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By Jim Mateja
June 5, 1994
Chrysler Corp. products. The oldest thing still around is Lee Iacocca-and he's a mere part-time consultant in retirement. Once the industry doormat that had to rely on Iacocca, Corinthian leather, cash rebates and K-cars to pull it
through, Chrysler is now in such good standing that the competition pays attention to what it does. In January, Chrysler unveiled a pair of sedans, the Chrysler Cirrus and Dodge Stratus, to replace the aged Dodge Spirit and Plymouth Acclaim this
fall. Officials from General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Honda-you name it-happened by as Chrysler President Bob Lutz introduced the new cars on the floor on the Detroit auto show. That was the tease. Now Chrysler has invited the media to sample what
it only had a chance to look at in January. The automaker made available a handful of 1995 Cirrus and Stratus models for the pencil press to evaluate here. There was only one catch-these were early prototypes, still a few months from
production, so they had some warts. Interior plastic trim was still shiny because the final grain coating hadn't been applied. Road noise fed back through the wheelwells into the passenger compartment because all the insulation wasn't in place. Name
badges had yet to be applied so decklids and fenders gave no clue as to what the car was or who made it. Despite some minor refinement still coming, the cars looked and performed as consumers should expect when they bow later this year and early
next. Glenn Gardner, general manager of large-car platform engineering for Chrysler, said Cirrus/Stratus will undergo a split launch, meaning Cirrus will arrive in August or September and Stratus will follow in January or February. An unnamed
Plymouth version will join Cirrus/Stratus in the fall of 1995 as a 1996 model. Cirrus comes first, Gardner said, because it is the luxury version-Stratus the sport version-and Chrysler feels Cirrus is better suited to take on Accord, Camry and
Altima now, while Stratus can take on the Pontiac Grand Am later. Cirrus will be offered in base LX version and uplevel LXi, Stratus in base S and up-level ES. There are three engines-a 2-liter, single overhead cam, 132-horsepower, 16-valve,
4-cylinder (same as in the Dodge/Plymouth Neon) with 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic; a 2.4-liter, dual overhead cam, 140-h.p., 16-valve, 4 that's new (and will be used in the 1996 Chrysler mini-vans) and teamed only with 4-speed automatic; and a
2.5-liter, single-overhead cam, 155-h.p., 24-valve, V-6 built by Mitsubishi that comes with only a 4-speed automatic. The 2.5 will be offered later this year in the new Dodge Avenger/Chrysler Sebring replacements for the Dodge Daytona and
Chrysler LeBaron coupes to be built at Diamond-Star in Downstate Normal. Cirrus will come with only the 2.5, V-6 at first. The 2.4-liter, 4 will come out in February when Stratus bows, but wo
n't be offered in Cirrus until late in the model year. Stratus will rely on the 2.4- and 2-liter engines. Cirrus won't get the 2-liter. Chrysler says it's developing its own V-6 for Cirrus/Stratus but won't say when. Cirrus/Stratus have
different front-and rear-end treatments. Grilles are the most noticeable difference. Stratus has a dual opening grille, and Cirrus has what Chrysler calls a "chrome waterfall"-a series of thin vertical chrome bars that, at first glance, looks somewhat
Imperial-like and yet similar to a Mark VIII. It's a most attractive, eye-catching, regal design. We tested the Stratus with the 2-liter and 5-speed manual, Cirrus LX with the 2.4-liter and automatic and Stratus ES with the 2.5-liter, V-6 and
automatic. The 2-liter in the base Stratus is quiet and the 5-speed very smooth. This engine/transmission combo makes Stratus your basic everyday commuter car. No flash, not much dash, just good room and the ability to haul f
ur adults in comfort. The car comes with 14-inch tires- not meant for aggressive driving-as standard, the up-level ES with a 15-inch touring tire. Cirrus LX (or LXi) is our favorite. That grille makes it look like a $30,000 sedan. Cirrus looks a
bit like the Chrysler 300 concept car built off the Dodge Viper that made the auto show circuit a couple of years ago. The base Cirrus LX comes with 15-inch tires as standard, a 15-inch touring tire as optional. The test car came with the regular
