). The P-bodies were hatchbacks: the trunk lid moved up with the rear window glass to reveal a large storage space. There was room for a full-sized spare, or a mini-spare with room for tools. They had high ground clearance and traditional, straight front seats.
The Shadow and Sundance were economy cars, but when Chrysler decided to extend the life of the Omni/Horizon, they made the first P-bodies more upscale. A March 1996 Industry Week article reported that the P cost $600 million to develop (about $300 million less than the "cloud cars" of 1996), and were designed to be "upscale subcompacts" to compete with the Cavalier, Escort, Accord (!), and Corolla SR-5.
The target market was first-time and female buyers, and there was a deliberate attempt to make the styling similar to the then-popular LeBaron GTS/Lancer. Chrysler engineers claimed to have paid particular attention to ride, comfort, and handling.
In 1990, the P-bodies were given new computer-controlled instrument panels, which replaced the cable-driven speedometer.
The P-bodies' character changed depending on their color. Beige added an aura of luxury, white a "fleet car" appearance, and red a sportier look. In later years, there were two interior colors: a light grey and a light beige. The dashboard trim was light grey, black (in base models until 1993), or a "wood grain" plastic.
The rare five-speed transmission didn't have a smooth clutch, though it improved over the years; shifting became easier and getting into reverse became possible. Still, a five-speed P-body clutch is not smooth. (Turbo versions might have a Getrag transmission. You can tell by the R position: Chrysler puts it by 5th, Getrag and VW to the left of 1).
Some called the Sundance a 1990s Valiant, because of the upright driving position, slant-six derived 2.2/2.5 engines, and its sales niche. Chrysler seemed to think there was some relationship - they named the performance version "Duster."
Consumers' Guide rated the Sundance/Shadow as a best buy due to its price/performance ratio. That other consumer reporting magazine did not like it for essentially silly reasons, such as the foot-operated emergency brake. Few ordered the manual transmission, and those who did knew about the brake!
Edmunds' Used Car Book wrote a positive review, though it focused on the V-6 models. They reported a braking distance (60-0) of 160 feet and roadholding of .80 g; we don't know if this is for the 4-cylinder or the V6 (the difference: 14" vs 15" wheels, a stiffer ride and beefier sway bars, and slightly slippery Eagle GAs rather than very slippery Invictas). Edmund's gives the 1993 Sundance an 8.1 for safety and a 7.5 overall.
Trivia point: the Shadow/Sundance, though it is usually called a P body, is actually an AP body. Chrysler started to add A to model designations in the 1980s, but few people used the extra A on any series except the AA (Spirit/Acclaim/Saratoga/LeBaron GTS) , and that was to avoid confusion with the Valiant/Dart/Demon/Duster/Twister/etc.
The 2.2 TBI engine revs more easily, but the 2.5 provides more low-end torque. (The V-6 is out of either one's class in terms of low end torque and high end power).The 2.5 engine is good for low-end torque but really runs out of breath too quickly. It is the opposite of the Neon, which has poor low-end power but really hurtles itself down the road once you pass 2800 or so rpm (the maximum torque of the 2.5). This car really needs SMPI and a good air path.
There is not much you can do to enhance the 2.2/2.5 liter (non-turbo) engine performance at a reasonable price. Nor are there many handling improvements.
If you want to improve both performance and gas mileage, try disabling the automatic a/c switch that puts the compressor on whenever you use the defroster. This trick gives you manual control for it.
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