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SEE ALSO: Dodge Buyer's Guide

Over the past three years Chrysler Corporation has revised its entire passenger car lineup, establishing definite nameplate goals and periodically releasing new models. What started this process was a new top management team and the desire to increase market share by developing exciting new models utilizing the platform team process. This process coordinates procurement, production, and marketing programs to ensure a top quality product with high levels of customer satisfaction. Another goal was to produce attractive and fairly-priced cars that could effectively compete with those made anywhere in the world.

Starting with the powerful Viper, Dodge was defined as the performance and sports division. In addition Dodge retained its role as Chrysler Corporations' truck division with a new line of pickups and heavy haulers. Similarly, Chrysler, with its Concorde and New Yorker sedans, became the upscale luxury badge. The compact Neon and new Voyager van confirmed Plymouth as the entry-level nameplate. The cars are developed as platforms from which several cars may result. While there may be some cross-over models between each division generally the more powerful or more luxurious model will be assigned to the appropriate nameplate. A case in point are the cars based on the "JA" midsized family sedan platform, the Chrysler Cirrus and the Dodge Stratus. They have related body styles. The more upscale Cirrus sedan has its own distinctive grille, and a single V6 powerplant coupled to a four-speed automatic transmission. The Stratus similarly has its distinctive front-end styling, but, in keeping with its mission as a middle-class family sedan it offers a choice of three powerplants and two transmissions for a broader appeal. Engines include 2.0 liter and 2.4 liter four cylinder units and a 2.5 liter V6. A 5 speed manual transmission is available with the base four cylinder engine, with a four-speed automatic matched to the other powerplants. Recently we reviewed the V6 Cirrus and now we are taking a close look at the 2.4 liter, four cylinder Stratus. Here are our comments.

APPEARANCE: Chrysler's leading edge "cab-forward" design is quite apparent on the new Stratus. The wheels are moved to the corners of the car for minimum overhang and maximum space utilization. A cabin with steeply-sloped front and rear glass, and large side windows dominates the design. The hood and rear deck are short and functional, while the sides are tastefully rounded and fitted with side rub strips. The front of the Stratus features the stylized crossbar Dodge grille and Ram logo, and presents an aggressive stance that suggests affordable performance.

COMFORT: The cab-forward design provides excellent seat, head, and foot room for all passengers. Additionally, driver and passenger comfort is enhanced by adjustable front seats. The rear seats fold down for additional luggage capacity. Other items that add to the practicality of the Stratus are power windows, door locks, and side mirrors. The climate control system quickly gets the interior to the desired temperature, and has ducts under the front seats for excellent circulation. The AM/FM/cassette radio provides excellent reception and tone. The Stratus is compact outside and mid-sized inside, with reasonable room for five adults.

SAFETY: Safety is important in the family car market. The Stratus meets all 1997 side impact requirements, and has dual airbags, three-point outboard seat belts with front seat adjustable shoulder strap height and power steering as standard equipment. Antilock brakes are available as an option.

ROADABILITY: In common with Chrysler's other family cars, the Stratus is a traditional American car under its flashy cab-forward skin. The ride is soft and well-damped, without the firmness of many imports. Its size and power steering make it easy to maneuver and park. Because of the large amount of glass around the cabin vision is great, and good sound proofing and weather stripping help provide a quiet ride at normal highway speeds. At higher speeds wind and engine noise do become apparent. With a 16 gallon gas tank and good fuel economy, gas stops can be a long way apart.

PERFORMANCE: Our mid-level Stratus was equipped with the optional 2.4 liter dual overhead cam, 16 valve four cylinder engine and four-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission. The engine has twin counter-rotating balance shafts to cancel vibration and makes 150 horsepower. Front-wheel drive torque steer is minimal. The Stratus has good around-town and highway performance with this powertrain. We only wished for more power on steep, long grades.

CONCLUSIONS: The Dodge Stratus is a mid-sized family sedan that offers comfort, style, value, and efficient packaging.


       Base Price             $ 13,965     
       Price As Tested        $ 16,460
       Engine Type            I-4, dohc - 16v, smpfi
       Engine Size            2.4 liter/148 cid 
       Horsepower             150 @ 5200
       Torque (ft/lbs)        167 @ 4000
       Wheelbase/Length       108"/186"
       Transmission           four speed auto w/overdrive
       Curb Weight            3160 lbs.
       Pounds per Horsepower  21.1
       Fuel Capacity          16.0 gal.
       Fuel Requirement       Unleaded regular (87 oct)
       Tires                  Michelin MXV 195/65R15 m+s    
       Brakes                 vented disc/drum, ABS optional
       Drive Train            Front engine/front drive
       EPA Economy - miles per gallon
         city/highway/observed     21/29/24.9
       0 to 60 mph                 10.2 sec  
       1/4 mi (E.T.)               17.3 sec  
       Coefficient of Drag  (Cd)   0.31