Chrysler's premium luxury sedan, the 1999 LHS, offers a combination of style, features, and balance that is most unusual in its class. Where others strive to blend European sportiness with American space and character and fall short, the LHS succeeds. Thoroughly Chrysler in its bold styling, the LHS combines the space and comforts expected in an American luxury car with the road manners found in a European import.
Although the second-generation LHS is an evolutionary development of the car of the same name first introduced for the 1994 model year, little besides that name is unchanged. If the new LHS's bolder styling is the most obvious difference, the unseen changes are the most important. A more rigid chassis structure reduces noise levels and allows for improved suspension tuning, and an all-new high- output overhead cam aluminum V6 engine gives smooth, sophisticated performance.
Typically for today's Chrysler line, the LHS is priced to compete with competitor's "entry-luxury" lines. But nearly every comfort and convenience feature expected in a luxury car is included in the base price. The short option list is tailored to specific needs such as cold-weather operation and smokers (yes, the lighter and ashtray are now options), and upgraded wheels and stereo systems. This week's test car was delivered to me with no options at all. None were missed. If the price is at the low end of the luxury class, the LHS's equipment levels are solidly in the middle and its interior space compares favorably with many premium luxury cars. It is offered only with a V6 engine, not a "prestige" V8, but that V6 makes more power than some V8s found in more expensive luxury cars. There is no mistaking the LHS's origin -- it's an American luxury sedan through and through. But, it's a modern American luxury sedan that can hold its own against any competitor, including those costing $10,000 more. And it has styling and balanced performance that should appeal to the younger buyers courted by all domestic luxury manufacturers.
APPEARANCE: Is it futuristic or is it retro? Neither, really. Bold grilles have been a Chrysler styling hallmark since the 1950s, and the large, ovoid, egg-crate grille on the LHS keeps the tradition going. It has a similarity to the Italian-built Chrysler Corp. show cars of the early 1950s, perhaps. The kidney-shaped headlights are the latest in automotive fashion; the front fender line follows their contours. True to its "cab-forward" heritage, the new LHS is characterized by a long arched passenger cabin and short body overhangs. The formal rear window establishes continuity with the original LHS, but looks more integrated into the total design in the new car. The LHS is long, but not overly wide, which makes parking easier. That also makes it look compact when viewed directly from the front or rear.
COMFORT: The LHS's interior is contemporary with a slight nod to the past in the chrome-bezeled black-on-white instruments and analog clock. They provide contrast to the monochrome dark gray leather and synthetics of the seating and door trim, and the faux-wood trim. Its an interesting design that could look right out of the dark ages of "fine Corinthian leather" if done poorly. Large windows and careful design help prevent that. Both front and outboard rear seating areas are of perforated leather for some ventilation in warm weather. The comfortable front buckets are heated, and the driver's seat has two- person memory that includes mirror position and radio station memory. The hooded main instrument pod presents necessary information well, and important controls are logically-placed and easy to use. There are five vents on the dash for the climate control system, plus rear-seat vents at the end of the center console. Power accessories, plenty of storage spaces, and visors with extensions add to convenience. A driver information center mounted above the rearview mirror gives useful information. The rear seat provides as much space and comfort for the outboard passengers as is found in front; a third person can fit between them. The rear seat has a central armrest and ski-passthrough. The huge trunk has external struts to prevent crushed luggage.
SAFETY: The 1999 Chrysler LHS has 4-wheel antilock disc brakes and "Next-Generation" depowered front air bags.
ROADABILITY: The LHS shines in the ride and handling department. Its fully-independent strut-type suspension balances ride comfort and responsive handling better than some of the luxury imports. It's smooth and quiet, but surprisingly nimble, especially considering its size. Some American luxury cars can be fun to drive! The vehicle-speed proportional power steering is weighted very well for all speeds, and not too light for good control at highway speeds. The four-wheel antilock disc brakes stop surely.
PERFORMANCE: The LHS's new 3.5-liter single overhead cam, aluminum alloy V6 is a modern design with 253 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque. That's better than some competitor's V8s. Low-rpm torque is very good, giving the LHS very good acceleration from the low and medium speeds commonly encountered in American driving. The four-speed automatic transmission is smooth and quiet, and a good match for the engine.
CONCLUSIONS: The Chrysler LHS is an American luxury car for today's luxury car customers.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 28,950 Price As Tested $ 29,545 Engine Type aluminum alloy single overhead cam 24-valve V6 Engine Size 3.5 liters / 215 cu. in. Horsepower 253 @ 6400 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 255 @ 3950 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 113.0 in. / 207.7 in. Curb Weight 3579 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 14.1 Fuel Capacity 17 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded midrange (89 octane) preferred, unleaded regular (87 octane) acceptable Tires P225/55 R 17 Goodyear Eagle LS Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent Iso struts / independent Chapman struts Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 18 / 27 / 20 0 to 60 mph 8.0 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 16.1 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd 0.311 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Destination charge $ 595