New Car Review

1996 PLYMOUTH BREEZE

by Tom Hagin

Breeze Picture
SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 14,060
     Price As Tested                                    $ 17,055
     Engine Type                             2.0 Liter I4 w/EFI*
     Engine Size                                 122 cid/1996 cc
     Horsepower                                   132 @ 6000 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               129 @ 5000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   108.0"/71.0"/186.0
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3145 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                                 87 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.31

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            22/31/28
     0-60 MPH                                       10.2 seconds
     1/4 mile (E.T.)                       17.9 seconds @ 80 mph
     Top Speed (Est.)                                        N/A
     * Electronic fuel injection

The Plymouth division of Chrysler has long suffered an identity crises, living in the shadow of its parent. It was even rumored last year that the marque would be dropped after almost 70 years in business.

Fortunately, Plymouth has received a stay of execution, and its new Breeze midsized sedan, a functional clone of the Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Cirrus, represents a new direction for the company.

In an effort to increase Plymouth brand awareness, the company has launched a multimedia blitz with "Plymouth Place," an interactive showroom currently being built at 98 shopping malls in 40 metropolitan areas. Cars won't be sold there, however, but instead displayed alongside interactive kiosks which will dispense information and pricing, while factory personnel will be on hand to assist.

OUTSIDE - Breeze differs from its stablemates by virtue of what it doesn't have. Thin bodyside molding replaces the wide plastic trim bonded to the side of Cirrus and Stratus. Sculpted smooth and round, Breeze looks every bit the part of its designation as an affordable modern family sedan. Its doors wrap up and over the roofline, while black-painted outside mirrors are mounted with two thin attachments, which, according to company reports, reduces turbulence and wind noise around the side glass. If cab-forward design is old news by now, its strengths continue. First brought into the mainstream by Chrysler, it allows for a short hood and trunk, and opens up exceptional interior space. Cab-forward also gives the car an unmistakable look. Value is the buzzword with Breeze, as relatively plain hubcaps cover the wheels, and its rather narrow 195/70R14 tires don't fill its fenderwells like the fatter rubber used on its corporate siblings.

INSIDE - Inside Breeze is a vast expanse. Five adults can step aboard, although the rear middle position is best left to small-framed humans. While Breeze is the least expensive of Chrysler's relatively new small sedans, it is by no means a stripped-down version. Standard interior equipment includes a fold-down rear seat, air conditioning, rear window defroster, variable speed intermittent wipers and ventilation ports for rear seat passengers, and upgraded adjustments for the driver's seat. Standard Breeze audio comes from an AM/FM stereo.

ON THE ROAD - The standard powerplant is a 132-horsepower 2.0 liter inline four cylinder, the same engine used in the subcompact Plymouth Neon. It carries a single overhead camshaft and the latest technology to produce lots of power from a small displacement. This powerplant does not make Breeze a street-racer, but it's certainly adequate for its intended use, and will deliver around 28 mpg on average. It spins willingly, with redline coming at 6500 RPM. The engine is small for a midsized sedan, but its high-revving nature allows the driver to have power on tap whenever needed. The standard five-speed manual seems perfectly suited for the engine, and makes driving Breeze quite sporting. The four-speed automatic transmission option (which also adds cruise control) saps some of this sportiness, but the trade-off comes in the form of smooth predictability and effortless driving.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Breeze rides atop a well-engineered four-wheel independent suspension that filters bumps and thumps quite well, along with the ability to stay on track even when roads are filled with potholes and differing surfaces. Its power rack-and-pinion steering provides good feel for what its tires are doing, but it's not heavy. At higher speeds, it remains straight and true, regardless of strong crosswinds. Braking is accomplished with front discs and rear drums, while a four-wheel anti-lock braking system (ABS) is optional.

SAFETY - Dual airbags are standard, side-impact beams are in each door. ABS is optional, as is a rear fold-down child seat.

OPTIONS - ABS: $565; full-sized spare tire: $95; automatic transmission: $1,050. Our test vehicle came optioned with a $740 convenience package that included power windows, mirrors (heated as well) and door locks, and $275 more will bring a premium cassette player with CD changer adaptability.

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