1990 Dodge Monaco

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    Expert Reviews 1 of 2

By 

Orlando Sentinel

I might be the only guy in America who likes the Dodge Monaco.

Chrysler has been building this car all year and has sold only enough to fill an averaged sized parking lot.

In fact, if you open an Automotive News and look at the inventory of new cars manufacturers have stockpiled you'll see there are more homeless Monacos than any other car.

If Chrysler quit building the Monaco today, it could sell the ones in inventory and have enough to last until next spring. There's almost a year's supply of Monacos already built. And that bodes extremely well for the consumer.

Go to a Dodge dealer and mention Monaco, and you can not only get a good deal but also probably negotiate for the salesman to mow your yard, walk the dog and perform other perfunctory tasks. Dodge dealers are eager to sell these cars.

You might think the reason the Monaco isn't selling is because it's a bad car or there's something wrong with it. That's not the case. It isn't selling because it hasn't had much marketing muscle applied to it, and Dodge dealers didn't really want it in the first place.

You see, when Chrysler bought AMC a few years ago, it got some excess baggage from AMC's French partner, Renault. A little thing called the Renault Medallion came with the deal. In the buyout agreement, Chrysler promised to build a certain number of Medallions. With Renault occupying a rung only a notch or two above Yugo when it comes to quality, Chrysler set up the Eagle division and changed Medallion to Eagle Premier, the Monaco's nearly identical twin.

The problem with the Monaco is that it is a car that doesn't leave any impression on you during the usual 10-or 15-minute new car test drive.

If Chrysler wants to sell Monacos, it should let potential buyers take a demonstrator home for a few days.

In that time, the Monaco will grow on you. It is fundamentally a decent car - with a good ride, nice handling, fine performance, above-average fuel economy and a comfortable interior. It does have a few quirks that, depending on your point of view, either give the car character or underscore every reason why French cars never have sold well in the United States.

The Monaco is powered by 3.0 liter overhead cam V-6 that breathes heavily when pressure is applied to the accelerator. Stepping on the gas provokes a symphony of interesting - perhaps pleasing - mechanical sounds from underneath the hood. This fuel-injected engine develops 150 horsepower and is connected to a smooth-shifting, four-speed overdrive automatic that drives the front wheels.

Europeans have been making front-wheel-drive cars longer than American automakers, and the French expertise in that area really shows in the Monaco. You cannot tell it is a front-wheel-drive car unless you open the hood and look at the layout of the drivetrain.

I like the Monaco's size. It proves you don't have to drive a car as big as an oil tanker to seat five adults comf ortably. Chrysler claims the Monaco has more room than any other midsize sedan. That's believable. Foot room and headroom are excellent. The neatly contoured rear seat is one of the best I've sat in a long time.

The test car came with gray leather seats. There are two bucket seats up front separated by a floor-mounted shifter. The front seats are supportive and comfortable. The driving position is excellent. You have a very good view of the road, unobscured by the steering wheel or hood.

If the car does have a weakness, it would have to be the instrument panel. The switches that operate all major controls - except the turn signals - are hard to find and operate. The turn signal lever is different, if not unique. It's a flipperlike device that is mounted on the dash rather than the steering collmn. It does not move left or right, but rather up and down.

Controls for the lights, radio and air conditioner all need a major rethink. Most are small and require the dri er to take his eyes off the road for far too long. The Monaco has an easy-to-read full set of gauges and a computer that allows the driver to time trips and record mileage either in miles or kilometers.

Something else about the test car baffled me - it came with an infrared remote door locking/unlocking device. But unlike some GM cars that use a remote locking system, you have to be within 2 feet of the Monaco's windshield for the thing to work. The GM system works from about 25 feet away. I found that most of the time the Monaco was quicker and easier to unlock using the key.

Anyway, once you get in and get under way, you find the Monaco's engine is responsive, and the car is able to glide over the road with competence and stability. You will get about 28 miles per gallon if you drive with a tender foot. The brakes and suspension also are very good. The turning radius is very tight.

In broiling 98-degree Florida heat, I let the Monaco sit and idle with the air conditioner on for about 10 minutes. The temperature gauge didn't even budge, and the air conditioner continued to blow very cold. Few cars I've driven this year have behaved this well in the same situation.

Dodge spokesman Mike Aberlich says Chrysler is going to ''relaunch'' the Monaco. Hopefully the second time around will be the charm. In the week I had the Monaco, I never saw another on the road. While it may not make eyeballs pop out at stoplights, the Monaco is a good car that, if you do some shrewd negotiating, you can get for a good price. The Monaco - quirks and all - deserves better than to be ignored.


    Expert Reviews 1 of 2

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