New Car/Review

1997 DODGE STRATUS

By Tom Hagin

Dodge

SEE ALSO: Dodge Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 14,960
     Price As Tested                                    $ 18,140
     Engine Type                            2.4 Liter I4 w/SMPI*
     Engine Size                                  148cid/2429 cc
     Horsepower                                   150 @ 5200 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               165 @ 4000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  108.0"/71.7"/186.0"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     2948 Pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  16.0 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P195/70R14
     Brakes (F/R)                                      Disc/drum
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                 77 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.31

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            20/30/26
     0-60 MPH                                       10.6 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     17.9 seconds @ 78.5 mph
     Max towing capacity                             1500 pounds

     * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

When a car buyer has such divergent requirements as fun, fuel efficiency, easy driving and high carrying capacity, it's hard to find an inexpensive car to fill the bill. But Dodge's Stratus does all this at a reasonable price. A week behind the wheel of the new Stratus reaffirmed our faith in the resurrected Chrysler Corporation.

OUTSIDE - Stratus represents another step in the total overhaul of Chrysler, which began with products such as the Dodge Ram pickup, the Plymouth Neon and the Chrysler LH sedans. Stratus is a cab-forward, smooth shaped sedan, with a tall trunk and long, rounded nose. Though its outer dimensions are close to that of a compact, Stratus is classified by the EPA as a midsize car because of its 95 cubic feet of interior space. Plenty of glass means that occupants inside enjoy a good view, and its long wheelbase gives it a somewhat stretched look. With a 16 cubic-foot trunk, we could squeeze 13 grocery sacks inside without having to fold the rear seatback flat. Our base model wore wheelcovers on steel wheels, while uplevel ES models are fitted with alloys wheels.

INSIDE - Interior roominess and clever packaging defines the Stratus mission. There is ample room for four large adults, while five can be accommodated if necessary, without too much complaint from the rear center passenger. There is substantial head and legroom both up front and in back, which puts it close to the passenger-hauling capabilities of a full-sized sedan. Its controls and switches are well-placed, in logical order and simple to operate. Base Stratus models come standard with reclining front bucket seats, a lockable folding rear seatback, air conditioning, variable speed windshield wipers, tilt steering, a rear window defroster, and an AM/FM cassette stereo. We appreciated such niceties as rear seat heating and A/C vents, plus a well-placed resting pad for the driver's left foot. Our test car came fitted with a special options group which includes power windows, door locks and outside mirrors (also heated), along with floor mats and a height adjustment for the driver's seat.

ON THE ROAD - There are three powertrains available for the Stratus. The first, a 132-horsepower 2.0 liter four cylinder, comes only with a five-speed manual transmission. A Mitsubishi-built 2.5 liter V6 is standard in the top-line Stratus ES, while our test vehicle came equipped with a twin-cam 2.4 liter four cylinder engine, producing 150 horsepower and 165 lb-ft of torque. This American-built powerplant is shared by many Chrysler products and mates exclusively to a four-speed automatic transmission. Our feeling is that this is a good choice, since 150 horsepower is plenty to move this relatively lightweight vehicle. Even mated to an automatic, we were impressed with its ability to mesh with freeway traffic, without causing heart-stopping panic. By adding a new, stiffer oil pan to its four-cylinder engines, Dodge has decreased engine noise, which was a minor complaint until this year.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Using a short-and-long arm suspension system, Dodge suspension engineers have struck a nice balance between ride comfort and nimble handling, with lots of built-in wheel travel to absorb larger bumps. It remains poised with a resilient, absorbent ride, even over the most broken of pavement, including those bone-jarring highway expansion joints. Its chassis is solid and refined, and even gives a hint of performance, remaining flat during spirited driving. The base model's smallish tires don't give the adhesion of those fitted to the uplevel ES model, but that slight problem could easily addressed. Steering response is good, with a rack-and-pinion setup, along with a speed-sensing system which gives good road feel at speed, and makes turning the wheel at slow speeds easy. Its braking is adequate, utilizing front discs and rear drums, with an anti-lock braking system (ABS) as an option.

SAFETY - Dual airbags, side-impact beams and three-point seat belts are standard. An integrated rear child safety seat is optional.

OPTIONS - The Preferred Equipment Group costs $760, while the 2.4 liter four cylinder engine and four-speed automatic adds $1500 more.

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