New Car/Review

Dodge

The Dodge Intrepid ES, Another Home Run from the Dodge Boys

by Larry Weitzman

Daimler/Chrysler Full Line factory footage (39:14) 28.8, 56k or 200k Part 1 and 200k Part 2

I remember my grandfather trading in his 1938 Dodge on a new 1949 Dodge Coronet. It was a gray four door with a 230 cubic inch (3.8L) flat head inline six that put out about 103 gross horsepower at about 3,600 rpm. It had a four-speed semi automatic transmission that normally started in third gear and shifted to fourth by lifting your foot off the accelerator. It was called gyro-matic.

I thought it was really neat, but so would any five year old. I imagine the only way it would do 0-60 would be if it made a right turn on the Golden Gate Bridge or inside a 747 during takeoff. All acceleration runs were timed by a calendar and we called it the gutless wonder. OK, so it wasn't fast, but it road well.

The new second generation Dodge Intrepid also rides well, very well, but it also looks like a show car, handles like an Indy car and runs like a scalded dog on steroids.

I first saw the new Intrepid in 1996 at Monterey when I told a Chrysler engineer that they ought to build the show car that was on display, and his reply was, "they are". They did and it's called the Intrepid ES.

The styling looks as if the boys at Dodge decided to create a four-door Viper. The short hood and integrated headlights flow into the heavily flared front fenders and large steeply raked windshield. The A, B and C pillars arch into the roof line in a continuous curve and into the midriff-high short rear deck. It is handsome.

The car is also new on the inside. The dash is exquisite. Large black on white gauges, which have some of the slickest panel lighting around, are contained in a pod directly in front of the driver. Tach and speedo are left and right flanked by smaller fuel and temp gauges. Within the pod are warning lights that monitor about every system within the vehicle.

The electronic A/C is to the right and below is the wonderful Infiniti Sound system. My test car had the single play C/D-cassette and sounded superb. They looked great and worked even better. The C/D was exceptionally clean and you could definitely pump up the volume. Melissa Etheridge never sounded better.

The cloth front seats (leather is a $1,000 option that I would choose) were large and with the full power for driver and passenger (a good buy at $380) you could adjust them to fit any body. The shape and firmness were just right. I could spend hours in that driver's seat without fatigue. The rear fits three six-footers in sublime comfort. Leg room doesn't get any bigger unless you get a limo or an S class Mercedes. Cab forward design does give one the impression of the front of the cab being very far away if you're sitting in the rear seat. It feels huge.

If you need more room, you could also put three more people in the truck, laying down flat on their back. It's that big. Too bad drive-in movies aren't popular anymore, because three or four people could definitely get in via the trunk route. If you need more room such as Shaq wanting to take a nap, the rear seat backs do fold down.

All the materials used in the interior have a high quality feel, such as the dash and the door paneling. Control stalks, knobs and fabrics have a certain richness.

The engines are all new. There is a DOHC 2.7L pumping out 200 hp V-6 at 5,800 rpm and a SOHC 24 valve 3.2L V-6 that puts out 225 hp at 6,300 rpm and 225 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 rpm. My test vehicle had the more powerful 3.2L unit. This new engine is more refined and smoother than the 3.5L it replaces. It is 30% cleaner and 10% more fuel-efficient than the old powerplant. Power is delivered through a front wheel transaxle.

When you bury the go pedal into the carpet, this engine just sings. It sprinted from 0-60 in 8.9 seconds. The high revving V-6 produced sizzling passing times of 5.1 seconds going from 50-70. Going up hill only slows the time to about 7.3 seconds.

The engine loves rpm (at continuous full throttle it stays in each gear until 6,300 rpm) and the autostick 4-speed electronic automatic allows the driver to pick and choose the appropriate gear for any situation. Aside from the usual "D" position, the floor mounted shifter can be put into auto stick by bring the lever fully back. The indicator on the dash will then indicate what gear the transmission is in. To shift the tranny, the driver flicks the lever to the right to upshift and to the left to down shift, with the dash indicator advising you of your choice.

It takes a little getting used to, but once mastered, it is great fun. When you need a little more power such as to pass going up a hill, flooring the accelerator is not necessary to elicit a downshift. Just flick the lever left and you instantly get the next lowest gear and apply go pressure as necessary. The powertrain is sweet and my test car has the addition feature of standard traction control (full throttle, however, can still chirp the front tires at a standing start).

In full automatic, the transmission shifts are imperceptible and seamless, but when in auto sick, it shifts with authority and crispness depending upon throttle pressure. It definitely adds to the fun and character of the Intrepid.

Fuel economy is rated 19/29 city highway. The trip computer was a about only 18 mpg during my test day. I must admit it was difficult to resist heavy application of the throttle during extensive play time with the autostick. I would estimate at least 22-24 mpg in restrained County driving and 30 mpg plus on the highway. With a 17-gallon fuel capacity, your highway range could exceed 500 miles before you have to push.

In the ride and handling department, the Intrepid also gets high marks. Ponderosa Road's washboard and coarse surface did not intrude upon the driver or passenger. Bumps in the curve caused no movement of the rear end as the state of the art fully independent set up absorbed everything the road could dish out. Large undulations and bumps are soaked up without any heaving and wallow.

Bass Lake, Green Valley and Carson Road puts the Intrepid into its real element, the twisties. It loves to be driven. Steering is accurate with great off center feel. There is no torque steer even at full throttle. Transitions are linear and smooth, but when pushed hard it will show its predictable understeer. Even though its exterior dimensions are large (203.7 inches long on a 113 inch wheelbase), it feels very light on its feet and nimble. 16 inch alloy wheels and Goodyear Eagle 225/60 series tires offer great grip.

The standard four-wheel disc brakes with ABS provided powerful, sure stops.

My test vehicle had a list price of $22,640. Add $370 for the C/D cassette stereo with Infinity speakers, $20 for the smoker's package (smoking sure is getting expensive), $380 for the power seats, and $1170 for the quick order package (includes AC, alarm, trip computer, traction control and many other wanted items). Required California Emission controls are $200 and destination is $550. The total was $25,330.

The base Intrepid, which comes standard with most options such at four wheel disc brakes, full power expect for the seats and the 2.7L DOHC 200 hp V-6 lists for $19,890 plus destination of $550. The only option I would recommend would be the antilock braking system ($600) and upgrade the radio system. Nicely equipped at about $21,000 and the EPA fuel economy rating is a penny-pinching 21/30 mpg city/highway.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price                        $19,890 to about $26,000
                             (with destination)
Engine
   2.7L DOHC, 24 valve
   V-6                      200 hp @ 5,800 rpm
                            190 lb-ft of torque @ 4,850 rpm
   3.2L SOHC, 24 valve
   V-6                      225 hp @ 6,300 rpm
                            225 lb-ft of torque @ 3,800 rpm
Transmission
                            4 speed electronically
                            controlled automatic with
                            autostick 

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase                   113.0 inches
Length                      203.7 inches
Width                       74.7  inches
Height                      55.9  inches
Curb Weight                 3521  pounds
Fuel Capacity               17.0  gallons

PERFORMANCE

0-60                        8.9   seconds
50-70                       5.1   seconds
50-70 (uphill)              7.3   seconds
                            Top SpeedI'll bet the farm that	
                            it would be curtailed 
                            by the speed limiter or the 
                            CHP at or below 119 mph
Fuel Economy                EPA 19/29 mpg (3.2L)
                            EPA 21/30 mpg (2.7L)
                            My estimate 22+ mpg in El Dorado
                            County and 30+ mpg at a steady
                            65 mph 

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