Room for five, a trunk big enough to hold four sets of golf clubs and a smiling grille like that of a vintage Ferrari, all at a base price less than $22,000, makes Chrsyler's Concorde LXi a lot of car for the dollar. Even pretty well loaded, with goodies like automatic climate control, leather seats, anti-lock brakes, traction control and a premium stereo with CD player, our test car's sticker price was just barely over $26,000. Chrysler's trio of sedans, the Concorde, LHS and 300M, were hatched from the same brood yet each has a distinct personality. The LHS bids for upscale luxury, the 300M is aggressively sporty and the Concorde is the family version. All share the same basic architecture, roofline and a high percentage of mechanical bits. They were created in only 31 months at a cost of $2.1 billion, including a family of three new engines. The Dodge Intrepid shares the same basics but has considerably different styling. The Concorde's base engine is a 200-horsepower, 2.7-liter, dual-overhead-cam (DOHC) V6, but our test car was equipped with the optional 225-horsepower, single-overhead-cam (SOHC), 3.2-liter V6. These new aluminum V6 engines were designed in record time using three-dimensional computer modeling, which saved both time and money. Each engine is 25 percent more powerful and 10 percent more efficient than the one it replaced. Emissions are down 30 percent also. The 3.2-liter may not have the free-revving spirit of the smaller 2.7, but it pulls up long hills with less downshifting. Passing is a snap. The engine is mounted in a hydro-formed steel cradle to keep much of the vibration out of the vehicle's passenger compartment. Inside the spacious cabin, the instrument panel's soft-touch texture looks rich and has no separate cut lines for the passenger-side airbag. Controls for heating/cooling as well as radio are mounted up high in the center of the dash where both are easily reached by the driver. Buttons and knobs are large and easy to use. The large, simple white-on-black instruments don't look as elegant as the white-faced gauges of the 300M, LHS and Dodge Intrepid. Wood-grain trim on the dash and console, although not convincingly real, adds a touch of warmth to the interior. Front bucket seats are wide and roomy. The leather upholstery has vertical seams to avoid causing irritation during long stints at the wheel. With the optional eight-way power controls, it is nearly impossible not to be able to adjust the seat to a setting that feels right. A large central console, which houses the gearshift lever, divides the front seats and contains a built-in cupholder as well as a handy storage box. The PRNDL indicator on the console is illuminated even though there is another indicator next to the speedometer. Legroom in the back seat is as spacious as your living room, which is one reason why the Concorde is such a good family hauler. I noticed that the large front and rear windows let in a lot of sun so the car got fairly warm inside even when the outside temperature was moderate. The automatic heating/cooling system did a good job of cooling things down quickly without sounding like a jet engine was under the dash. Attention to detail is widely evident. Sound-deadening foam injected into body cavities cuts down on wind and road noise. Road vibrations are kept in check because the rear suspension uses a large aluminum cross-member. Considering that the Concorde LXi is primarily a family sedan and not a road burner, it handles turns and rough pavement with above-average skill. Ride quality is excellent because it is firm enough to be responsive but not soft enough to be sloppy, a compromise not always easily struck. The Concorde was completed before the merger that resulted in what is now DaimlerChrysler. It demonstrated just how good Chrysler has gotten at styling cars that are both handsome and functional. Let's hope that trend continues unde the new ownership. Price The base price of our LXi test car was $21,565. Standard equipment included power windows, power locks, power mirrors, tilt wheel, cruise control and power steering. Options included automatic air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, traction control, leather seats, trip computer, 3.2-liter engine and upgraded stereo system. The sticker price was $26,305. Warranty Three years or 36,000 miles. Point: Innovative styling, tons of cabin space and an efficient V6 make the Concorde an excellent car for the price. Counterpoint: If you don't need seating for five and a huge trunk, you may find the Concorde is actually too big. SPECIFICATIONS:
ENGINE: 3.2-liter, V6
CONFIGURATION: Front-wheel drive
WHEELBASE: 113 inches
CURB WEIGHT: 3,556 lbs
BASE PRICE: $21,565
PRICE AS DRIVEN: $26,305
MPG RATING: 19 city, 29 hwy.
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