15-inch tires and the base suspension rather than the upgraded tire and touring suspension with firmer ride and more precise handling. Decent road feel, but this package is meant more for long-distance cruising than a high-speed trip over rolling,
winding, turning terrain. Wide seats offer excellent comfort and support. The 2.4-liter provides ample power to venture into the passing lane-providing you don't see a Viper approaching in your mirror. The 2.4 is a tad groany off the line but
quiets down at cruising speed. Stratus ES with the 2.5-liter, V-6 and automatic is very quiet. Some report not noticing an appreciable power difference between the 155-h.p., 2.5 and the 140-h.p., 2.4. We felt the 2.5 was peppier, though perhaps
that was because it was quieter and therefore seemed more responsive. What set the Stratus ES off from Cirrus was that the Dodge came with the 15-inch touring tires with more road bite and the sports suspension with higher spring rates for more
roll stiffness. The body sat flatter in corners and had better road manners than the others regardless of whether the road ran straight, curved, dipped or climbed. Stratus ES was more sure-footed. Whether your styling preference is Stratus or
Cirrus, we'd strongly recommend getting the touring tires, touring suspension and the 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine. The 2.5, V-6 is peppier and quieter, but Chrysler is going to replace that Mitsubishiengine with its own V-6 soon and we'd rather have
an engine with a long-term future than a stopgap. Cirrus/Stratus have dual air bags as standard. Anti-lock brakes are standard when you get the V-6, an option when you don't. Traction control is "under consideration," but not the first year.
One novel feature common to both cars is the relocation of the battery to a compartment inside the left front bumper just ahead of the wheel, rather than its traditional resting place under the hood nestled next to the engine. Chrysler said it ran
out of room but insisted there are benefits from moving the battery. For one, it isn't exposed to life-robbing engine heat and, despite being out of sight, there are clearly labeled positive and negative terminals under the hood to which to attach a
jumper cable so you can revive a dead battery without having to dig under the bumper. Another benefit is the fact that a battery jump scares the devil out of many peop
le. Attaching/removing cables is about as pleasant to some as lighting a short fuse on a stick of dynamite. Many fear the battery will explode if the procedure is done wrong. With the cable attachments visible, but the battery hidden, it should remove
consumer anxiety. However, while the battery escapes life-draining heat, its bumper location means it could get cold in the winter. So Chrysler offers an optional "battery blanket" for Snow Belt buyers-an encased electrical coil wrapped around the
battery with a cord that you can plug into your garage outlet in subzero weather to keep the battery warm. (If you don't have a garage or outlet nearby, the blanket obviously does little good.) Cirrus/Stratus have another neat feature. Rear seat
room is good and trunk capacity spacious with low liftover height for easy usage. But to increase cargo capacity and to carry skis or an extra set of golf clubs, the rear seat backs fold individually (in one piece onbas
Stratus) by pulling a lever in the trunk. One catch. If you opt for an integrated child safety seat in back, you can't get fold-down rear seats. Another nice feature is the fact the trunk lid hinges are off to the side so you don't bump them
with packages when loading the trunk. Nice touch. Chrysler customers said they wanted a trunk-release button (but not a fuel-door release button) in the cabin, a power sunroof and the fuel filler door moved to the left side of the car. Chrysler
gave them what they wanted, except for the sunroof, which, though standard in Cirrus LXi and Stratus ES, won't come till later in the year. Chrysler says the Cirrus/Stratus are for those young consumers who want a car smaller than an LH sedan,
but larger than a Dodge or Plymouth Neon. There's still no word on the Plymouth version coming out for 1996 and how many trim levels it will have. Speculation is that it will be offered in one low-cost, price-leader version in keeping with
Plymouth's value image. Chrysler insists no high-performance Cirrus/Stratus model is in the works, despite an admission that Chrysler President Lutz would like to offer a Stratus R/T model with perhaps a V-6 and 5-speed manual.