Chrysler Corp's 1995 Chrysler Cirrus and Dodge Stratus aren't identical twins, but they come close.The new models, which are scheduled to begin production in Chrysler's Sterling Heights, Mich., plant in July, are visually distinguished mainly by some trim differences and engine choices.Items like a different grille, wheels, interior touches and a little more sporting motif for the Stratus versus an upscale theme for the Cirrus set the cars apart. The Cirrus also will have a different engine than the base Stratus, but in body design, the two cars are identical.The company's marketing strategy is to give its Chrysler dealers an all-new functional luxury-style compact car, and its Dodge dealers an all-new automobile that has a bit of a sports overture but still remains a four-door sedan.Marketing plans were changed a couple of weeks ago, with Chrysler spokesman Tom Kowaleski saying last week, "We've decided to split the launch."Originally, we were going to bring them out together. But now the Cirrus will be launched by itself in the fall. The Stratus will come out after the first of the year."Also originally planned was for the Cirrus to be offered with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, the first 4 ever to power the Chrysler name. But now the Cirrus will have only a 2.5-liter V-6 with a four-speed automatic transmission.I'd guess Chrysler has a pretty good shot at cutting into the compact market with the Cirrus/Stratus.Its Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid and Eagle Vision are making their mark in the midsized market. And it's projected that the Dodge/Plymouth Neon is going to make itself felt at the entry level.With the Cirrus/Stratus embracing Chrysler's cabin-forward design, expect the sedans to carry Chrysler's flag forward.The new models were inspired by Chrysler's 1992 Cirrus concept car and represent a new industry trend. Concept cars now contain features that already are in the production planning stage.The cabin-forward design pioneered by the Concorde, Intrepid and Vision dramatically expanded the amount of usable passenger space, and Cirrus/Stratus stylists built on this in creating a car different from anything in its class.Striking proportionsMounted on a 108- inch wheelbase and 186 inches long, the sedan's specifications approach those of some midsized cars. The result is striking proportions that are even more advanced than the larger Chrysler models.It also results in an interior with greatly enhanced space. There's an abundance of legroom, with 42.3 inches in front and 38.1 inches in the rear.Chrysler's engineers wanted an automobile with some snap, so there are three engines, although one of them won't be available until January.That is a 2.4-liter, double overhead cam, 16-valve four-cylinder rated at 138 horsepower and 156 foot- pounds of torque. The drivetrain is a four-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission.The Stratus' base 2.0-liter, 16-valve single ove rhead cam four-cylinder rates at 134 horsepower, while the 2.5-liter 24- valve single overhead cam V-6 has 162 horsepower.There are some interesting statistics here, since the Mitsubishi V-6 has 24 more horses than the planned 2.4-liter but is only 100 c.c. (6 cubic inches) greater in displacement.Another interesting item is in the Cirrus/Stratus four- wheel SLA (short/long arm) independent suspension system. To get some dynamic handling characteristics, Chrysler's platform team worked with two-time Indianapolis 500-Mile Race winner Emerson Fittipaldi.Fighting importsOverall, the Cirrus/Stratus is positioned to go head-to-head with imports in an attempt to break their stronghold on the compact market.It led Chrysler President Robert Lutz to note during the cars' unveiling, "This is by far our toughest challenge. The compact segment is where the imports live."This is the segment where 30- to 40-year-old buyers with college degrees and growing fa milies are buyin g their first sedan. And it's where Japanese nameplates dominate. 1995 Chrysler Cirrus Base price: Not available.Type: Front engine, front-drive, five-passenger, compact sedan.Engine: 2.5 liters, SOHC V-6, 24 valves, fuel-injected, 162 horsepower, 165 foot-pounds of torque.Transmission: Four-speed automatic.Mileage: Not available.Wheelbase: 108 inches.Length: 186 inches.Width: 71 inches.Height: 54.1 inches.Curb weight: 3,118 pounds.Options: Not available.
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