In 1980, the American automobile industry started a recovery from the paralysis produced brought about by the anti-pollution regulations and fuel and economic crises. Buyers' attention turned towards compacts, while even the "standard" models became lighter, less-bulky, and above all, less-thirsty.
The Chrysler Corporation, deep in financial trouble by 1980, announced its front-drive 'K Cars', seemingly late in the day for the small US car race, but there was little doubt the corporation was depending very much on the new downsized models to get back in the black. America's No. 3 manufacturer had opted for a compromise wheelbase, aimed between the Ford E and the General Motors' X, the actual length being 8.30 ft (2.531 metres). Chassis layout was conventional by 1980 standards - MacPherson struts at the front, and a tubular dead axle at the rear on coil springs. Rack and pinion steering (with power on option) has been adopted, and braking is by discs and drums.
For their first front-drive car Chrysler followed fashion, mounting the engine transversely with gearbox mounted at the end of the crankshaft, but their four-cylinder motor was entirely new. With cast iron block and light alloy head the engine had an overhead camshaft driven by a flexible cog-belt, and the parallel valves had hydraulic tappets for minimum attention. With 'under square' bore/stroke dimensions of 87.5x92 mm, the 2213 cc engine was obviously designed to have good combustion characteristics, and with a modest compression ratio of 8.8: 1 developed 85 bhp SAE (about 63.38 kW). For the buyer who fancied more power, Chrysler also offered an optional 93 bhp (69.35 kW) Mitsubishi four-cylinder motor of 2555 cc, availlable with four-speed manual gearbox or three-speed automatic.
The 1980 K cars were marketed in the USA through the Dodge and Plymouth dealer network, and initially were offered as four-door 'notchback' saloon (sedan), two-door coupe, and five-door station wagon. Both the Aries and the Reliant were 14.66 ft (4.47 metres) long, weighed from 2231 Ib (1012 kg) to 2390 Ib (1084 kg), replacing the Volare/Aspen models. Chrysler's claimed city fuel consumption figures of 30.05 mpg Imp (9.4 lit/1 00 km) and highway consumption 3t 48.87 mpg Imp (5.78 lit/100 km) helped give impetus to sales.
'Erika' may be Ford's first 'world car', but the Company was quick to evolve US versions of the new front-drive, all-independently-sprung model, marketing them as Escort and Lynx through Ford and Mercury dealers. Differences between the 'European' and US cars were slight (unlike the Chrysler Horizon) for the 'Made in the USA' Ford used the same chassis and suspension, but in the American manner power steering was an option. Engines for the US Escort and Lynx were manufactured in America, the then new four-cylinder CVH motors having hydraulic tappets, and capacities of 1.3 or 1.6 litres. The compression ratio was lower for both motors at 8.8: 1, and with three-way anti-pollution catalytic converter, plus exhaust gas recirculating valve, their maximum power outputs were reduced to around 58 bhp SAE and 69 bhp respectively (43.25 and 51.45 kW).
The US cars differed from the 'Europeans' in that they utilised the four-speed transaxle made by Toyo Kogyo of Japan (for their Mazda 323), with the option of a Ford built three-speed split-torque automatic that was subsequently used for European Fords in 1981. Designated 'Split Torque' the new Ford automatic incorporated a complex series of clutches and planetary gears which gave a claimed mechanical torque ratio of 62 per cent in second gear, and 93 per cent in third - much improved figures over a normal torque-converter automatic. Ford claimed their new automatic gained 2-4 mpg (0.5-1.0 lit/100 km) compared to a 'conventional' automatic. Ford and Mercury ranges were offered with four levels of trim and equipment, two types of body being used. There was a three-door hatchback and a five-door station wagon, and both differed from their European counterparts.
Drag figures were notably inferior at 0.43, allthough superior to US rivals. Another difference with the US-built cars was to be found in the bodyside panels which were not stamped from a single steel sheet as in Europe, the reason being that the US presses could not carry out such an operation. At 13.68 ft (4.17 metres) the US cars were 7.87 in (20 cm) longer than the European Escort, but they weighed some 500 Ib (227 kg) less than the Pinto and Bobcat which they replaced. Sporting derivatives were designated Escort SS and Lynx RS, but the differences were merely cosmetic, both cars having the standard engines.