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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Jim Flammang
June 19, 2003
Vehicle Overview Dodges midsize Stratus sedans get a restyled front end that includes a monochromatic grille for the sporty R/T (road/track) edition for the 2004 model year. The lineup also includes SE and ES sedans, as well as a value-priced SXT version. Audio controls on the sedan steering wheels are now available, and a newly optional electrochromatic rearview mirror helps in reducing headlight glare. Freshened interiors feature new door trim panels and seat fabric.
Sedans not equipped with antilock brakes now have front-disc and rear-drum brakes, and models with ABS have a four-wheel disc setup. Traction control is available, and a new BeltAlert system warns the driver to buckle up.
Stratus sedans are manufactured in Michigan. Chrysler offers a similar Sebring sedan and coupe, along with a convertible model that is not available for the Stratus.
The sedans styling resembles that of the Stratus coupe even though the two body styles share no sheet metal. Chryslers Sebring sedan uses the same roof and side panels as the Stratus, but the two have different front and rear styling. Both models feature Dodges distinguished crossbar-style grille.
The tires are 15 inches in diameter on the SE sedan and 16 inches on the ES. The R/T sedan features a rear spoiler, a specially tuned suspension and 17-inch tires.
Five-passenger seating includes two front buckets and a 60/40-split, folding three-place rear bench. Trunk volume is 16 cubic feet, but the opening is rather small and high. An abundant standard-equipment list includes air conditioning, cruise control, a tilt steering column, and power windows, locks and mirrors.
Under the Hood SE and SXT sedans hold a 150-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission. A 200-hp, 2.7-liter V-6 is standard in the ES and R/T sedans. Only the R/T can be fitted with a five-speed-manual gearbox.
Multistage front airbags deploy at one of three levels; side curtain-type airbags are optional. Antilock brakes are standard on the R/T and optional on the other models.
Dodge has not yet issued information on changes for 2004 to the Stratus coupe, which qualifies as a compact rather than a midsize model. A substantial face-lift took place in 2003. Unlike the larger sedan, the coupe versions are based on the platform used by the Mitsubishi Galant, which is built in Illinois. Despite appearance similarities, the coupe is built from a different design and with their own sheet metal.
Stratus coupes are available in base SE and R/T trim levels and come with either a Mitsubishi-built four-cylinder or a V-6 engine. The R/T coupe includes a rear spoiler, a specially tuned performance suspension, a tuned exhaust system and 17-inch tires. Side-impact airbags are optional.
The base engine in a five-speed-manual model is a 147-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder. That engine develops 142 hp in models equipped with a four-speed-automatic transmission. A 200-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 is standard in the R/T and optional in the SE. The R/T is the only model that can have a manual shift with the V-6. AutoStick permits manual gear changes by tipping the shift lever; this technology is available with the V-6 engine in the R/T coupe. Antilock brakes are optional only on the R/T coupe.
Expect no surprises from the Stratus sedan, which delivers a pleasant driving experience but doesnt try to be anything more than a family car. The V-6 engine is potent and quiet, but the four-cylinder performs with sufficient eagerness to satisfy most owners.
Any Stratus sedan is easy to drive and maneuver. They offer a spacious interior, comfortable seating and a large trunk. Harsh pavement can produce some unpleasant reactions, but the ride is generally smooth and easy.
The Stratus coupe is an impressive road-going machine that also displays a noticeably shapely physique, especially in R/T form. Unfortunately, the low-slung design makes entry and exit a little difficult for less-agile occupants. The front seats are comfortable, but rear knee room and headroom are snug.
With its potent 3.0-liter V-6 engine, the R/T coupe takes off in a hurry both from a standstill and when passing and merging. It moves with a high level of refinement and even civility. Even though its a trifle balky and even inclined to grind now and then, the R/Ts manual transmission yields satisfying gear changes. Pleasant clutch behavior and a pedal that takes a bit of effort makes up for some shifting difficulty.
Coupe passengers endure no significant penalty in ride comfort from the taut, confident suspension, which is quite absorbent despite the R/Ts handling skills. Steering is rather quick, which can come as a surprise when making a rapid maneuver on the highway. Even in SE form, the Stratus coupe grips the pavement securely through curves yet delivers a ride largely devoid of harshness. Confidently stable on straightaways, the SE boasts satisfying steering response and feel.